This year, our online sales will contribute double of what it did last year:Dinesh Chhabra

Usha International Limited is one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of consumer durables in India. Under the well-known brand ‘Usha’, it markets a diversified portfolio with a range of products including electrical kitchen & home appliances, fans, sewing machines, engines & pump sets, electric motors & pumps, drinking water coolers, water dispensers and auto components. Building on over 85 year of rich and solid heritage the brand is a household name in the appliances space where they market quality products. Over the past many years, the company has grown and today the company has 16 location offices, 50+ company showrooms, 34 warehouses and 325 service centres backed by an in-house customer service cell.

While the pandemic disrupted the sales of the company during the lockdown days, brand Usha is now looking at aggressively marketing during this festive season. The brand will also be part of the IPL league and will be highly visible during the two months of scintillating cricket in Dubai. The company has further strengthened its distribution and has also aligned with some of the major e-commerce players to reach the last mile with their product offerings. Besides that, the company has also beefed up its online brand store and has planned to increase the audience engagement as the festive season unfolds.

In an exclusive conversation with Adgully, Dinesh Chhabra, CEO, Usha International, speaks in depth about their festive plan and their long-term marketing activities in the new normal.

How do you see the consumer sentiments across the nation this year? Which markets are seen as leading the rebound and how? What factors will drive growth this festive season? How much do you see festive sales getting impacted due to COVID-19 this year?

Though COVID-19 continues unabated, we have observed consumer buying sentiments reviving. In fact, we have been witnessing increased demand for our products in Tier 2, 3, 4 and rural markets. In order to meet the growing demand, we are also expanding in these pockets to cater to customers as they continue to go deeper within the product categories.

One of the key reasons for the spike in demand from rural markets is the 3-5 per cent agricultural growth prediction, as India witnessed good monsoon this year leading to increased harvest of staple crops, boosting the rural income. Additionally, the strong reverse migration over the past few months has also led to rural job opening under government stimulus like MNREGA. All of this is positively impacting the rural economy and helping the rural market revive at a faster pace vis-à-vis urban markets.

In the metro and Tier 1 cities, work-from-home has now become the ‘new normal’ for people and it has made ‘multitaskers’ of each of us, leading to a need for products that aid work for home and from home. This includes appliances that save time in the kitchen, as well as fans and air-coolers that keep consumers and their homes cool. The surge in the DIY hobby segment has also led to a marked increase in OTGs and sewing machine sales.

In terms of festival sales, we are expecting our appliances category to do well as it comes under the ‘gifting’ segment. We are also ensuring that we are present as close to consumers’ homes, as consumers are demanding an assortment of products from their local mom and pop stores. This year, we believe that our online sales will contribute double of what it did last year as a lot of our offline channels have aligned themselves with e-commerce too. With the demand reviving, changes in consumer lifestyle, and exclusive consumer offers and a multitude of finance schemes around the festive season, we see a positive trend indicating that we will probably have a good festive quarter and clock healthy sales.

What is the strategy of Usha International going to be this festival season? What are the kinds of products from your consumer durable stable that you will focus this festive season to stimulate demand and make up for the lost sales in the last quarter?

Our strategy is to diversify our existing product portfolio, extend more product offerings for consumers and strengthen our partnerships across regions as we introduce customised region-specific products to reach out to larger audiences across the country in time for the festive season.

We believe that there will be an uptake in demand this festive season, particularly in the home & kitchen appliances, and lighting categories. In order to offer the best value proposition to our consumers in line with these trends and to add some festive joy during this season, we have already scheduled the launch of some amazing new products across categories, including fans, appliances like mixer grinders and blenders, irons and decorative lighting, etc. These are in addition to our already existing diverse product line-up and our robust service offering.

Has your supply chain and distribution come back to normalcy? Are you able to reach out to the last mile across the country? Did you boost your presence in e-commerce to drive sales in the last few months?

At Usha, we are ensuring seamless operations by procuring material well in advance, and are also encouraging our vendors to buy and stock more products. We have been very agile in relooking at the way we work on an everyday basis to ensure daily fluctuations and uncertainties are dealt with meticulously, and meeting all demand through planned production and a robust distribution network. As for the next season, planning is already on and our current inventory is already stocked with the distributors and dealers. Further, the manufacturing facilities are also coming back to pre-COVID levels. We are proud to say that during the phase of lockdown and its relaxation, we have been able to navigate the operations well, and ensure a smooth transition in our business operations.

Keeping consumers at the core of everything, we are streamlining operations as much as possible – we have created a booking platform to take orders online. Customers can also visit our website and seek assistance in choosing the right kind of products in accordance to their needs. Further, all our call centres are now functional and we are offering customer support wherever required. In addition, we have improved our website to showcase our products and services in an engaging manner, therefore, enhancing the experience of consumers who visit the Usha website.

With demand picking up significantly across product categories and, in fact, seeing a double-digit growth coming from digital and urban, we have ramped up our investments and efforts in the e-commerce space, across all the key platforms in the last few months. Besides Amazon, where we have a Brand Store for Usha Sewing Machines, we are also building our product portfolio on Flipkart, TataCliq, Paytm, and others.

Do you see retail footfalls increasing during the festive season, given that people are still not venturing out for shopping in a big way? What alternate routes are you looking at to shore up sales – such as e-commerce, online purchases, D2C initiatives?

Yes, footfalls have increased over the past few months since Unlock 1.0.  One of the big surprise trends was seeing businesses becoming hyperlocal. Consumers are preferring to buy all kinds of products, including appliances and gadgets, from retail stores closest to their homes. This shift has been most marked in the metros, where the lure of driving to a fancy mall is no longer an attractive proposition as it was in the past. Therefore, improving our product portfolio in a hyperlocal environment as well as hyperlocal service is something we are looking at as a brand. We are working on ensuring that we are present as close to consumers home as we possibly can.

Needless to say, digital is playing a very important role in the ‘new normal’ phase, and many consumers are experiencing online shopping for the first time, overcoming traditional mindsets to set up online accounts and making digital or online payments and slowly coming to trust this way of shopping. As a result of this trend, we are also continuously ramping up our investments and efforts in the ecommerce space, across all the key platforms. Of course, we are ensuring that we adhere to all safety regulations in the stores that are open.

IPL is held in Dubai with lots of restrictions. Will it bring the same excitement and entertainment and will brands leverage the IPL as it is also clashing with the festival season? Will products and brands from Usha International be visible during IPL?

Sports in India is almost a religion that creates bonds across communities. It is a celebration that fans have been waiting for and the announcement of live cricket season has gotten fans excited around the globe, not just to see their favourite players back on the field, but has given them something to look forward to amidst the pandemic led gloom. While the fans will not be able to cheer for their teams in stadia, we are confident that this being the first live cricketing event in India after a long hiatus, its viewership is going to skyrocket with matches being aired across platforms to reach every fan and every home across the globe. Usha’s association with Mumbai Indians gives us a great opportunity to strengthen our consumer and partner connect across categories through on-air and digital platforms. This collaboration aligns with and perfectly reiterates the Usha’s brand ethos – Play – promoting active and healthy lifestyle. Staying active at home and eating freshly cooked home food leading to better immunity takes precedence over all else in the current environment.

Furthermore, the tournament offers a unique opportunity this year as it coincides with the festive season, when consumer spending across many categories is expected to pick up significantly. With mounting excitement around cricket and the economy pegged to revive during Dussehra-Diwali, it’s a great opportunity for brands to leverage.

With the safety of all our consumers taking precedence over all else, our focus is on creating memorable virtual experiences. We have planned a series of activations straddling various digital platforms for growing stakeholder engagement and brand recall– online contests on days when Mumbai Indians are playing, meet and greets. The brand will also launch a unique digital campaign, featuring select players. In addition, as part of the association, the Usha logo will be seen on the leading side caps and helmets of MI players and the mat during match toss. Geared solely to cater to online/TV audiences this year, the stadium will also have massive LED screens running across the perimeter, which will showcase the Usha brand during a couple of overs of the game.

What kind of integrated marketing activities are you planning for the festive season? On which platforms will you be investing your ad spends more and Why? What kind of digital push are you looking at?

Unprecedented times like this call for unprecedented measures and strategies. Brands need to be mindful and empathetic to strengthen consumer connect elevating it from transactional to purpose-led. We need to be cognizant of our marketing strategies, and address the larger issue at hand and not just be opportunistic.

At Usha, we are reworking our marketing strategy to focus on long-term brand building within the limitations of the current environment. We have always kept our brand values at the forefront of all our initiatives, and will continue to do so underpinning our commitment towards our consumers. It is also imperative for marketers to lead with agility and adapt to change and pivot their business offerings, to win the consumer’s trust and serve the community.

COVID-19 has hastened the adoption of digital and we will soon likely be in a digital-first world, wherein consumers increasingly prefer transacting online rather than offline. We at Usha are already well on our way there. When businesses are disrupted due to unforeseen circumstances, the only way forward is to work and win within the new realities. This is only possible if we identify new possibilities and build upon new white spaces, grow resilience within the organisation, and forge ahead with confidence.

Any new products in the pipeline that are being planned? Products like dishwashers have suddenly become visible. Are you looking at introducing something new which will solve the problems for people WFH as this is going to continue for a longer period?

Usha’s entire business premise is to aid convenience and health. All our products are developed keeping the consumer in mind and how we can enhance their quality of life.

Yes, as already mentioned above we have a slew of launches planned for this festive season aligned to customer demand trends. We are growing and widening our product portfolio across categories, including fans, kitchen appliances, fabric care, and lighting.

Over the last few months, we have observed that consumers wanting appliances that save time in the kitchen as well as fans and air-coolers that keep consumers and their homes cool, consideringwork from home is the ‘new normal’. From sewing machines that provide a creative outlet to products that are required daily, we believe that there will be an uptake in demand for the festive season.

Customer centricity is very crucial for the durable business. How this being managed and what isthe future plan to ensure that the customer is kept happy when it comes to service as the restrictions of lockdown still continue?

Usha as a brand has enjoyed a very trusted special place in Indian households for over 85 years, making us optimistic that consumers who are looking for a product to enhance their lives will find it among the Usha product basket. Since we develop products based on consumer insights, we are confident about the value proposition we offer is consumer-centric, and the driving force behind Usha’s growth and progress in the market.

Businesses across industries have been impacted due to the pandemic and challenges we foresee include local lockdowns in parts of certain cities, shorter operating hours of stores, smaller cycles of inventory, etc. Dealers are now cautious of building inventories, given the fluctuations and uncertainty and preferring to look at a supplying daily/selling daily model. The need for agility and adaptability for a brand like Usha is imperative to succeed in this scenario. Traditional sales channels will continue to remain impacted, as people prefer to restrict their movements. While we are ensuring seamless operations by procuring material well in advance, and encouraging our vendors, we can still not be certain of what the future holds.

We have already come a far way in ensuring that our deliveries are contact free and in sanitized boxes in the permissible zones. As for any service issues, we have our own centralised in-house call center that ensures speedy resolution of any issues the customer may be facing, being agile in their response to the needs of the customer in the language of their choice.


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