Known for its fans and sewing machines, Usha International has a sizeable presence in the home and kitchen appliances category with products such as juicers, mixer grinders, and oven-toaster-grills (OTGs, which saw increased demand during the lockdown as people stayed and cooked at home. Saurabh Baishakhia, president-Appliances, Usha International, talks about digital emerging as an important sales channel, launching new products, and IPL as a mood lifter. Edited excerpts from an interview:
As lockdown eased what kind of demand did you see for your products?
With the majority of companies announcing work from home till the end of the year, doing office work and household chores alongside has become the need of the hour. Consumers want to make efficient use of their time and want appliances and gadgets that aid convenience, and this includes appliances that cut time in the kitchen—mixer grinders, choppers, juicers, ovens, as well as air-coolers and fans. The demand for products that help multitask is growing, and people are buying food processors, OTGs, mixer-grinders with three or four jars.
We have also seen a growing demand for sewing machines as they not only allow one to explore and hone their creative skills but also help create and augment income opportunities.
As people start to go out and order restaurant food, do you see demand for your products plateauing?
Reports published during the lockdown have observed a fundamental change in consumer behaviour—there is greater focus on health and hygiene, and this will far outlast the pandemic. Initially, we saw a spurt in sales, which was led by pent-up demand built during the lockdown. However, we have now seen a continued steady tick in sales, which is more sustainable. While people have now started to order via food delivery platforms as they have missed their favourite meals, they are also monitoring their quality and hygiene standards. Due to increased awareness and more cooking from home, categories adjacent to cooking, such as OTGs, food prep appliances are seeing a surge. As long as people are enjoying healthy home cooked meals, we don’t see the demand for our products plateauing.
Will festivals drive sales? Will this come from stores or online?
We believe there will be an uptick in demand for the festive season, particularly in the home, kitchen appliances, and lighting category. The percentage contributed by our online sales will certainly be double vis-à-vis last year.
The impact of covid-19 has rewired the customer journey. Digital will play a much more important role, and many consumers are experiencing online shopping for the first time, overcoming mindset barriers of setting up online accounts and making digital or online payments.
We are trying to create more avenues for touch-less shopping as digital adoption is here to stay.
However, for the majority of the population, internet is not yet easily accessible, making it imperative for brands to have a presence across all channels. We are expecting sales from both offline and online channels.
Has the pandemic made you re-think your product portfolio?
Covid-19 is not just a health challenge but an equally disruptive economic one. In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, we have demonstrated our company’s resilience and ability to pivot, diversify, and build on a new consumer journey.
In line with the growing demand for consumer products, we are soon going to launch a new range of Pentacool and Airostrong fans, as well as an array of mixer grinders, blenders, fabric care, and decorative lighting. These are all in addition to our well-established robust service network and the existing diverse product portfolio at Usha. The forthcoming months till December is a crucial period for the consumer durable industry and we will be on our toes adopting and adapting to leverage our strengths.
Do you expect IPL to change consumer sentiment?
This is the first time when the tournament is taking place during the festival season and will no doubt help break through the gloom cast due to the pandemic. Cricket gives people a common platform to enjoy, celebrate, and bond.
Cricket and festivals resonate with all Indians. With both around the corner, there is definitely going to be positive consumer sentiment.
This is an unprecedented time, but we see this as a chance to play a bigger role in consumers’ lives, rather than a time to scale back. At such a time, engaging mindfully and meaningfully with the audience will translate into long-term relationships that every company values.