It took Gupta over seven years from launch to build up a new category – UV-based water purifiers – and establish Kent RO as a reliable brand in this segment. But, once the initial push came, the company has stayed ahead of the curve with unique features to become the market leader in the segment. Now, of course, its expanding the Kent brand to new kitchen gadgets and it feels like deja vu yet again.
I recently came across a statistic that on first glance was appalling. According to a recently published report by World Health Organization, 2.1 billion people (yes, that’s not a typo) lack safe drinking water globally. And, without doubt India is no exception, and WaterAid, a global advocacy group on water and sanitation, estimates that 63.4 million people in the country do not have access to potable drinking water. No wonder, then, that the water purifier industry is estimated to be a Rs. 3,500 crore sector, probably covering mostly urban areas today, giving head room for further expansion to the rest of India.
A TechSci Research report – India Water Purifier Market Forecast and Opportunities, 2019 –points out that India’s water purification market is dominated by reverse osmosis (RO) technology due to the high presence of TDS (total dissolved solid). A fairly consolidated market, 70 per cent of the share has been cornered by 10 players, with Kent RO Systems featuring among the top two, together accounting for 50 per cent of the market share.
One can say that the RO story in India is closely interwoven with that of Noida-based Kent RO Systems. Dr Mahesh Gupta, Founder and Chairman, was running SS Engineering successfully at the time, a venture he started after his decade long association with Indian Oil Corporation, when a personal need made him look for RO-based purifiers. At that time, only UV-based purifiers that could kill the bacteria present in the water were available in the market, leaving the dissolved pollutants due to industrialization right behind inside drinking water. Needless to say, these pollutants had to be removed and RO-based methods had potential.
In 1998, with a seed capital of about Rs 5 lakh, Dr. Gupta procured equipment for the RO system and his product with four-pronged RO+UV+UF+TDS controller which purifies water while retaining the essential natural minerals was patented. In 1999, he announced the first commercially available RO purifier in India under the brand name, Kent RO. No points for guessing why you remember this brand (Hint: an actress of yesteryears, who we trust to provide us with only safe drinking water is the company’s brand ambassador!).
The Slow Start
And, to his surprise, there were not many takers. “At Rs 20,000, the purifier seemed too expensive. Though people were willing to pay the same for a fully-automatic washing machine, convincing them of the need for a water purifier proved more daunting,” recollects Dr Gupta. The main challenge, as he realized, was the lack of awareness about the new technology. It was being compared to existing UV purifiers that were selling at a much lower price.
Through door-to-door sales, the company managed to sell 10-15 purifiers a month. “Even today, I think it is easier to sell washing machines than a purifier,” he adds wryly.
“Even today, I think it is easier to sell washing machines than a water purifier” – Mahesh Gupta notes in irony, explaining the marketing challenge Kent RO continuously faces
The Move to Brand
By 2006, the company was still struggling for sales, had no branding or visibility. They did not have the money to do so. But seeing the Catch-22 situation they were in, Dr Gupta decided to rope in actress Hema Malini (we gave you the hint!) to create visibility. “We could still not afford to advertise on TV and so we started with newspaper advertisements,” he reminisces.
Within the year, the sales grew and the company registered a revenue of Rs. 30 crore that year and expanded to other metros. Next it went for TV advertisements. “We have not looked back since then,” says he. Growing at 10-15 per cent year on year, Kent RO is now a Rs 1,000-crore company.
Innovations along the way
Constant innovations have been the hallmark of the brand, and one of the reasons why Kent RO, despite the presence of serious competition in recent times, has managed to keep its lead. “Wall mounted ROs, removable water tank, micro-controlled purifier, smart RO, servicing innovation are some of the reasons for our continued growth,” says Dr Gupta, matter-of-factly.
The company has an in-house R&D team and spends about four to five per cent of its revenues on innovation. It also holds patents for some of its technologies – including two of the latest innovations. One of the problems with ROs is the removal of healthy minerals as well when desalinating water. But Kent RO recently overcame this bottleneck such that the water retains the minerals and only the impurities are removed.
The second innovation is the reduction in wastage of water. Earlier, for every 1 litre of water, 6 litres had to be thrown away. But now, 50 per cent is retrieved and the remaining 50 per cent is stored in the purifier itself and can be used for washing vessels and mopping the floor.
Yet another innovation is to provide a gravity purifier, which does not require any electricity or battery to operate.
Many more such new approaches and ideas are on the anvil, Dr Gupta assures. “All products are based on consumer feedback and requirements,” he says, without revealing too many of his secret weapons.
In recognition of his contribution to the water purification industry, he is known as the Pure Water Man of India. He was also conferred an Honorary Doctorate degree by Sri Sri University Orissa, for his contribution in providing safe and healthy drinking water.
Over the years, the company has built a strong team of 2500, has integrated all processes and has a formidable marketing team to take care of not only national but international sales as well.
Kent RO currently operates state-of-the-art manufacturing plants in Roorki and Uttarakhand and has another one coming up in Greater Noida. With an investment of Rs. 100 crore, the company is readying up a new manufacturing plant in Greater Noida which will hike up capacity. The Roorki facility is probably the largest water purifier manufacturing facility India with 1,00,000 sq. ft. plant. Currently, the manufacturing capacity of the company is five lakh pieces per year, which will be doubled with the commissioning of the new plant in 2018. By April 2018, the company will be manufacturing one million RO Water purifiers in a month.
Kent RO has a vast network of 600 distributors 1,000 dealers and 1,000 retailers. Besides, the company has opened up 150 exclusive Kent shoppes through franchise model in key cities of India.
In addition, service plays a key role and Kent has set up one Call Center with 400 employees to service about 19,000 pin codes, has 1,600 service franchises and 5,000 trained technicians.
“We are expanding almost 20 per cent every year from exports, though we are not a multinational player. Since our product is not a commodity, it is difficult to generate demand overseas. So, our current strategy is to work in India and expand our footprint in overseas markets later,” explains Dr Gupta. Currently, orders trickle in through its website, and its products are shipped to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Kuwait from India.
But plans are on the anvil to increase exports to 30-40 per centriding on a country-wise or region-wise strategy. This year, the company is expecting to touch Rs. 35 crore to Rs. 40 crore revenue from exports, as against Rs.24 crore last year. “Very soon, you will hear of Kent’s entry in the UAE markets,” he promises.
Diversifying its product mix
Keeping in line with its motto of: Eat pure, Drink pure, Breathe pure and Live pure, the company has forayed into air purification, cleaning of vegetables, vacuum cleaning and kitchen cleaning. “All products are ahead of their time and so will take time to grow,” he says. Already campaigning around air purifiers in both TVCs and print have been initiated. In the next five years, the company will target 35 per cent market share in the Rs 150 crore air purifier market, from both Tier I and II cities.
The next in line to be released are small kitchen appliance segment with products such as Noodle and Pasta Makers, Pizza and Omelette Makers, Chilla Maker, Rice Cookers and Turbo Blenders and much more. Hema Malini along with daughter Ahana continues to be the brand ambassador for these products as well.
The journey has not been easy for Dr Gupta. Vying with renowned brands and achieving financial self-sufficiency were two of the biggest challenges. Keeping costs under control and putting in sweat and blood were the only ways in which this one-man army (at least in comparison to the competition Kent RO was dealing with) could see the fructification of its dreams.
Again, without revealing too much, Gupta simply says he believed in himself and his dreams. Focus and consistent efforts are the secrets, he says. We know it’s much more than that. Strategies, tactics, swift decision-making, capital investments in manufacturing, mature, phased investments in brand branding, and the list is endless.
1998 – Inception of the Brand
2000 –Develop a water purifier using reverse osmosis for getting potable water from any source. Uses RO+UV+UF+TDS controller which purifies water while retaining the essential natural minerals
2005 – Roped in Veteran Actress Hema Malini for brand promotion in newspaper ads, to boost struggling sales
2006 – Came up with TV commercials. Entered international markets
2009 – Launched Gravity Purifiers
2001 – First brand to launch counter top water and wall mounted water purifiers. Patented technology receives validation from UNESCO and certified by international organizations including WQA, NSF, TUV and ISA
2007 – Wins Golden Peacock Eco Innovation Award for developing innovative water purifying technology
2010 – Launches second manufacturing plant in order to escalate manufacturing capacity. Presently the company has two facilities in Roorkee. With an investment of Rs. 100 crore the company is coming up with another plant in Greater Noida.
2011 – Opens a chain of Experience Centers christened as ‘Kent Shoppe’
2013 – Releases RO water purifier with no water wastage, Kent Supreme
2016 – Launches Kent Superb, a digitally-controlled RO water purifier providing information on the quality of drinking water, the machine’s performance, filter change alarm and many other digital and helpful features.
Kent releases new range of products including Air Purifiers, Vaccum Cleaners, Bed Cleaners, Cold Pressed Juicers
2017- Launches Noodle & Pasta Maker, Chilla Maker, Turbo Grinder & Blender, Rice Cookers, Pizza & Omelette Maker
5 simple, yet critical lessons for budding entrepreneurs
- A successful business requires 100% attention, everything else is a distraction
- Pay attention to your customers first
- Regard failure as a strength and not a weakness
- Believe in yourself & your product
- Give something back to the world
According to India Water Purifier Market Outlook, 2021, India’s water purifier market was growing at a CAGR of 21.24 per cent over last five years. Based on technology, the market is segmented into RO, UV and offline water purifiers. As per sales revenues, RO water purifiers dominated the market in 2014, followed by UV filters and then gravity based offline purifiers. RO water purifiers are the costliest among all the three technologies; however rising awareness about its advantage over other purifiers are making it increasingly popular.
Eureka Forbes dominated the RO category but Kent has now overtaken to become the market leader. Both companies are at striking distance and trying hard to stay ahead by innovating and promising good after sales service. On the other hand, water purifiers with UV technology are fast declining due to less innovation.