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BPL | The Death Of A Brand, Rebirth Of A Lovemark
At its peak, the company had some 28 factories and 9,000 employees. BPL’s products came to be known in the market as tech- savvy and durable, thanks to its technology collaboration with Japanese technology major Sanyo
Photo Credit : Bivas Banerjee
You can erase lovemarks, not forget them. This is what happened with the BPL brand which went on to become a lovemark for its longtime users. During the 1990s, almost every second home used a BPL appliance – mostly it was either a television or a refrigerator. And the owners not only took pride in owning them but refused to forget the name years after it went unseen. “The brand stood for trust and quality. People expect BPL products to last forever,” says Ajit G Nambiar, chairman and managing director, BPL Ltd. They worked hard to live their tagline “Believe in the Best”.
BPL also has many firsts under its belt. In the television space, it launched India’s first wide screen TV, India’s first 3D TV, India’s first full flat square TV, and India’s first 1000 watt TV, among others. In the refrigerator space, it launched India’s first convertible refrigerator known as ‘BPL Converti’ (where the user could convert the freezer compartment into a fruit and vegetable compartment at the push of a button), India’s first 4-door refrigerator, and the first ozone-safe refrigerator. It also launched India’s first VCR, India’s first conversion microwave oven, India’s first portable CD player, and India’s first alkaline battery.
At its peak, the company had some 28 factories and 9,000 employees. BPL’s products came to be known in the market as technology savvy and durable, thanks to its technology collaboration with Japanese technology major Sanyo. The collaboration later went on to become a successful joint venture (JV) which Sanyo decided to end in 2008 on account of its difficulties internationally. Sanyo Electric, Japan was formally shut down in the following year after its acquisition by Matsushita Electric. With this, BPL also lost its entire distribution network and unable to sail on its own, BPL closed down its consumer business the same time the JV ended.
“A 30-year old relationship ended out of the blue,” says Nambiar. As a result, BPL’s face, its consumer division, got hidden from the limelight, and BPL started focusing on medical and other areas like automation solutions.
In fact, its healthcare segment has been silently working its way up for the last 50 years or so. With strong focus on the cardiology range of products, it launched the first ECG machine in India as early as the 1970s and it still enjoys a dominant market share in the ECG equipment market.
In August 2013, Goldman Sachs invested in BPL’s Healthcare business and a new entity known as BPL Medical Technologies Pvt. Ltd. was formed. Before the formation of the company, investors were clear to bring a professional CEO from outside to lead the company and roped in GE Healthcare veteran Sunil Khurana as its CEO and MD. With Khurana, another 6-8 experienced healthcare executives joined him from the Industry to help drive his mission. Ajay Jindal, CFO of the company is one of them who joined initially with Khurana.
Since then, the company has been on a steady growth path. From Rs 65 crore in 2013-14, its revenues have more than doubled to Rs 150 crore in 2015-16. Last year, it also acquired UK-based healthcare company Penlon which also has a business of about Rs 110 crore. “This year, our aim is to touch Rs 375 crore including Penlon,” says Khurana.
Last year, BPL Healthcare forayed into the anesthesia segment which according to Khurana has already captured about 10 per cent market share. They also forayed into anesthesia consumable by entering into strategic partnership with global leader in the segment Ambu & King systems. “We are trying to transform from an equipment seller to a solutions provider for hospitals,” says Khurana.
In 2016-17, the company’s focus is to enhance the X-Ray range of products including high-quality C-Arm for surgical procedures. About 2 years back, it also entered into a partnership with South Korea-based Alpinion Medical Systems for co-branded Ultrasound scanners, with which it plans to strengthen its imaging portfolio. This year Khurana expects their X-Ray and Ultrasound segment to grow significantly.
The company has also entered into the m-health space with its innovative CE certified product known as BPL LifePhone Plus. “This is an all-in-one wellness monitoring solution that enables people to measure ECG, Blood Glucose and amount of calories burnt from anywhere, anytime. The user can send the ECG measurements to physicians through a smartphone app and get the advisory within a short span of 2-5 minutes,” Khurana explains.
Currently, BPL Healthcare is present primarily in the Indian region but has clear plans to go international in the near future. “As we build more synergies, we can now leverage the distribution arm of our recently acquired company Penlon,” says Khurana.
BPL Consumer’s All New Online Strategy
BPL Ltd’s consumer business which shut shop in 2008 is back this year with a bang. It all started when Flipkart approached them in June last year to figure out if there is something both companies can do together. Thus, began an exclusive partnership between online retailer Flipkart and BPL. They started with a trial run with televisions to gauge the product acceptance in the market and to their belief, the response was overwhelming.
In January this year, BPL has gone full-fledged launching televisions in the 24”, 32” and 40” sizes. The challenge: Flipkart’s customers are new age, mostly in their 20s and 30s. It’s a different ball game from what BPL was used to. “But we have seen very positive reviews so far. In fact, 45 per cent of our customers on Flipkart are considered as active Flipkart customers and from a younger age group. After all, we are providing great quality at better value than our competitors,” says Nambiar.
Flipkart has been recently marketing its policy of easy returns immensely to win over customers who are used to buying only after the guarantee of touch-and-feel at physical retail stores. “Despite having the privilege of returns online, there have been no returns so far,” Nambiar quips.
In the next 3-4 months, the company is set to launch refrigerators and washing machines. But Nambiar isn’t in a hurry to launch new products. “We will first test the waters in the category we are best known for – television and thereafter we will bring in a range large home appliances,” he says.
BPL’s absence in offline retail stores doesn’t seem to bother Nambiar much either. “We have an exclusive partnership with Flipkart. While we may not have offline retail presence, our reach and exposure is significantly larger on account of our online strategy,” he says. Moreover, today Flipkart’s share is larger than all other online retailers and major modern offline retailers, so Nambiar is a confident man. Nambiar claims that BPL is already among the top three selling brands for Flipkart.
BPL and Flipkart together has set a target such that at least 10 per cent of all TV sales should be that of BPL brand. In terms of sales, BPL targets revenue of Rs 100 crore this fiscal (2016-17) which should go up to Rs 650 crore in the next three years.
The company is also increasing its focus on the home automation and intelligent security solutions space under its BPL iQ brand. In the home automation space, it has partnered with networking major Cisco for the technology part. Its surveillance systems include high-end cameras with features such as face recognition, number plate recognition, and video analytics to solve numerous security challenges.
BPL believes that by 2020, they might actually be much larger than their original business in the 1990s. “The market dynamics are so different today that one can achieve much faster growth in a much shorter time,” says Nambiar.