Ashwini Gangal
Interviews

"By the year-end, 10 per cent of Aquaguard's sales will come from e-commerce": Shashank Sinha, Eureka Forbes

Did you know, back in the mid-1990s Aquaguard's salesmen - 'Eurochamps' - used Thums Up to demonstrate the product benefit? When the cola was poured into the machine, pure water came out. For a direct sales company, with a knock-on-doors-and-sell strategy, Aquaguard has come a long way.

Today, the brand is taking steps to ramp up its digital presence and build its online sales channel. Shashank Sinha, senior general manager, marketing, Eureka Forbes, is hopeful that by the end of the year, "about 10 per cent of Aquaguard's total sales will come from e-commerce." Currently, the figure is less than five per cent.

Aquaguard has a market share of 58 per cent (value) and 57 per cent (volume), and enjoys an unaided recall score of 92 per cent. Interestingly, Aquaguard faces competition from different brands in different regions: Kent, Nasaka and Luminous in the North, HUL's Pureit in the South, Pureit and Kent in the West, and a host of regional players in the East.

This year, the advertising spend for Aquaguard is around Rs. 80-120 crore, of which 20 per cent will be spent on digital, 15 per cent on print (vernacular medium, non-metro towns) and the rest on TV and BTL communication.

The brand's latest TVC featuring Madhuri Dixit and her husband Dr. Nene ('Paani ka Doctor', anyone?) marks a shift in its proposition - from 'absence of impurity' to 'presence of fortification'. The brand now promises 'healthy' water.

By the end of this year, team Aquaguard hopes to take its retail presence from 17,000 to 25,000 outlets.

"By the year-end, 10 per cent of Aquaguard's sales will come from e-commerce": Shashank Sinha, Eureka Forbes
Edited Excerpts from an interview with Shashank Sinha, who has been with Eureka Forbes for close to 20 years.

Edited Excerpts

Currently, your online sales channels include the company website and your e-commerce partner Flipkart. Tell us about how the two work...

On Flipkart, Aquaguard is available at its MRP, not on discount. We're probably the only brand that Flipkart sells at MRP.

At the moment, EurekaForbes.com is the stronger of the two online sales channels. That's we've been trying hard to drive traffic to it. It's also because for a product like this - related to ingestion - there's the satisfaction of buying from a 'company website'. In categories like ours, it's less about finding that Rs. 1,000 discount. It's more about assurance and trust.

For example, we offer a 30-day money back guarantee on any Eureka Forbes product purchased on our company website. Some of these things are not available on partner sites.

Also, remember that the consumer has seen Eureka Forbes for the last 30 years and recalls someone in a tie coming home and fixing the Aquaguard. From there, to buying online, the consumer thinks, 'Will I get the same product here? Will someone come to fix it properly in the kitchen?' In most homes Aquaguard is installed on the wall. That requires some amount of technical training. People feel buying from the company website will make all these things happen faster.

For a brand that has direct sales engrained in its DNA, what prompted the need to get into the online game?

Around four years back, we started our digital journey because consumers started 'searching' for products online before the Aquaguard sales professional came over to give the product demo.

So back then, objective No.1 of being present on digital - not so much e-commerce - was to generate more leads and open more doors for the Eurochamp. The efforts included SEO, SEM and banner ads... the objective was to get people to a landing page where they could ask for a water test.

The water quality changes from one building to another. So a person would have to come to your home to be able to check the water in your tap and tell you which technology is appropriate for you to use.

Then, the Flipkarts, Jabongs and Amazons came into the picture.

What worries you most about digital as a sales medium?

The biggest challenge in the online world is... people tend to get carried away.

One of the reasons Indians decided to go online and buy in the first place is because the price of products available online was typically lower than it was offline. But we don't do this. That's our biggest challenge and worry today.

Unfortunately in India there are still no regulations for the water purifier category. Someone may come in tomorrow and offer very cheap, imported products at ridiculously low prices. This has happened in the past - twice.

It's only when those water purifiers need servicing that people come back to us. Around 20 per cent of my sales are 'buy backs' from others brands.

I won't say we're top notch with our after-sales. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. We're fixing it.

Does each of your sales channels - direct, retail and online - target an entirely different demographic?

It's difficult to cut these slices very sharply.

For example, though Aquaguard is meant for people like you and me, today, it may become tougher for a direct sales team to get into your home for security reasons. Previously, you never had a security guard to stop people from entering a building. Getting into the homes of the consumers will get tougher in the days to come.

"By the year-end, 10 per cent of Aquaguard's sales will come from e-commerce": Shashank Sinha, Eureka Forbes
Given these barriers to direct sales, and your focus on digital sales, will you scale down the number of Eurochamps out there?

No, not at all.

We are scaling up our direct sales model as well. In fact, we are training our team of sales specialists to undergo an extensive certification program wherein they graduate to become certified water specialists.

Direct is still our strongest sales channel. Around 60 per cent of our total sales come from here.

What role does mass media advertising play for you?

We have never been very big advertisers.

It's because our feet-on-street and personal contact system is so high. We visit a kitchen every 40 seconds, almost. We have an installed base of 50 million+ consumers. We have close to 6,500 service technicians, each going to eight to 10 homes each day for regular servicing. There are 8,000 people who knock on doors. Each one knocks on about 40 doors per day. That's the kind of reach we have.

However, over the last couple of years, competition has intensified. Today, there are close to 146 branded players that advertise in the water purifier segment. It has become a very heavily advertised segment. The category spends close to Rs. 250-300 crore on advertising, each year.

Compared to that, we are miniscule. Our share of voice may be No.4 or No.5.

Do you wish to increase your share of voice and outshout your competition on mass media?

No. We have no desire to be No.1 there.

Our biggest spokesperson is our consumer. Word of mouth referrals get us maximum business. If we keep our existing consumers satisfied, each will give us no less than two or three referrals. That's how we wish to build our business.

In a service-intensive category like ours, it's better to invest in after-sales than on media.