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Rohit Surfactants plans to take HUL head
on in premium category; aims to
replicate 'Ghari' magic in urban
landscape with 'UniWash'
When RSPL launched its new laundry brand UniWash a month ago, its strategy was in
complete contrast to what it adopted for its runaway success Ghari detergent a quarter of
a century ago. For one, UniWash was launched in Punjab, Haryana and New Delhi while
Ghari stayed in Uttar Pradesh in the first two decades of its existence. Also, at Rs 95 a
kilo, the new product commands a 10% premium over competitors Rin and Tide's basic
variants and costs double as much as Ghari. That's quite a gamble in one of the most
price sensitive segments — laundry—currently worth Rs 14,000-crore in the country.
Inside RSPL's headquarters in a dusty bylane of Kanpur, however, its founder Muralidhar
Gyanchandani shows no sign of tension, if at all, as he fields ET's questions from behind
his desk in a simple white kurta-pyjama. "Let consumers decide the fate of our new
product as we are confident that the quality will speak for itself," he says, borrowing from
UniWash's tagline, 'Ab safedi khud bolegi'.
This snowy haired sexagenarian's confidence is reflected in his firm's bold distribution
drive. Anand Mour of ICICIBSE 0.62 % Securities in a recent report said, "The company
has taken an advance of about a month's payment from distributors, and if we are to
believe the quantities for which the advance is taken, UniWash is set to be carpet-bombed
in the market."
Clearly RSPL hopes its new laundry product will replicate the magic of Ghari, which
emerged the country's largest brand in a segment where the world's largest consumer
product firms UnileverBSE 0.84 % and Procter & Gamble are engaged in a marketing
war. And RSPL is once again betting on its quality rather than on pricing or advertising.
"Ghari never got itself involved in a price war," says a former senior executive at
Hindustan UnileverBSE 0.84 %. "Priced 20% higher than rival brands, the company has
always marketed their product on the back on a 'better quality proposition'," says the
executive who was directly involved with HUL's operation STING (Strategy To Inhibit
Nirma's Growth) in the late eighties.
If STING helped HUL's Wheel pip NirmaBSE 0.06 % as the top detergent brand, Ghari
emerged on top in November 2011 when it had 30 basis points more market share than
Wheel, a Prabhudas Liladher report quoting Nielsen data had said. Latest market share
numbers are not available.
Muralidhar Gyanchandani, who retired almost seven years ago when he turned 60,
diligently makes 20-odd phone calls everyday to officials involved in operations to
logistics to finance to production, from about 8 am till noon, until he is satisfied
everything is in order at the firm he founded with his younger brother Bimal Kumar
Gyanchandani in 1987.
So how did he pull it off at a time when the market was about HULBSE 0.84 % and
Ahmedabad based Nirma, whose eponymous washing power evicted HUL's Surf from
the top slot in 1985? Gyanchandani points to the company's message board: "Serve
consumers with insight and build brands with passion. Sales and market shares are
merely logical outcomes."
"I think I have also been lucky," says the man who seldom talks about his success that is
celebrated as an example of small town entrepreneurial chutzpah. He isn't far off the
mark. Part of his success in the last decade stemmed from Nirma digressing from brand
building to putting up soda-ash business and HUL focusing more on the top end of the
market. It is in the higher end market that RSPL has now introduced UniWash as an
urban-centric laundry product.
It isn't the only change at RSPL in the last few years. The two senior Gyanchandanis
might be still hands on, but it is the second generation— Muralidhar's sons Manoj and
Rahul and Bimal's son Rohit—that now steers the ship as RSPL is expected to record
sales of Rs 3,900 crore this fiscal, up from Rs 1,000 crore in 2006.
What has not changed is its relentless focus on cost savings. "When most companies
spend around 10-12% of their net sales on advertising and promotional spends annually,
RSPL spends merely 2% in marketing and hasn't roped in any ambassador till date for
Ghari. Neither for UniWash," Rahul Gyanchandani, a director at RSPL, says.
While other consumer companies rely on clearing and forwarding agents, RSPL supplies
its own products from factories to dealers, saving at least 2% in costs. "The promoter's
domain and geographical knowledge has been very strong," says Amin Babwani, an
independent consultant who recalls how a driver-cum-portercum-salesman used to
distribute Ghari to dealers when its rivals employed three people to do the same job.
Gyanchandani's drive for quality and cost consciousness also made the firm resist the
industry practice of outsourcing. From making the product at its 20-odd factories to
packaging to distributing the goods through over 450 trucks and tankers, everything is
done in-house. That pretty much explains why RSPL hasn't reported net losses ever in
one of the lowest margin businesses.
So what else has changed? The group is no longer just a laundry product maker. In the
past few years, RSPL has moved to bathing soap and dishwash bar and to unrelated
businesses such as real estate, leather and dairy business.
"Our brand Namaste India has outperformed market leader Amul in the dairy space
within two years of its launch in Kanpur," says Manoj Gyanchandani who is also incharge of leather brand Red Chief, endorsed by cricketer Virat Kohli. RSPL, which
entered more than a dozen new states in the last four years, plans to take its brands to
Bangladesh, says Rohit Gyanchandani who handles Xpert dishwasher and real estate
business. "We are also launching products such as sanitary napkins as we feel that there's
limited competition in such as high potential segment."
An attempt to be a national FMCG company reflects in its name too, which has changed
from original Kanpur Trading Company to Rohit Surfactants Private Limited to RSPL.
As the new generation readies to take up this challenge, any words of advice from mentor
Muralidhar Gyanchandani? "No matter how hard it gets at the market place or difficult to
earn margins, you can't afford to be out of the shelves," he says.