In still waters


September 28, 2014

Arpita Mukherjee, Business Today
Mumbai, 28 September 2014

About a decade ago, Suresh Goklaney, visited his sister in Daytona Beach, US. There, the Executive Vice Chairman of Eureka Forbes happened to meet Fred Tepper, Founder and President of Argonide Corporation, which makes nanotechnology-based water purifiers. The company then adopted this technology to launch a portable water purifier, Aquaguard On The Go, in 2014.

Seven years ago, a Eureka Forbes salesperson, also called a Eurochamp, pointed out to Goklaney that the quality of water supplied to Indian homes varied through the day. The company subsequently launched a water purification device, Aquaguard Sensa, in 2008. The device, automatically detects impurities, senses the water quality and adjusts itself to the level of purification required.
More recently, in July the company took an initiative to use refrigeration techniques that condense water from atmospheric air in Mumbai. The technique can generate 120 litres or 500 glasses of drinking water every day.
The above examples illustrate that there has been change and development at the three-decade old company over the years. Indeed, the Shapoorji Pallonji Group company, credited for bringing in the concept of water purification into the country and known to scale up cautiously, has been making an effort to retain and grow its market share in an intensely competitive environment, particularly in its core water purifier business.

Still, experts feel that the company has been slow to change given the rapidly changing market dynamics. Harminder Sahni of Wazir Advisors, a Gurgaon-based retail consultancy, suggests that the company, known for its signature water purifiers and vacuum cleaners, has to evolve rapidly to keep its nose ahead of competition. "Whatever Eureka Forces is attempting had to be done because as a company you cannot stop trying things," he says.

The water purifier business accounted for about 50 per cent of the company’s revenues in fiscal 2012/13, the latest period for which figures are available. It is a leader in the Rs 3,400-crore market. The company has more than 70 per cent share in the ultraviolet (UV) purifier market but is facing stiff competition in the fast growing reverse osmosis (RO) segment from Kent RO Systems. Kent claims it is the leader in the RO market with 40 to 45 per cent share.

Eureka Forbes says it has a 36 per cent market share. Meanwhile, several other players have emerged as a threat to Eureka Forbes including Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Nasaka, and Ion Exchange. "In recent years, while the market has grown enormously, intense competition has significantly impacted the lead and advantage that Eureka Forbes had. Both new business as well as repeat revenues from existing customers have been hit," says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of consulting firm Third Eyesight.

An issue for Eureka Forbes has been its reliance on direct sales. Its salespersons (Eurochamps) go from door-to-door conducting product demonstrations and convincing people that their appliances are the best. Eureka Forbes has an army of more than 8,000 Eurochamps. However, with the emergence of gated communities, cold calling as a strategy has not been as effective.

It has forced the company to seek new ways of reaching out to customers. "The challenge in the environment is how I get you to open the door with gated communities," says Goklaney, adding that the company would never look at disbanding its army of salespeople. "My core is my eurochamps who have built the brand over the years."

To tackle the problem, the company has moved over to digital marketing to persuade customers to ask for demos. The company today is strongly visible on the digital platform, and also in some newspapers ads, flashing numbers for customers to call. Retail sales is still not a big focus area for the company. Sahni of Wazir Advisors suggests that the company’s dependence on direct sales, ignoring retail, is a handicap for Eureka Forbes.

Companies such as Kent, HUL and several others are not just innovating but are also retailing their products aggressively. Kent, for instance, has not just roped in a celebrity (cine star Hema Malini) to endorse the brand, but has also unveiled new products. It recently launched a water purification product, Kent Tap Guard that cleans tap water and makes it safe for household use such as washing fruits and vegetables. "The company is expanding into various categories in a small way but is focused on the RO segment," says Mahesh Gupta, Chairman, Kent RO Systems.

‘In recent years, while the market has grown enormously, intense competition has signifi cantly impacted the lead and advantage that Eureka Forbes had. Both new business as well as repeat revenues from existing customers have been hit,’ says Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight.

Water purification products from the likes of HUL and Kent are far more visible at retail counters than Eureka Forbes but the company is undeterred. "We believe that direct sales is our core and we would persist with the strategy," says Goklaney.

Eureka Forbes appears to have fallen behind in one key emerging business segment – gravity-based water filters that can work without electricity. In 2009, Kent launched this product in India, seizing the first-mover advantage – Eureka Forbes has yet to establish its foothold in the market. The market potential for gravity-based water filters is huge given the crippling power shortage in most parts of India, say industry executives. While about 92 per cent of urban areas are electrified, rural electrification is just 55 per cent. "People use gravity-based water purifiers in regions that have poor or no electricity supply," says Sasidhar Chidanamarri, Associate Director, Environment & Building Technologies Practice at Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm.

In the vacuum cleaner market, Eureka Forbes’ "Euroclean" range of products have a market share of around 90 per cent. But there has been a dip in revenues from vacuum cleaners recently along with a marginal decline in market share. The segment accounted for about 16 per cent of the company’s revenue in 2012/13.

Meanwhile, the company plans to scale up its international business. It already accounts for 40 per cent of its revenues with the acquisition of Lux International and going forward is expected to constitute about half of the topline. With the expansion, the company plans to launch a range of new home appliances products internationally. Indeed, the Lux buyout gives Eureka Forbes access to markets in 40 countries across Europe, Africa and Latin America.

The company has also been getting into new segments such as air purifiers, fire extinguishers and security systems as an alternate strategy – markets that are still fairly niche and also where the company does not have a first mover advantage. The air purifier market in India was estimated to be valued at $12.65 million in 2013, while the fire and safety equipment market was estimated to be about $3.16 billion in 2013, according to research firm TechSci Research.

However, despite the various challenges and competition for Eureka Forbes, Goklaney is confident that the company is on the right track. So is Shashank Sinha, the company’s Senior General Manager – Marketing, who says the company is now seeing traction in the air purification market as well. "It is just that we are not shouting from the rooftops about our growing business," he says.

And, for a company that depends heavily on its sales force and franchise, the company realises the imperative of creating a leadership pipeline. People like Shashank Sinha and Marzin R. Shroff, CEO – Direct Sales, and Senior Vice President, Marketing, are being groomed to eventually take over from Goklaney. "I am here right now as a night watchman and they are here as opening bats and ready to take on," he says.

But analysts feel that Eureka Forbes needs to take drastic steps to take on competition. "Incremental things won’t help," says Sahni. "It’s our actions and deeds that tells you whether we’re aggressive or not. But, we’re doing things at our pace. We don’t want to push things to an extent that people stop enjoying their work," says Goklaney.

(Published in Business Today.)