Atul Vir, CEO & Founder, Equator Advanced Appliances, in an interaction with Sudhakar Singh, Editor, Industry Outlook, shared his views on the home appliances market potential in India.
How was your journey from being a chartered accountant to becoming an entrepreneur in home appliances segment?
I got an opportunity to go to Africa on a short term assignment to investigate a fraud in a company. I was there for three to four months. When the investigation was successfully completed, the chairman in London asked us to run the operations until they had some replacements. So, we ran the operations for some time and he offered me a job. The role would expose me to everything pertaining to the international business from documentation to operations which I found very interesting. So, I took up the job offer.
I learned the ropes quickly and had a lot of exposure, both financial and operational. However, eventually there was a downfall and I lost the entire stake, the investment that I had made in the company. When I came to the US, I wasn't able to get a job. That was around 1991 when there was a recession. So, I started my own business using all the expertise I had gained from my experience, learning from the exposure and the risks we took, most importantly what to do and what not to do. Needless to say it was more difficult than I had expected but I was able to make the transition and now it has been almost 30 years.
How do you see the home appliances market in India? To what extent do you see the adoption of new technologies as compared to the US and other countries?
India, at least from the product offering standpoint, is completely at par with what we are seeing in the US. We know what our competitors are doing. Many of them are global players and they are getting the best technology in India. So, obviously there is a market of people who can afford that.
But most of them are offering very high priced products. Then they are nearly transposing American or Asian technologies to India, and not developing really India specific technologies. In many cases, I've seen that there are gimmicks to get something else, and they're not really focusing on the real needs of the customer. As an appliance manufacturer, what we have to bring is products that improve people's lives. It should be our goal to see what we can do as manufacturers to design products to make life easier for the user. And then go on to save energy, water, and so on. That is what our innovations should strive to achieve and our field may need to dominate it.
How did you zero in on the immediate requirements of the customers?
Doing laundry and hanging clothes up on the street, outside the unit; these are tasks that need to be done, but don't have to be done. That's the first problem. The second point is with venting. The venting cycle can work by using just one resource, which is electricity. The machine does not have to use water in the venting cycle, which becomes even more important from water conservation perspective. We have enabled this and it's making life easier for people.
When it comes to R&D, what would you say are the three or four major technologies that your team is betting big on?
One aspect we are looking at is to make the process completely automated. You can just press a button and it will operate. Those are the kind of things we're working on to make life easier. As there is a move towards health and wellness, we have a sanitize cycle that watches it close at the higher temperature to disinfect the machine. We have allergy cycle because I know that in India, there's a lot of dust and there needs to be particular temperature and kept for a certain length of time. But my personal favorite development is related to bedbugs. To understand the problem, we actually looked into some bedbug research - how are they born, how do they die and all that. And then we, as an appliance company tried to solve that problem and we solved it. So, we have a bug cycle as well.
As technology is advancing, energy efficiency is another area in which we are seeing a considerable improvement. How do you see the home appliances becoming more energy efficient?
While there should be a standard for energy efficiency, we also want to make technology cheap and affordable. There is a price to pay for technology and the minute you start imposing standards, products will get more expensive and then a lot of people can't afford these things. So there's a lot of pushback from industry. If we raise the standard, we need more expensive components. That's going to increase the price by 20 percent. And that's going to lead to a loss of demand.
But I think it needs to be done because it is crucial for saving the planet, considering the debilitating effects of global warming. Hence, industry should make products that comply with those standards. Though India has got global levels of technology with all the latest machines, it is yet to achieve the global standard in terms of energy efficiency. And I believe it should be there.