Since 1989, Tata BP Solar — a joint venture between BP Solar and Tata Power — has been effectively harnessing solar energy and providing solar applications both for urban and rural markets across the world with great success. With countries across the globe grappling with dwindling natural resources and rocketing oil prices, solar energy is fast emerging as the one dependable source that, if harnessed effectively, can make a difference.
Keeping the importance of the existing market in mind, and with an aim to develop an active and aggressive retail chain for attracting new customers, Tata BP Solar has embarked on an extensive retail distribution network to reach out to customers across the country and overseas. Named Project Disha (standing for distribution through hardware outlets), the retail initiative was launched early this year to enhance the current distribution set-up of the company. Project Disha focuses on developing a retail channel that deals with hardware and building construction material. These hardware outlets are being used as pure sales outlets for Tata BP Solar water heaters.
"The solar water heating industry is highly unorganised but for a few brands that are present nationally. Hence the distribution system is also unorganised," explains Tata BP Solar CEO K Subramanya. "The existing distribution system had a limitation in terms of reaching out to millions of customers across India and we felt that the answer to these limitations was Project Disha."
"Project Disha offers various advantages. As part of the initiative, hardware outlets are used as pure enquiry outlets for solar water heaters and to create a platform for Tata BP Solar for launching more retail products through Disha retailers," he adds.
Through these outlets, the dealers of Tata BP Solar can now work towards developing retailers and expanding their market rather than focusing the bulk of their time on prospecting. All Disha outlets provide branding opportunities for the company, enhancing the visibility of the brand significantly. "The programme also results in building territory discipline amongst retailers since territories are allocated to each dealer," explains Subramanya.
The programme also helps Tata BP Solar in moving towards standard pricing, or MRP (maximum retail price), which is a key factor in developing customer confidence. So far, the project has been implemented in 15 cities and towns in the southern and western regions of India and 503 Disha retailers have been appointed. Approximately 100 sales orders have been closed as of March 31, 2007, and our target for the end of 2008 is 2000 orders," says Subramanya.
"The response has been overwhelming and our dealers have already received numerous enquiries from prospective customers. After the initial exciting response, Disha is now set to roll out across all regions of the country."
"Each retail outlet has been equipped with an exciting range of materials like stickers, posters, danglers, etc, to catch the attention of potential customers. In addition, each retail outlet is being given a display board that would attract the attention of passers-by.
"Disha forms the foundation for the launch of mass products. The programme can be modified to include electrical outlets also which would help Tata BP Solar to reach out to millions of customers for its products, such as low-cost lanterns, solar inverters, etc. In smaller towns, the hardware outlets also deal with electrical products and hence can retail both water heaters and electrical energy products," comments the CEO.
Project Disha has been hailed as the right step in the right direction and is in sync with the rest of the plans that the company has, which include both new products and new markets in the next few years. The company is specially focusing on low-cost products that would be required by the mass market. The company has formed an innovation team to specially focus on such products. This, it believes, would not only help the company to penetrate deeper into cities, towns and villages but also create a strong brand pull.
"Tata BP Solar has always aimed at storming the market at the least cost in a disciplined manner and in succeeding with simplicity. It also believes in creating 'win-win' relationships while building awareness and creating demand," remarks Subramanya. The company is also gathering goodwill and is quietly but steadily getting ready for the boom that it believes is just waiting to happen.
"Also on the anvil is our foray into rural markets which would help us reach out to the rural mass market with high-quality products that are affordable," adds Subramanya. For this, Tata BP Solar has tied up with external agencies to work out strategies for accessing this complex market through innovative means. It has also begun the test marketing of a mass rural product through a new channel to penetrate deep into rural areas.
Aided by its vision to be among the most admired Indian companies for world-class manufacturing and performance, the company is all set to prove that a little bit of sunshine can go a long way towards brightening a gloomy scenario.