18 May 2018 19:53 IST

Standing the test of ‘Ghari’

RSPL’s Ghari detergent has been reigning the economy category of the washing powder market

If you ask someone down South about the detergent powders and bars, many brand names would crop up — but never ‘Ghari’. The story up North, however, is entirely different. There, it is a favourite among housewives.

Ghari is the brand that famously did a ‘Nirma’ on the Nirma brand. Here’s how. Earlier, the Indian detergent scene was dominated by major players like the HUL. In 1969, Nirma came along and neatly carved out a large chunk of the market with its value and economy proposition. After some major rethinking, HUL came up with Wheel and regained some of the market share, but the equation had changed forever: no one was sacrosanct.

The beginnings

Since 1970, two brothers Murlidhar and Bimal Kumar Gyanchandani had been working in their family business of manufacturing and selling oil soap at Farrukhabad, near Kanpur. In 1987, they ventured into the detergent line with ‘Ghari’, which is Hindi for time or clock. The company was named Shri Mahadeo Soap Industries Pvt. Ltd (This became Rohit Surfactants Private Limited or RSPL in 2005. The Kanpur-based company is reportedly named after Bimal’s son, Rohit).

Today, the Indian washing powder and detergent market is said to be worth ₹20,000 crore. It has three sub-categories — premium, which consists of names such as Ariel and Surf; mid-market, which has Rin, Tide and others; and economy or popular brands, such as Wheel, Ghari and Nirma.

As consumers shift from hand-washing clothes to using washing machines, many companies have ventured into the liquid detergent business, which was unheard of a few decades ago. Even as the washing machine industry introduces newer models like top load, front load, semi-automatic, fully automatic, and others, the detergent industry has kept pace by coming out with new formulations suitable for each type of machine wash.

But it is the bucket wash segment of the population that still controls the economy category. And this is where Ghari reigns.

Finger on the pulse

Ghari is the leader in the tier 3 and tier 4 segments. From choosing an indigenous brand name to incorporating consumer preferences (Ghari releases more foam, which the consumer associates with more cleanliness), the company has kept its finger on the pulse of the market.

Its initial operations started at a very basic level, with the focus on their home State, Uttar Pradesh. The detergent, promising good quality for a reasonable price, was aimed at the middle and lower middle class section. Soon, it grew to be a force to reckon with, especially as the company kept its price steady, taking on the fluctuations of raw material prices without passing them on to the consumers. While the profit margin remained low, sales rocketed and the brand soon had a loyal following.

Expansion

Forays were slowly made into neighbouring States like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana. These States, along with UP, were among the highly populated ones in India and gave Ghari its market, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas.

But how did the brand beat Nirma at its own game? It has never competed with the latter on the pricing front — it even found a gap and raised its price to position it just above Nirma and Wheel but far below premium brands.

By using only local workers (even for managerial functions), it managed to not only create a positive impact in the region its manufacturing units are located in, but also save money.

In addition, its strategy of spacing its manufacturing units and depots has worked — one can find the units every 200-250 km; the supply chain is near the core markets, which cuts transportation costs. There are no clearing or forwarding agents — Ghari’s products go directly from factories to dealers, thus saving on manpower. None of the processes — right from manufacturing to packing and distribution — are outsourced. The company’s own fleet of about 450 trucks delivers the products. This means huge savings in the cost of operations.

Loyalty and growth

Ghari’s 3,500-strong dealer network is very loyal and committed, with dealers receiving a higher profit margin (6-7 per cent) than their competitors in this segment. A mobile app called Msales, developed in 2011 to track sales, has made tracking and delivery of the products easier.

Initially, Ghari was distributed by the founders on a bicycle! It is still a family-owned business, with different members in charge of different sectors. This means the decision-making is easier and quicker, and risks can be taken without waiting for clearance and other hassles. The fact that everything is in-house helps maintain quality, which has been consistently good over the years.

In 2012, Ghari surpassed HUL’s Wheel to take the top spot. Today, it occupies the second place in the detergent sector, but according to a Nielsen report, it still leads in the economy segment, with (reportedly) one out of every four detergents sold in the Indian market being Ghari. It is said to have a 16-20 per cent share of the market in its category.

Today, the RSPL Group is a diversified conglomerate worth more than ₹5,500 crore. Ghari is present in more than 20 States, with a strong presence in North and West Indian markets.

The company has more than 20 manufacturing facilities with a new one coming up in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Since the detergent brand is not very well known in South India, there are plans to set up a plant in Karnataka.

Advertising

The brand’s approach to advertising has been basic. Since it was aimed at the common man, no celebrity was roped in to promote the product. The company set aside just about 2 per cent of its sales for advertisements. The product was promoted at all exhibitions, fairs, road shows, magic shows, and local plays, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, where customers were encouraged to try the product.

TV and print ads came up with memorable and sometimes heart-touching campaigns — such as the Pehle istemaal karen phir vishwas karen (first use it and then trust it) tagline. It piqued customers’ curiosity and encouraged them to give Ghari a trial. The quality, which justified the tagline’s confident assertion, led to repeat purchases. The latest campaign revolves around Saare mael dho daalo — wash away every dirt. It hints at removing dirt not just from clothes but also their minds.

It also sponsored the hit TV serial Mahabharat, which had a huge following. Yet another clutter-breaking initiative was the use of Railways to promote the detergent. The Lucknow-Guwahati summer train became the Ghari train when the locomotive exterior was painted with the brand’s advertisements. This was followed by the Pushpak Express and the Swarna Jayanti Express.

Other products

Apart from Ghari, other products from RSPL include home-care products such as Dishwash bar Xpert, Xpert Ultra gel liquid and Uniwash detergent powder; personal hygiene items like Proease sanitary pads; and a toilet soap called ‘Venus’.

The company is also present in totally unrelated fields like footwear, renewable energy, real estate, leather and dairy products. Ghari still accounts for a lion’s share of the total sales revenue. In 2017, it contributed ₹3,700 crore out of the total turnover of around ₹4,550 crore.

Ghari’s export market is limited, but plans are afoot to take the product to Bangladesh.

The parent company’s CSR activities include founding hospitals, dispensaries, child welfare centres for the poor and the setting up of institutions to provide medical education.

One of the initiatives is the Laxmi Devi Dayal Das Charitable Hospital set up in 2013 at Kanpur. It is active in promoting health care and education; supporting rural development; providing sanitation and drinking water; and bettering lives of the underprivileged, orphans and differently-abled. It is also associated with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.