In 1944, a freighter carrying cotton bales, gold and ammunition exploded off the Bombay coast killing nearly 800 people and severely damaging the docks resulting in five lakh tonnes of debris.
Unbelievably, every Godrej safe installed at the merchant offices on the docks and the contents inside stayed intact. Ever since, Godrej safe has been synonymous with quality and reliability.
Such indestructibility in refrigerators seems beyond imagination, but that’s exactly what Godrej offered when it started refrigerators production in 1958 — the first one to do so in the country.
“The oldest refrigerator we have is 52 years plus. It’s made of aluminium shelves and strong steel doors that can be converted as a safe today” says Kamal Nandi, business head and executive vice-president, Godrej Appliances. “It’s still in working condition,” he adds with pride.
Perhaps it’s this reliability and longevity that helped the company survive challenging times, including the onslaught of multi-nationals during the 90s that saw peers like Alwyn, Voltas (refrigerators), Kelvinator and BPL folding up.
“Understanding consumers is our core strength,” Nandi explains stressing on innovation. For instance, considering erratic power and water supply, once a major issue for washing machine users, it introduced a product with electromagnetic switch that senses and starts when both water and power supply exist without manual intervention.
Similarly, Godrej was one of the first brands to switch to energy-efficient refrigerators in 2001, much before competitors caught on the green bug. Taking the cue from the Montreal protocol signed in 1987, it designed 100 per cent green products way back in 2001. The market didn’t recognize the importance, but then Godrej didn’t do it from a sales perspective either. It, however, reaped benefits seven years later, when the Bureau of Energy Efficiency mandated energy labelling.
“In 2008, when the government launched the energy-labelling programme, competitors struggled to get 3-stars, while all our products qualified for 5-stars straightaway,” recalls Nandi.
The move propelled sales and Godrej pocketed an extra 5-6 per cent market share that year. Even today, it leads in energy efficiency. “We offer 40 per cent more efficiency than a 5-star, which means, your electricity bill will reduce that much.”
Though it started in 1958, Godrej was late to diversify into washing machines, (in 1996) and air-conditioners in 2012. Nandi justifies the delay on market needs.
“I started my career in an office, where fans were at full speed and windows opened. The initial five years of my career, I did not sit in an AC atmosphere,” recalls Nandi, whose first purchase after marriage was a Godrej refrigerator in 1992.
“I wasn’t with Godrej then, but then Godrej was an integrated brand with every household,” he clarifies.
Broadly, its business is centered on four core areas: refrigerators, washing machines, air-conditioners, and micro waves.
Instead of adding new categories, Godrej is moving into adjacent spaces. For example, in refrigerators it forayed into medical refrigeration licensing technology from UK-based Sure Chill to offer precise cooling solutions for vaccines and blood storage. “These products can keep temperature between 2-8 degrees for 10 days without power,” he details.
The company is exploring areas in climate control and cooking spaces. “People are getting into wine drinking, so may find households having a wine cellar. We are studying consumer trends, lifestyle behaviours, and developing products around our core,” Nandi explains.
While at it, Godrej’s focus on product life cycle remains cradle-to-grave, even as product life cycles are shrinking due to affordability. An internal survey found that, out of every 100 refrigerators sold in a year, 35 are repeat customers, taking upgrades. “We design for three portions as there are second and third-time users.”