There are some brands which are synonymous to the products that they make.Those brands are either pioneers in those products or take the market by the storm because of their quality. Seldom we find a brand that has done both. RamchandraBhogale, the director of Nirlepappliances, talks to KYT,about being a brand that is a synonym to the non-stick cookware in India. Excerpts…
Back in 1968, when no one was aware of the non-stick technology in India, how was Nirlep started?
My father and uncles were handling the business then and were in hospital equipment accessories. We had to import steel for it. After the Pakistan war of 1965, government stopped issuing licenses for importing the steel. Since our entire business was based on steel, our business came to a halt. Then, one of our German customers suggested that we use Polytetrafluoroethylene to coat iron that can give the same effect as of steel. So we got the license for it and started imported it by the end of 1966. By the time, the government realised the importance of steel in the industries. So the ban on steel import was revoked. Now we were equipped with both. The chemical was so new people had no idea about it. So when started going through the manual about the chemical, my father found out that non-stick cookware can be made by it. Meanwhile, a cardiologist returned to Aurangabad from the United States and brought a non-stick pan with him. While delivering a talk at Rotary club, he said that it is pity that such useful vessels are not made in India. Taking it in his stride, my father decided on making non-stick vessels. The first batch came for sale on GudhiPadwa of 1968.
How did you come up with the name ‘Nirlep’?
Nirlep means someone or something to which nothing is stuck. This word has more importance in the spiritual world. My father was the most handsome amongst all the siblings. So my grandmother used to love him more. She used to give him things to eat and he would come out and share it with all his siblings. She used to then say, “Nirlepaahes re baba!” (You are indeed nirlep!). So when my father started this business, it was my aunt, IndirabaiVaishampayan who suggested him to name it Nirlep.
What steps were taken in order to market this innovative product?
My father gave the responsibility of selling those to my uncle. He gave a 45-minute demonstration in which he made a lot of items like Dosas, sabjis, etc. using all the non-stick vessels.Thanks to his connections with RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh, my uncle used to conduct demonstrations in various MahilaMandals across the country. This technique worked wonders as the appliances would be sold like hot cakes, in no time.
Let me tell you a hilarious incident that my uncle shared with me. Once, after giving a demonstration in some interiors of Kolhapur, a woman got up saying that she has a query. She asked, “tesaglathikaaheho, pan yatavyatlatoopkiwatelsamplakiteparatghalavalagtaka?” (All said and done, but after the ghee or oil from the pan is exhausted, do we have to add ours to it?). She thought that the pans are pre-oiled and that is why they didn’t have to put anything on it!
What challenges did you face during the primary days in Aurangabad?
When we started our factory in Aurangabad, there were no factories. There were hardly any workshops around. It was under Nagpur Amravati jurisdiction. As a result, when we needed a 10 Hp license, we had to apply for it in Nagpur and take a follow up in Amravati regional office. All the raw materials had to be procured from Mumbai and the finished goods were transported back to Mumbai. Even a small nut had to be brought from Mumbai.
Nirlep has become a generic name for non-stick appliances. Does that help you?
There are advantages and disadvantages of being a generic name. The name of the brand that pioneers in a certain sector usually gets associated with that product. People call non-stick vessels as Nirlep. This is beneficial as the name and brand become popular this way. However, since people are unaware about the difference in brand and the product, people tend to think that whenever they are opting for a non-stick cookware of any brand, they are opting for Nirlep, which is not true.
How do you tackle the competition?
Since we were pioneers, we captured a large market in the first few years. However, after the new players started coming in, the competition has been based purely on the pricing and not the innovation, added features or quality. As a result, for brands like ours which has been stressing on quality it becomes difficult to stand up against those who import China goods and sell it in India at a throwaway price. Our marketing strategies are decided on the market scenario.
Why was the brand revamped?
It was a marketing strategy. You have to change according to the changing consumer tastes and preferences. We saw that the little girl who used to accompany her grandmother and mother to shop has now become our customer and wants something different for the different cuisines she cooks.Taking cognizance of this, we even introduced Chinese wok few years ago. Now the colours and packaging also needed a makeover. Thus, we thought of rebranding.
You also introduced gifting options.
Nowadays, it is easier to gift non-stick cookware than traditional sarees in the weddings as they are more useful. So we decided to make gift hampers or gifting options that are not only useful but also beautiful. Today, we have many families who give us bulk orders for Nirlep gifting options as festival gifts or return gifts.
There have been a few controversies claiming that the coating is hazardous to health.
It is not true. The amount of aluminium that you consume by eating the food cooked in Nirlep cookware for a decade is equal to the aluminium present in one medicinal tablet. If it is so miniscule, how can one claim it to be hazardous?
Do such controversies affect your sales?
Absolutely! According to these reports, consuming food cooked in non-stick cookware leads to Alzheimer’s. The customers panicked when they head\rd of this and asked us about it. We explainedto them the underlying science and facts.
What are the other businesses that you look after?
We have a firm called AITG – Applied Innovation and Technology Group. We make various B2B goods like various auto components for passenger and transport vehicles as well as earth-moving equipment. We have various agriculture-oriented machines designed and are ready to hit the market. These machines would make the work of the farmer easier. We are planning to launch the cotton-industry oriented machine at first and other machines would follow later.
You are on the panel of many industrial organisations. What steps have been taken by these organisations in order to refine industries in Aurangabad?
We have ensured that any factory that wishes to set up in Aurangabad gets all the clearance and other necessary infrastructure. If it has any governmental complications, our body intervenes and makes it easy for the new comer to set up his factory in Aurangabad. Besides, whenever a delegation from Maharashtra goes abroad to promote Maharashtra, we go along with them to promote Aurangabad only.