‘En­gag­ing with cus­tomers, not flashy ad­ver­tise­ment, cre­ates a brand’

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis - PANAJI/NEW DELHI

The Royal En­field made head­lines with an elab­o­rate show­cas­ing of its first twin­cylin­der en­gine bikes–Con­ti­nen­tal GT 650 and In­ter­cep­tor INT 650—at Eicma 2017 mo­tor show in Mi­lan and dur­ing the 14th edi­tion of Ri­der­ma­nia, its an­nual gath­er­ing of Bul­let en­thu­si­ast, ear­lier this month. In an ex­clu­sive con­ver­sa­tion with The Sun­day Guardian, Sid­dhartha Lal, Managing Director and CEO, Eicher Mo­tors, talks about the com­pany’s jour­ney from its lean pe­riod in 2000 to the cur­rent dream run.

Ex­cerpts: Q. Royal En­field had sev­eral high points this year and is go­ing from strength to strength, year after year. How­ever, this was not the case back in 2000 when the com­pany was al­most on the verge of shut­ting down. How did you re­gain pop­u­lar­ity and be­came the mar­ket leader in mid-size mo­tor­cy­cle seg­ment? A. Around 17 years ago when I started run­ning the com­pany, it was run­ning in losses. The com­pany was also fac­ing relevance issues with the young peo­ple at that time and per­haps the built qual­ity as well. How- ever, even then it had a de­voted cus­tomer base. Dur­ing our first Ri­der­ma­nia in 2002-2003 and Hi­malayan Odyssey, we saw that peo­ple were grav­i­tat­ing to­wards the brand. All we had to do was do the right things and go in a right di­rec­tion.

Be­tween 2004 and 2010, al­though we were grow­ing much slower than other com­pa­nies in the in­dus­try, we were mak­ing progress. Our qual­i­ta­tive as­pects were im­prov­ing, in­clud­ing our dis­tri­bu­tion, and ser­vices. We also made the de­ci­sion to switch to unit con­struc­tion en­gines (UCE) from our iconic cast-iron en­gine. And with the launch of Royal En­field Clas­sic 350cc that came with the new UCE en­gine we started see­ing in­creased de­mand. It took us a cou­ple of years to man­age that growth and once we ac­com­plished that we started to as­pire to be global leader in mid-size mo­tor­cy­cle seg­ment. With that in mind, the ideas of Con­ti­nen­tal GT 650 and In­ter­cep­tor INT 650 were con­ceived. Q. What was that one tip­ping point that turned around the ta­bles for Royal En­field? A. I think the de­ci­sion to sell off 13 out of 15 busi­nesses that we were deal­ing in 2000 and fo­cus­ing only on trucks and Royal En­field could be con­sid­ered as a tip­ping point. Con­ven­tional wis­dom says not to dis­turb the ap­ple-cart. But I wanted to do one thing and do it re­ally well rather than do­ing mul­ti­ple things and be medi­ocre. And for me it wasn’t about fi­nan­cial re­sults. I wanted to build a strong po­si­tion and have a good time do­ing it. Q. Apart from the ro­bust growth in sales year-on-year, your ap­parel and mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ces­sories business is also do­ing ex­tremely well among En­field rid­ers and non-rid­ers alike. And much of the credit goes to the strong legacy and a sense of iden­tity that the brand has man­aged to build. How did you man­age to build such iconic brand value? A. We have al­ways stood for the ex­pe­ri­ence over just the prod­uct. En­gag­ing with the cus­tomers cre­ates a brand and not some flashy ad­ver­tise­ment. We ven­tured into mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ces­sories seg­ment be­cause our rid­ers wanted qual­ity bik­ing gears that are ac­ces­si­ble. Also, the idea was to en­hance the over­all re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence to make it much more ac­ces­si­ble. We want to make our re­tail units a place where peo­ple can come and ex­plore the world of En­field with­out any pres­sure of buy­ing the bike. With this idea in mind we have launched Goa Garage Cafe as well so that peo­ple can come, have a good time and learn about Royal En­field and it’s his­tory. Q. The gov­ern­ment has an­nounced its in­tent to turn 100% ve­hi­cles elec­tric by 2030. How is Royal En­field gear­ing up for such a switch in ur­ban mo­bil­ity, while sus­tain­ing brands trade­mark image? A. We are a build­ing a plan on how Royal En­field’s per­sona and idea can trans­late into elec­tric mo­bil­ity. We don’t plan to be the first in the mar­ket with elec­tric ve­hi­cles. We want to do it in a very dif­fer­ent way by un­der­stand­ing the en­tire ecosys­tem. We have strong ca­pac­i­ties to fit into the changed ecosys­tem and still re­tain the brand’s dis­tinct image.

Sid­dhartha Lal

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