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Published on: Nov. 8, 2022, 2:26 p.m.
Aiwa’s second coming
  • Mehta: ‘we have a clear strategy’

By Ritwik Sinha. Consulting Editor, Business India

“It has been a terrific festival season for us,” maintained Ajay Mehta, managing director, Aiwa India, in an informal chat recently. And, while he was narrating the trends, you would surely have not missed out an unmistaken tone of enthusiasm in his voice. Just three months back, accompanied by his marketing head and other colleagues, Mehta was addressing select members of media in Delhi, telling them Aiwa India’s long-term plans and targets, as the company tends to get in a scoring mode in its second inning now.

During the chat, he had to respond to a barrage of questions (some of them discomforting), pertaining to the Japanese firm’s possible stand, now that the competition in the local market has reached a different pitch from what it was 25 years ago, when Aiwa first arrived on the Indian scene. 

A seasoned professional in the consumer electronics business, Mehta had subtly asserted then that there would be enough opportunities for his firm, as the market trends change to adopt more sophisticated and digitally aligned products. “We are collating different pieces – superior quality products, aligned with a changing digital dynamics, local manufacturing, effective and efficient sales channel and wider product portfolio – to make it big in the next five years,” he had commented then. “We have a clear strategy in place”. 

Marketmen looking at the unfolding scene vouch that, for any consumer electronics firm, there are enough growth tailwinds in sight in a gigantic market like India. Whether it is new-age smart TVs, the hugely under-penetrated air-conditioning segment, refrigerators, etc, the growth momentum in most of segments post-Corona is getting robust. And there is space for new players, if they play the game diligently.

“With Covid, many products – be they of a different lifestyle or premium grade -- are fast becoming mainstream, such as CCTVs, robotic vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, air-purifiers, etc,” says Akshay D’Souza, chief of growth & insights, Bizom, a retail intelligence platform. “This is seeing the portfolios of many companies scale up in keeping with the changing needs of Indian consumers”. 

 New innings 

Aiwa may have disappeared from the Indian market in the last decade and is on a comeback trail now, but old-timers haven’t forgotten the role it played in popularising colour television sets in the country in the 1990s, under the stewardship of Kabir Mulchandani (Baron International fame). Considered a maverick, many stakeholders had also given him credit for initiating a price war in the colour television segment in the country, after he joined hands with Akai and later Aiwa to market their products in India.

“Indian consumers (40+ age) remember Akai and Aiwa fondly from the 1990s, as they were the brands that made music systems and televisions affordable to the masses,” D’Souza underlines. These companies, however, ultimately lost out because of burgeoning losses in India, thanks to the aggressive penetration, particularly by South Korean conglomerates Samsung and LG (with better strategy and local manufacturing) in television and other product categories in the electronic appliances value chain. 

Aiwa’s disappearance from the market for nearly a decade, in India and elsewhere, had primarily stemmed from its troubled management issues, marketmen point out. Founded in 1951, the Japan-based firm had established itself as a leading global entity in the consumer electronics space, with specific expertise in the audio-visual segment (personal audio segment & television). By the end of the ’90s, it had built quite a reputation for speakers, boom-boxes, television sets, stereo systems and iconic cassette tape recorders.

But, in its bid to expand at a fast pace globally, the company was reported to have landed in an over-stretched financial position. In 2003, a much bigger Japanese electronics giant Sony had stepped in and acquired Aiwa, making it a wholly owned subsidiary, which was supposed to cater more to the youth segment. 

  • Luxury acoustics portfolio sits at the centre-stage of Aiwa, currently

Sony, however, could not engineer the required turnaround and the manufacturing under Aiwa brand was put to a halt in 2006. About 10 years later in 2017, Akita bought the brand rights from Sony, thus setting up the stage for its comeback. Since then, the company has opened as many as half a dozen regional headquarters across the globe tying up with local partners to run the show. And as part of this process, a regional headquarter in India was opened up in January 2021, which is mandated to take care of South Asia.

“On the 70th anniversary year of Aiwa, we are excited about the formation of Aiwa India’s regional headquarters and our efforts to bring to the Indian consumer our full range of high-quality products,” remarked Shouchi Kure, global business director, Aiwa, Tokyo, Japan, at the time of announcing the commencement of new inning in India early last year. While making a comeback, the company has opened about six regional headquarters till date. 

Since its entry in the Indian market, the company has subtly expanded its portfolio and built its sales channel at strategically important locations. Luxury acoustics portfolio sits at the centre-stage of Aiwa’s current limited presence, which has four product categories. 

The decisive push to its offerings in India, meanwhile, happened in early July, when the company announced offerings its state-of-the-art product range in the colour television segment. The company launched its popular TV series, Magnifiq, that comes with the promise of Magnificent Vision, Magnificent Sound and a Magnificent Experience to the customers.

According to the company’s presentation, the Magnifiq range of products are powered by Android 11 & AI Core 4 Processor and the range extends from the fully loaded 32” series to 43” (FHD & UHD), 50 (4K UHD), 55” (4K UHD) and 65” (4K UHD), priced (MRPs) Rs29,990-139,990. 

Also, the 55” and 65” models of the range come with built-in sound bars for enhanced audio, which give users the best-in-class experience. The sound bar has been designed with Aiwa Authentic Signature Sound technology to give users the most optimal audio preference. The Television Sound Output is among the highest for products in the same segment. With the company’s proprietary Crysta Tech Vision in this Magnifiq series, Aiwa is claiming to have introduced a new standard in picture quality with Vertical Array Display, AI Quad-Core Processor, 1.07 Billion Colours and 350 nits* of brightness. “At the launch of our word-class televisions, we are sure the consumer will feel confident to see Aiwa’s legacy of excellence over the past 70 years, coupled with the latest and most powerful Android 11 technology.”

 Strategy and target 

There are some distinctive elements of Aiwa’s strategy for India. First and foremost, it has no intention of being dubbed as a brand selling cheaper products solely focussing on volume sales, something that had happened in its previous Indian journey. “We are absolutely sure on this point,” Mehta asserts. “Our products may be cheaper by, say, 15-20 per cent of the premium brands in the television segment, but we would certainly be not vying with the companies selling at low prices to build volumes”.

And to ensure that this salient point – of not being the cheapest brand – get effectively registered in the consciousness of prospective Indian buyer, the company has resorted to only offline sales as of now. It has expanded to about 500 retail points, particularly in Gujarat, Mumbai, Kerala, Kolkata and Punjab markets.

  • Demand for Aiwa’s state-of-the-art smart TVs is on the rise

By the end of the fiscal, the company is aiming at reaching out to most of the consumer pockets in the offline mode, in collaboration with the likes of Reliance Digital, Tata’s Croma and others. “We have a tie-up with Tata Croma for the sales of our audio products,” Mehta informs. “We will soon add television products to it. We have recently joined hands with Reliance Digital for the sale of our products in both audio and television segments. It will kick-start in next few days. We are also talking to the likes of Vijay Sales and some other retailers for a possible collaboration and I am hopeful, it will materialise before the end of the current fiscal”. 

A major element of Aiwa India’s new innings would be its emphasis on local manufacturing, which would subtly add the ‘Make in India’ flavour to its presence. For this, it has joined hands with Dixon Technologies. Noida-headquartered Dixon is a noted name in the consumer electronics contact manufacturing and has quite a reputed collaboration line-up with the top-notch players across different product categories.

“A tie-up with the likes of Dixon is a positive statement, which Aiwa has made showing its commitment to the Indian market,” observes Anshika Jain, senior analyst, Counterpoint Research, a leading market research firm. Mehta points out that, as the volume grows, the company may plan more such tie-ups. “We may particularly look at more collaboration in the smart TV space, which will be our anchor product,” says he.

Meanwhile, after a slow beginning last year and, with an expanded portfolio including the flagship smart TV products now, the company is planning a further expansion of its operations in the near term. For instance, in scaling up local production and marketing, it has drawn a capex plan of $20 million (over Rs160 crore) in the next two years.

And, in 2023, while its existing product portfolio of audio and smart television sets may see addition of upgraded variants, the company is also likely to add one more product category. The next offering could be air-conditioning, which is a hugely under-penetrated segment in the country, having reached out to only 8 per cent of Indian consumers, Mehta indicates. “As of now, after smart TVs, ACs are Aiwa’s best selling product globally,” Mehta explains.

“In India too, its demand is on a rising curve. And though we have not taken a call on this, it could be our third product. But the new launch will not happen till H1 of the next calendar year. We will be totally focussed on establishing our smart TV market till the middle of the next year and then go for the next addition,” he adds. 

 Larger product portfolio

On the revenue front, the company is expecting to clock about $50 million (R400 crore) in sales in the Indian market by the end of the current fiscal, supported by two product categories of audio and smart TV. But, with a much larger product portfolio, which may also comprise ACs, refrigerators, washing machines and other small appliances, the company is looking to make a quantum leap in the next five years.

“Going by our own calculations, our revenue in India may jump to about $1 billion in the next five years,” Mehta underlines. “In smart televisions, which will be our anchor segment and is likely to account for half of our total sales, even with an expanded portfolio in future, we are targeting a market share of 5 per cent in the next three-four years”.

  • Our products may be cheaper by, say, 15-20 per cent of the premium brands in the television segment, but we would certainly be not vying with the companies selling at low prices to build volumes

Responding to Aiwa India’s strategy, where it is eyeing to make a mark in the mid-to-premium smart TV categories, market observers feel they have drawn a ‘slow and steady’ growth plan. “Of the total smart television sales in the country, a hefty 69 per cent is shared by sub-Rs30,000 products,” explains Jain. “And, in this category, Aiwa has only one product, which shows they are more inclined to sell products with higher pricing points”.

The total colour television market size in the country is estimated to be close to 18 million (smart TVs have a hefty 90 per cent share in the pie), which has registered an average CAGR of 9 per cent in recent years. After the stabilisation of market after Corona, smart television sets in the price range of Rs10,000-30,000 have grown at a brisk pace, with new players like Xiaomi, TCL and OnePlus making a mark, with a plethora of offerings, even as established players like Samsung and LG have strengthened their positions in these categories. 

“In its new avatar, Aiwa is not choosing to make a mark in the mass segment anywhere, as it involves rapid fire scale building, which is not easy,” says a senior executive of a well-known consumer electronics brand. “It is unlikely to become a serious rival for any established colour television brand in the foreseeable future”.

Counters Jain: “Given the growth prospects, making it big on a medium-term basis for a new player would not entail grabbing an existing firm’s market share. It would be more driven by its ability to consistently improve sales in a growing market with products that consumers like”. And that seems to be the cushion, which Aiwa is counting on, while devising its plans for the Indian turf.

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