Thursday, September 30, 2010

A trip down memory lane !

I woke up at 3am this morning with my mind buzzing with so many pending projects I am working on. One of these is a review of the Binatone brand vision and so I spent the early hours of this morning scanning the internet for some historic stuff to give me a perspective. I stumbled accross an article which is an interview I gave in the Gulf Marketing Review shortley after moving to Dubai in 2002.

Here it is:

Sunil Lalvani`s bright yellow Porsche is reminiscent of the colourful home appliances he has helped make into a global enterprise. Clearly, as far as the Binatone MD for Europe, Middle East and Africa is concerned, being passionate about marketing the humble kettle, hairdryer or steam iron is not an issue.


Dubai-based Lalvani explains that Binatone is a global player. Founded in the UK by his father in the late 1950s, the company shifts around 5 million units each year - of which 2 million are kettles - and its design team have earned numerous design awards and patented a variety of new technologies.

Binatone`s answer to the Sony Walkman, the HipFi, outsold its rival in the UK back in the 1970s, and British thirtysomethings will doubtless remember its TV tennis game, all the rage before home computing took off. One of the latest Binatone gadgets is a funky kettle that glows red when it boils.

"We`re world leaders in kettles," says Lalvani proudly, without a hint of irony. "Before, the strategy was on internal growth, developing new products and distribution within existing markets. During the last five to seven years, we`ve tried to grow the business internationally, and technology has been a driving force."

Now the GCC market is in focus, and so are neighbouring countries like Iran, Algeria and Libya too. Binatone has recently opened a support office in the Dubai Airport Free Zone and regime change in Iraq has boosted the potential for regional expansion as new borders open up and regional tensions show some prospect of easing. Binatone, which also makes office automation and telecom products, has agreed a distribution deal with Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group (ESAG) of the UAE to push the brand initially in three important Gulf markets: the UAE, Oman and Qatar.

Binatone plans to use the scale of its manufacturing capabilities to offer local consumers a wider choice than the competition. Kitchen appliances are expected to be big sellers and Lalvani is setting his sights on making Binatone a top three player within five years. There are more than 100 different home appliance products in the Binatone portfolio, from hotdog-makers to foot massagers.

"There is a strong home-making culture in the region and that`s great for our business; anything that improves the cooking experience is well received," says Lalvani. "We did an exhibition recently in Tehran and the stand was flooded. Because a lot of homes in the Gulf have maids, there is a high rate of replacement, though this tends to drive consumption towards the lower end of the market."

Binatone products do not claim to be the cheapest but Lalvani is eyeing the lucrative B-class brand segment of the market. "It`s virtually ignored [in the UAE] because it`s the hardest to crack; there is always a considered decision being made.

"But if you develop trust and attach a value to the products in the mind of the consumer, you`ve got a winner. You can speak to all consumer audiences, and that`s a great place to be."

Binatone hopes to win market share from its A-class rivals by claiming to offer comparable quality at a lower price. The company`s products come with a two-year guarantee and all meet stringent European safety standards. The brand`s UK stamp of origin is also expected to drive equity.

The arrival of Binatone coincides with the unveiling of a new ESAG retail chain, Better Life. According to the group`s retail and marketing manager, Ajai Dayal, ESAG is phasing out its existing Al Gurg Electronics and Scientechnic stores in order to develop the feminine side of its sales appeal. One Better Life outlet is already open in Dubai and five more stores in the UAE are planned over the next 12 months. Oman and Qatar will get one each.

"Electronics marketing is quite male orientated but women tend to be the decision-makers when it comes to home appliances. Marketing at the moment isn`t very lady friendly so Better Life is going down the softer route. The branding and the design of the stores will reflect that."

Better Life will bring together a portfolio of complementary domestic appliance brands under one roof, including Siemens, Scandinova, Admiral, Terin and Wolf, as well as Binatone. Better Life will also provide wholesale services and more brands will be introduced as the chain progresses.

"We`re not competing with the likes of Jumbo," says Dayal. "Home appliances are where we`re going to grow and that hasn`t been developed very much."

Lalvani also sees the arrangement as a perfect compromise. "Easa Saleh Al Group knows distribution, not us. We understand marketing."