As the leaders of some of India’s largest midsize companies and well-known consumer brands took the stage at the Fortune India Next 500 Summit in New Delhi on July 19 to narrate their journey to the top, one theme stood out clearly: Innovation.
Be it Symphony, the largest maker and seller of air coolers in the world, or Luminous Power Technologies, which makes and sells inverters and batteries, these companies have become ubiquitous with the products they sell owing to their innovative approach to business that helps them break through the clutter.
Achal Bakeri, managing director of Ahmedabad-based Symphony said that his company didn’t invent the air cooler but “reinvented” it. He described how Symphony came up with an air cooler in the 1988 that resembled an air conditioner in its aesthetics and found instant appeal with buyers who were hitherto used to noisy and bulky metal box-like coolers.
The other business process innovation that Bakeri alluded to was the adoption of an asset-light model whereby Symphony outsources the production of the air coolers it sells to third parties. “Whatever can be outsourced should be outsourced. We have kept our business model as simple as possible,” Bakeri said.
Innovation and resilience is what made it possible for a company to rise from the proverbial ashes after a near death experience when, by 2002, its net worth was wiped out due to heavy losses arising from an expensive diversification into other consumer durables like washing machines and geysers. Symphony pulled itself back by exiting all unrelated businesses and deepening its focus on air coolers – not just for residential use but for industrial solutions as well.
The other brand that is synonymous with inverters and batteries – an important product segment in an energy-starved country like India where 24X7 power supply isn’t a given in several parts of the country – is Luminous. The company, which is fully owned by Schneider Electric, won over the market dotted with several players in the organised and unorganised sector, by focussing on the consumer and his needs, said its managing director Vipul Sabharwal. Between 2011, when Schneider Electric acquired Luminous, till date, the company’s revenue has more than trebled to ₹3,500 crore.
“It may sound kiddish but dreaming and having a vision is very important for a company,” said Sabharwal. He added that for a consumer brand the customer is the most important stakeholder. “One day in a year we make sure that the top 200 executives of the company do nothing but go and visit customers at their homes,” Sabharwal said.
Luminous is now diversifying into offering solar energy solutions for retail customers and Sabharwal says that listening to the customers’ voice about the challenges involved with having solar power installations at homes has helped Luminous fine-tune its offerings in this category.
Disrupting the market to keep competition at bay is another important function at consumer-facing companies, according to Sabharwal. For instance, acknowledging the lithium-ion batteries are the future, Luminous (which mostly sells inverters based on lead acid batteries) entered this category (which is more expensive for the consumer) by selling a few units in a year and even losing some money in the process. “We realised we need to embrace this to recreate this category. Every day we need to think whether someone else is going to come and take away our business,” Sabharwal said.
Sabharwal concluded by saying, “it is a great time to build a brand in the country as a midsize company,” due to the power and reach of social media and the government’s agenda of driving economic growth. “We need to invest in brands, not only in terms of spending money, but also by understanding consumer insights,” Sabharwal said.