There is a story that an Indian Army regiment used Asian Paints instead of polish for their shoes, to get the desired ‘gleam’. Maybe it isn’t apocryphal after all!
Everything about Asian Paints is colourful, right from its corporate website to the cover pages of its annual reports. For a company that started in a garage in Mumbai and whose original name was picked randomly from a telephone directory, Asian Paints sure has come a long way!
How it was started
The year was 1942. World War II was underway, and this resulted in a temporary ban on paint imports into India. Four friends — Champaklal H Choksey, Chimanlal N Choksi, Suryakant C Dani and Arvind R Vakil — saw an opportunity in this to start ‘The Asian Oil and Paint Company’. (The name was changed to ‘Asian Paints (India) Pvt. Ltd.’ in 1965. It became a public limited company in 1973. Choksey moved out in 1997.)
The company faced initial difficulties. Unable to break into the urban market dominated by MNCs, and with distributors refusing to stock their products, it decided to focus on small towns and rural areas. This meant a move away from industrial paints to decorative paints.
The first dealership was established in a small town called Sangli (near Satara) in South Maharashtra. Keen observation of consumer consumption patterns led the company to bringing out their products in 50-100 ml packs.
These sold well in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, where people used brightly coloured paints to decorate bull horns and wheel spokes during Pongal and Pola celebrations. The auspicious red-and-yellow vertical stripes adorning the bottom panels of Tamilian households’ doors and walls was another inspiration to produce small packs.
Other little but important details — like the rural preference for ‘powerful and strong’ dark shades instead of pastel shades — were duly noted, and supply was tailored to meet demand.
The company’s large presence in the rural market is a testimony to the success of these plans. As demand picked up, shops in large cities too started stocking Asian Paints, and the unique rural-to-urban strategy worked.
Appeal of the ordinary
Its mascot ‘Gattu’ was initially instrumental in bringing in tremendous brand recall. Created by RK Laxman in 1954, the little boy with the shock of untidy hair falling over one eye and a dripping paint brush in one hand, appealed to ordinary people.
In fact, Gattu’s visual impact was such that customers started asking for the ‘ladkewala paint’ (boy brand) and sales went up ten-fold. (Gattu was dropped from the main spot in 2002 as the company went for a more premium market. The brand underwent another change in 2012, shortening its name to just ‘AP’ in the logo, with a flowing ribbon formation.)
Advertising has been one of its strengths, right from the hilarious picture of Gattu painting a bald man’s head to the touching ‘Har ghar kuch kehta hai’ and ‘Har rang kuch kehta hai’ campaigns.
Asian Paints was one of the first companies in India to hire people from the best engineering and business schools — as early as the 1960s. Even today, one of its greatest strengths is its professional management team at the middle and senior levels.
In the 1970s, at a time when computers were almost unheard of in India, it bought its first mainframe computer and used it to improve service levels across the country. Several functions were computerised, resulting in better management of inventory and branch billing.
All the facilities — chemical plants, processing centres, distribution centres and depots, — are integrated. Computerised colour matching was ushered in as early as the mid-1970s; PCs by the 1980s, and a customer helpline in the 1990s. A colour selection app, which enables one to take photos with mobile phones and apply different shades of paint to see the effect, was recently introduced.
Experts credit the success and stability of Asian Paints to a number of reasons.
~ Its genuinely independent board with high-calibre professionals
~ The fact that there has been no change of promoters in the last seven decades
~ Its first mover advantage, especially in product innovations and investments, with strong brand recall even for sub-brands
~ Its extremely loyal dealer network.
Even today, the company does not have distributors. It supplies its paint directly to about 45,000 retail shops across India through its depots.
The company, which has been the market leader since 1967, is today India’s largest and Asia’s second largest paint company, with more than 50 per cent market share and a turnover of ₹155.34 billion.
The six Indian plants are spread across as many states, with the one at Bhandup in Maharashtra said to be the largest single paint factory in the country.
Globally, the Asian Paints group services the needs of people in around 65 countries. It operates in 19 countries and has paint manufacturing facilities in 26 locations around the world. Apart from Asian Paints, the group operates around the world through its subsidiaries Berger International, SCIB Paints, Apco Coatings, Taubmans and Kadisco.
The paint industry is an inherently hazardous one. Even as it uses technology, Asian Paints has addressed environmental concerns by adopting eco-friendly production methods to reduce pollution, along with a ‘Lead and Heavy Metal Free Guarantee’, waste minimisation, and recycling.
All its plants have achieved ‘zero industrial discharge’ capability; and all but one, have the ISO 14001 environmental certification. In fact, one of its CSR initiatives is water management through conservation of fresh water.
It is no wonder then that among other innumerable awards, Asian Paints won the ‘Sword of Honour’ from the British Safety Council, considered the highest safety award in the world, for all its paint plants in India.
Of late, the brand has ventured into the adhesives market and home décor solutions.