Indian complete bathroom specialist Jaquar is targeting the UK as part of its strategy to become a global brand. Rebecca Nottingham went to meet director and promoter Rajesh Mehra at its HQ in Manesar, near Delhi in India, to find out more about its plans
It may seem cynical, but, as journalists, it’s our job to read between the lines and not take everything at face value. That’s why there’s no better way to convince us of a company’s standing in the market than to give us the chance to see, first-hand, how it operates.
So, when kbbreview was invited to fly out to the HQ of bathroom brand Jaquar in Manesar, in the national capital region of India, with UK head Martin Voisey, naturally we jumped at the chance to put all the company statistics and marketing jargon into perspective and see the set-up for ourselves.
Driving up to the gates of Jaquar HQ, it feels as though I’m heading to a five-star holiday resort rather than the head office of a bathroom brand. The futuristic, glass-fronted building, with its lush green lawns, palm trees and water features in the foreground, appears like an oasis in an otherwise, extremely industrial looking town. Inside, the building is every bit as vast and palatial as the outside suggests.
Before my ‘official’ interview with Rajesh Mehra, director and promotor of the Jaquar Group, we first meet over a relaxed lunch and, it has to be said, some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten – in what’s perhaps the grandest looking boardroom I’ve ever seen.
Despite a heritage of almost 60 years in its native India, bathroom brand Jaquar is still relatively unknown in the UK, having only launched here two years ago as part of its strategy for global growth. If the name Jaquar sounds familiar it may be because, prior to that, its brassware was available in the UK through Middlesex-based distributor Just Taps Plus.
Though the Jaquar Group is now, very proudly, a complete bathroom solutions producer, its core business is still brassware. Ahead of my visit to the company’s brassware factory in Bhiwadi, the following day, Mehra is keen to tell me about the company’s ongoing investments in this area of the business.
“In the past three or four years, in particular, we have made a huge amount of development to our manufacturing facilities,” he explains. “Our brassware factory is currently undergoing a major expansion that will enable us to produce over 125,000 taps per day.
“In addition, last year, we took over a sanitaryware manufacturing plant. These two key developments cost close to $50 million (£39m). That’s in addition to our investments in growing the lighting business – which we have been doing aggressively over the past three years.
“Because we’re a family-owned business, we don’t have any management boards or shareholders to convince about a strategy for growth or expansion. That gives us the flexibility and the leverage to implement our plans. Decisions can be made very quickly here and that is a big strength in a fast-paced market like ours. If you visit us again in six or maybe nine months’ time, you will see so many new changes and improvements.”
Despite fierce competition from some of the world’s strongest bathroom brands, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Jaquar Group is the market leader in India – with a 60% share of the brassware market. It currently works with 2,000 independent authorised retailers and, at just 10% of the country’s total number of bathroom dealers, the opportunities for growth there are considerable.
“We’re the undisputed leader in India – because of the scale of the company, our manufacturing capacity and the turnover we’re making,” Mehra says. “We’re miles ahead of the next competitor. To have a 60% share of the faucet market, in one of the most significant developing markets in the world, is an incredible achievement and something we’re very proud of.”
With such growth and investment going on with the business in India, I’m keen to find out more about the brand’s global growth strategy.
“We are very successful in India and it will always be a prime focus but, of course, we want to be known as a global brand. We’re not just moving into other markets to increase turnover, for us, it’s a validation of what we’ve already achieved in India.
“We’ve had a very encouraging response from the markets we’ve entered globally – people really appreciate not just our products, but the way we work. The fact that retailers can order everything from one single source makes it so convenient to deal with us. And our products are backed up in all countries with sales and service teams. This is where people see the added value in our products.”
Naturally, talk turns to the company’s aims and objectives in the UK. How does a relatively unknown Indian brand plan to compete in a market that’s dominated by strong European brands?
“Being such a developed and saturated market in terms of competition, the UK will undoubtedly be a challenge,” he admits. “But, there is no other way. First of all we put our team in place and that has been a great success with Martin [Voisey] running the business. Our way of working in India – to go straight to the customer – is how we’re working in the UK as well. Exposing retailers to the product and educating them about the brand and the value we bring to the table – making their business better, more profitable and more convenient.”
There are now 80 Jaquar dealers in the UK so far and, as part of its strategy to support them, it is only planning to grow that figure to a maximum of 120.
Following requests from some of its Jaquar dealers, and to appeal to architects, interior designers and specifiers, earlier this year, Jaquar introduced its luxury Artize brand to the market. To retain the brand’s “level of exclusivity” they are looking for between 10 and 20 dealers in total, across the whole of the UK.
In addition to its independent showroom network, the Jaquar Group is also planning to strengthen its position in the UK, and other global markets, by rolling out its Orientation Centre concept in the form of the Jaquar World Partner programme. These showrooms are what Mehra describes as “a complete bathroom destination store” and will be launched as a joint venture between the retailer and the Jaquar Group.
There are currently four Jaquar World showrooms operating in Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia and Ethiopia. The plan is to develop around 10 of these in the UK with the first two, in London and Leeds, due to open later this year.
The grand tour
Understandably, my jam-packed itinerary means there isn’t much time for sightseeing on this four-day round trip, but driving from the Jaquar Group guest house in Gurgaon, a city just outside Delhi, to the company’s HQ in Manesar is just enough to give me a real taste of India. From overcrowded tuk-tuks and street sellers to cows wandering aimlessly down the busy highway – I saw it all.
First stop is a tour of the HQ and Brand Experience Studio exhibition where I get to find out more about the origins of the company and its brands; Essco – for the entry-level of the market; Jaquar – its premium collection, and Artize – aimed at the luxury sector. Rather than being bombarded with facts and figures through an hour-long PowerPoint presentation, the studio offers a unique experiential walk-through tour designed to enthuse and excite visitors about the company and its products.
Next on the schedule is a visit to the on-site wellness production plant and lighting division, where I get to see some of the company’s manufacturing practices and processes in action.
As Mehra later tells me, the Jaquar Group was built on a philosophy of “constant evolution”.
“We’re changing everyday,” he says. “Constantly evolving our facilities and processes to ensure we offer the best possible service to our retail customers and consumers.”
As we’re walking round, Voisey tells me that the changes he’s seen to the lighting factory since his last tour of the facility, just a few months earlier, are “incredible”. This highlights the speed at which this company can, and does, move with expansion plans.
A little overwhelmed by the size – 48,000sq m if you’re a stickler for facts – and uniqueness of the HQ, I ask Mehra to explain the idea behind the architecture. What kind of investment goes into creating a building like this and why it was important to make such a statement?
“This is our global headquarters so we wanted the building to show the world what the Jaquar Group is all about,” he explains. “The HQ is a net zero energy, LEED Platinum Certified [a globally recognised symbol of sustainability achievement] building that cost around $50m – that’s the level of investment we’re prepared to spend on the business.
“We understand the importance of reinvesting for the future and it’s reassuring for our retail partners. The HQ shows how ambitious we are and that we intend to be around for a long time.”
‘We had this vision…’ Rajesh Mehra (pictured right) explains why Jaquar has been so successful in India and why it has set up Orientation Centres to support retailers and maximise customer awareness. According to Mehra, the company’s success in the Indian market is partly down to its investment in initiatives to help develop and strengthen the country’s bathroom industry. “For years the [Indian bathroom] market was dominated by non-standard products,” he explains. “It was completely disorganised. We had this vision that, if we could turn it into an organised sector and filter through quality, standard products, we could make a huge difference. “Part of the problem is that we don’t have a lot of skilled manpower here and, it doesn’t matter how good the products are if you don’t have the skills to maintain them properly. So we brought in a host of services with the aim of educating plumbers in India on how to handle and install our products. This made a huge difference to the market because consumers were getting a better service.” As part of its commitment to retailers, in 2001 the Jaquar Group launched its first Orientation Centre in Chandigarh, Northern India, in a bid to increase consumer awareness of the brand. Owned and run by the company itself, there are now 22 orientation centres across India and, last year alone, the centres hosted over 67,000 consumers and generated $90 million worth of enquiries. “We are a very customer-centric company,” he says. “Our core philosophy is to build relationships, not just gain customers. We want people to trust in us and this is the reason that today, we are the most trusted brand, in our category, in India [according to Nielson syndicated research conducted in 2013]. “We have such a vast product portfolio and we recognised that our dealers needed further support in selling the brand,” Mehra explains. “We don’t sell from the Orientation Centres – their sole purpose is for product orientation and to educate people about the brand in order to drive footfall into retail showrooms. “These centres are what really catapulted us into this leadership position. We strongly believe that a company should not be described as a market leader, simply because of the numbers. We believe a company should be judged on the changes and new dimensions that it brings to the market.
About Jaquar The family-run business began manufacturing brassware in India in 1960, under the brand name Essco. When brothers Rajesh, Kishan and Ajay Mehra, took over the company from their father, in 1986, they gave it a new identity and the Jaquar Group was formed. Over the past 15 years, the company has evolved into a complete bathroom solutions supplier – manufacturing everything from brassware to sanitaryware, flushing systems, wellness products, enclosures and water heaters – with five manufacturing plants in India and one in South Korea producing more than 26 million products annually. Today, it is one of the fastest-growing bathroom brands in the world with a presence in over 45 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. To put that growth into perspective, the group finished the 2016-2017 financial year with a turnover of $460 million (£363m) and is on course to finish this year with a turnover of $539m. The target is to be a $1bn company by the end of 2022.