Usha stitches up a new brand story

For years, the Siddharth Shriram-owned Usha International has been synonymous with sewing machines and fans, the brand a familiar fixture at Indian weddings and family celebrations. But as consumer tastes and technology have overhauled the categories that the brand operates in, the company is fighting to stay relevant and keep the trust with a new generation of consumers. It has extended the USHA brand into new products and used technology to upgrade its old staples. Automatic sewing machines, designer ceiling fans, a new range of kitchen appliances and premium LED lights under the name Tisva; with all of this and celebrity endorsers, the company is hoping to reposition itself as a contemporary home solutions brand.

The company says it spends nearly 4.5 per cent of sales revenue on brand building and close to 3 per cent for new product development. New products such as LED lights and new versions of cooking appliances and automated sewing machines have made it to the market in recent months. Most recently the company launched a digitised sewing machine for kids, under the 'My Fab Barbie' range. Also celebrated chef Vikas Khanna has been appointed brand ambassador for its Halogen line of kitchenware. Sania Nehwal has been ambassador for the brand since 2014.

By associating with young icons and targeting young consumers, Usha is hoping to find the trust it once had among an older generation of buyers. Can it make the generational leap?

The company says that the brand has always symbolised trust, care and honesty. These are values that transcend time and hence the brand is timeless. "It may look like a product, but we see (USHA) as transfer of value to grandmother to mother to a child," says Dinesh Chabbra, CEO, Usha International. But a brand needs more than nostalgia to grow. It must provide products that young home-owners desire and its service must be such that it ensures customer stickiness.

Chabbra says that the company is doing both. It will be present in all product categories that help set up a modern home - be it fans, coolers, water dispensers, cooking range, mixers, grinders and others. At the same time, the company does not want to lose sight of its core products, sewing machines and fans.

Contrary to popular perception, Chabbra says the sewing machine category has been growing. In the last five years, sales revenue from sewing machines has gone up to Rs 500 crore from Rs 100 crore, demand growing the most in urban centres. Usha is the market leader in the organised segment of the sewing machine market, although around 71 per cent of the category is still unorganised. The company says it has 63 per cent share in the organised black machines segment and 60 per cent in the automatic market.

  • In 1934, sewing machines marketed under brand name USHA. Fans added to the portfolio in 1948
  • Diesel engines, home appliances, pumpsets, cooktops and hobs launched under the brand
  • In 2013, decorative lighting products launched under the brand Tisva
  • In 2014 and 2015, badminton champion Saina Nehwal and chef Vikas Khanna appointed brand ambassadors
  • Fans are the company’s bestselling product, accounting for  43% of turnover; sewing machines, 21%

The company has managed to grow its market in urban areas by keeping the product line new and contemporary and Chabbra says, "A brand doesn't stand on advertising and publicity alone, it needs fundamental values which mean keeping the consumer in the centre." The company has also kept its focus on fans, where it says it has 18 per cent share of the organised market. Fans account for 43 per cent of the company's turnover while sewing machines, 21 per cent.

The challenge has been to expand the organised fans market. Nearly one-third of the Rs 7,500-8,000-crore market is unorganised and the company is hoping to make a bigger dent here by targeting children with fans branded with popular cartoon characters.

Usha is keen to increase its presence in the kitchen and home appliances segment where it claims to have 17 per cent share of the market. It has introduced several new products in the category and the brand communication has centred on health and nutrition - be it the newly launched mixers or cooking stoves. Chef Vikas Khanna is expected to help extend the brand's appeal among the growing band of young chefs in the country.

The company is also banking on service and its wide distribution network to expand the reach and influence of its brand. There are 60 company owned stores in the country. Usha is planning to open 50 new stores with franchisees, besides 10-15 own stores. "Over next two years, we will have 200 stores," Chabbra says.

Interestingly for a company that has catered mostly to mass market and even budget consumers, the new lighting brand Tisva targets a premium consumer. Nobody has spent their energy on creating a product that is trusted and of a standard quality in this category says Chabbra, where he sees immense potential for growth.

Usha International, which merged with in-house company Jay Engineering Works in 2007-08, grew at close to 20 per cent between 2008 and 2013, but it has been affected by the economic slowdown over the past few years. Last year it grew by 10 per cent, but by expanding into new categories and focusing on reach and service, the company is hoping to bring the shine back.

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