Rohit Surfactants plans to take HUL head on in premium category; aims to replicate 'Ghari' magic in urban landscape with 'UniWash'

 KANPUR: When RSPL launched its new laundry brand UniWash a month ago, its strategy was in complete contrast to what it adopted for its runaway success Ghari detergent a quarter of a century ago. For one, UniWash was launched in Punjab, Haryana and New Delhi while Ghari stayed in Uttar Pradesh in the first two decades of its existence. Also, at Rs 95 a kilo, the new product commands a 10% premium over competitors Rin and Tide's basic variants and costs double as much as Ghari. That's quite a gamble in one of the most price sensitive segments — laundry—currently worth Rs 14,000-crore in the country.

Inside RSPL's headquarters in a dusty bylane of Kanpur, however, its founder
Muralidhar Gyanchandani shows no sign of tension, if at all, as he fields ET's questions from behind his desk in a simple white kurta-pyjama. "Let consumers decide the fate of our new product as we are confident that the quality will speak for itself," he says, borrowing from UniWash's tagline, 'Ab safedi khud bolegi'.

This snowy haired sexagenarian's confidence is reflected in his firm's bold distribution drive. Anand Mour of
ICICIBSE 0.71 % Securities in a recent report said, "The company has taken an advance of about a month's payment from distributors, and if we are to believe the quantities for which the advance is taken, UniWash is set to be carpet-bombed in the market."

Clearly RSPL hopes its new laundry product will replicate the magic of Ghari, which emerged the country's largest brand in a segment where the world's largest consumer product firms
UnileverBSE 0.55 % and Procter & Gamble are engaged in a marketing war. And RSPL is once again betting on its quality rather than on pricing or advertising. "Ghari never got itself involved in a price war," says a former senior executive at Hindustan UnileverBSE 0.55 %. "Priced 20% higher than rival brands, the company has always marketed their product on the back on a 'better quality proposition'," says the executive who was directly involved with HUL's operation STING (Strategy To Inhibit Nirma's Growth) in the late eighties.

If STING helped HUL's Wheel pip
NirmaBSE 0.06 % as the top detergent brand, Ghari emerged on top in November 2011 when it had 30 basis points more market share than Wheel, a Prabhudas Liladher report quoting Nielsen data had said. Latest market share numbers are not available.

Muralidhar Gyanchandani, who retired almost seven years ago when he turned 60, diligently makes 20-odd phone calls everyday to officials involved in operations to logistics to finance to production, from about 8 am till noon, until he is satisfied everything is in order at the firm he founded with his younger brother Bimal Kumar Gyanchandani in 1987.

So how did he pull it off at a time when the market was about
HULBSE 0.55 % and Ahmedabad based Nirma, whose eponymous washing power evicted HUL's Surf from the top slot in 1985? Gyanchandani points to the company's message board: "Serve consumers with insight and build brands with passion. Sales and market shares are merely logical outcomes."

 "I think I have also been lucky," says the man who seldom talks about his success that is celebrated as an example of small town entrepreneurial chutzpah. He isn't far off the mark. Part of his success in the last decade stemmed from Nirma digressing from brand building to putting up soda-ash business and HUL focusing more on the top end of the market. It is in the higher end market that RSPL has now introduced UniWash as an urban-centric laundry product.