Ananya Pathak

Are Indian homes ready for touch-free taps and lights?

Jaquar Group hopes so, as it woos the upper middle class with a contactless range of products. We spoke to the brand’s marketing head Sandeep Shukla about the usage barrier.

In the pandemic-struck world of today, the idea of touch has undergone a sea change. Daily activities now mean avoiding touching surfaces or objects unless absolutely necessary, and that too with requisite precautions. However, touching things like water taps and switchboards, even when in public spaces, is unavoidable.

Often, water taps and switchboards, especially in high footfall and transmission-heavy commercial sites such airports, hospitals, hotels/restaurants and shopping malls, come in contact with hundreds of people everyday. Also, who knows whether these are sanitised properly or regularly.

Identifying this as a concern that is here to stay, bathroom fittings and lighting brand Jaquar Group launched two new range of products last week: Opal Prime and Kubix Prime sensor faucets. Additionally, the brand also launched a campaign for its Sensor and Sensibility range of products.

Conceptualised by AdLift, a Gurugram-based digital marketing agency, the film aims at encouraging a contactless, sustainable and more functional interface for both bath and lighting solutions. The products highlighted in the TVC include touch-free, energy-saving, motion sensor-based solutions in bathware, sanitaryware and lighting category.

The company has been in the business of selling faucets, showers, shower enclosures, sanitaryware, flushing systems, wellness products, concealed cisterns, water heaters and varied lighting products since 1960.

Sandeep Shukla, head of marketing and communication - global operations, Jaquar Group, says that the sensor range of products has existed in the market for a while. However, the pandemic has only made it more visible. “The top of the mind recall of the product was missing,” he says.

The brand’s new product range is anchored on the smart usage and functionality of the bathware, sanitaryware and lighting solutions in a contactless manner, both at homes and public places. It incorporates Jaquar's sensory intelligence technology and customisation of existing products to eliminate any (hand) contact.

Intelligent sensor faucets
Intelligent sensor faucets

While this may sound timely, given the increased awareness about hygiene, are Indian homes, that are still warming up to smart TVs and Alexas of the world, ready for smart bathroom fittings and lighting? Shukla says, “Generally sensor products are used mostly in public areas like malls, airports and hospitals. The larger traffic comes from there. There wasn’t much of a residential use of it. However, the current pandemic has escalated the need for it, and people are now considering using it within their living spaces.”

“The price of the products is no barrier. It is the mindset and the usage culture,” he adds. Jaquar’s range of touch-free taps starts from Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000, and smart lightings are available for upwards of Rs 800.

Sandeep Shukla
Sandeep Shukla

Shukla also says that the new range has been designed keeping in mind the upper middle class. He mentions that Tier II, III and IV markets are showing positive growth in the segment.

While Jaquar’s smart range of products is available both online and offline, are local vendors equipped to install or repair them? Shukla points out that with the launch of every new product, the brand releases a detailed installation manual in all possible languages. Additionally, the brand is also involved in the process of training and educating local vendors about the services.

Kubix Prime sensor tap
Kubix Prime sensor tap

“Every sanitaryware shop has a local vendor attached to it. We have an in-house team of electricians and plumbers, who are involved in the process of training local vendors. The training process for now is being done through video conferencing,” Shukla says.

He mentions that the brand’s customer service team deals with the training and education of servicemen. On a day-to-day basis, over a lakh people are trained.

Speaking about the impact of the pandemic on the industry, Shukla mentions that the first quarter wasn’t good for his brand. This, he points out, “wasn’t because there was a lack of demand. But because factories were shut, workers had gone back home and shopkeepers weren’t allowed to open their shops.”

He says that about 75-80 per cent of the business is now back on track. “We see a will in people to build their homes. Real estate is coming back. We just got to be a little patient for now. These changes brought on by the pandemic are here to stay.”

Opal Prime sensor Tap
Opal Prime sensor Tap

“For now, we need to know that our working capital is in place to spend wisely, and the current situation needs to be dealt with relevant advertising and effective communication,” Shukla says.

“As an organisation, we took about 3-4 months to recover. This slowdown wasn’t obviously comfortable because you are used to working at a certain rate. However, we saw a lot of value coming in from our brand Essco (Jaquar’s six-decade-old bathroom brand aimed at value housing). That’s what put us in a better position because at a time when one market is down, another comes to the rescue.”

The good part, Shukla says, is that people are spending more time in their homes. Hence, they want to work to improve the space. “Bathrooms are no longer a commodity. People enjoy and relish this space. For now, they are holding on to their spends for various reasons – we need to give them more time to come out of it. We see a lot of positive trends coming up in that per se, we just need to capitalise on it,” he signs off.

Industry speaks

Abhijit Avasthi, founder of Sideways Consulting, a creative problem-solving outfit, is of the opinion that there will be mass adoption for any technology that looks into genuine consumer needs. If not, it will only remain faddish.

Abhijit Avasthi
Abhijit Avasthi

“I am not sure if non-touch and, hence, safety is a relevant need inside people's homes. Most folks consider their homes to be safe havens in any case. I understand the need for these at public places,” he says.

But yes, he adds, “… if the promise is ease of use/better control/efficient usage, then there might be takers for the same."