The Tiles of India in conversation with Alok Agarwal, CMO, Orient Bell Limited
Orient Bell Limited (OBL) was established in 1977, with its base in New Delhi. The company is widely respected in the industry circles as a trusted & professional manufacturer of wall & floor tiles. It has a chain of signature showrooms to display its complete product range and is privileged to be associated with the premier architects and builders of the country.
As the industries are reopening, manufacturing and marketing are going to restart, how does Orient Bell as a brand propose to initiate this process throughout their various setups – plants, showrooms, etc., across India and global?
Yes, we are reopening and restarting every function in every unit. We are restarting our manufacturing plants. All our manufacturing plants are today working. Our sales team is based in the headquarters town all across India and they are also connecting with the channel partner making sales calls connecting with customers meeting their requirements. They do it over phone/video calls or some other platforms. They are also following local government regulations on lockdown.
How do you plan to scale up manufacturing like talking about this current scenario what are your plans to scale up manufacturing?
I think we follow whatever be the demand so as demand scales up the manufacturing would scale up. The working capital is a challenge for every business. Be it any or with a large enterprise, the idea is not to make a stock and keep, so as demand picks up we also scale up manufacturing.
Are there are new sales strategies or consumer outreach programs being created keeping in mind the current times?
I think yes, it is changing, you know so the old strategy continues and there are some new additions so for example; there is so much willingness now for people to come online and indulge in a webinar or talk to an architect over a webinar. The number of webinars we do has gone up dramatically.
In terms of logistics, how does Orient Bell cope up with the challenges, if there are any? And what are the general logistics or transportation structure involved when it comes to getting a slab of tile from the factory to the home owners or the final end users? And if you face any challenges during this journey, how do you deal with them?
Let me break this into two customer types. First, let’s talk about the larger enterprise customers and then talk about people who are retail customers:
For the larger enterprise customers, we specifically find our delivery according to their demand. Depending on the rate at which construction is happening at the project site we make sure our delivery of tiles matches. The idea is you don’t want tiles to be stocked even on the project site that typically causes pilferages breakage and all of those problems, so we try and minimise storage on the project site, and that works to the advantage even on the project site owner because he knows that if we’re going to be making 20 flats today I have enough material for 40 flats so today and tomorrow I’m covered and by tomorrow, I will get a fresh truck of material for the next two days. We try to manage truckloads according to the speed of construction so that there is minimal stocking on the project site. I think it is more challenging to do it for retail customers because most retail customers have 1000 to 200 sq feet of houses and then you go through a retailer. We did have challenges in the month of May and June when there was lockdown in various areas but as markets are opening up I think logistics is becoming much more reliable and you can enter more cities with trucks and there comparatively fewer containment zones and curfew areas so to say.
What is the kind of dealer, distributor network that Orient Bell works with? Can you tell us a little about the scale, numbers of this network?
Now we have a large network. We have approx 2500 channel partners spread out all across India. we have 10 companies owned stores as well which are managed by our employees. We don’t sell through the company owned stores so we don’t complete the scale but, if you walk in as a customer you can see our tiles. You can ask questions, you can learn as much as you want about them without feeling the pressure to buy it. I think these are places where we try and explain all the questions customers have about tiles. And all kinds of customers visit us so its architects, interior designers, even individual retail customers walk into company owned stores who understand more about tiles and decide which they want according to their needs.
Can u also share some useful SOPs that Orient Bell has in place for the optimal management of this network? How has the experience been for Orient Bell as a big brand?
I think we have processes for identifying retailers and selecting them and we have only the right kind of retailers joining us. For us, it is no different than hiring an employee because quite often the channel partners will represent the company even when none of the employees are around so in a way they are a part of our family. We take a lot of effort into making sure we get the right fit. There is a process for onboarding him for educating him on the various projects that we have. There is a process to help them in visual merchandising just to enable him to start the business and this keeps on evolving so let’s say in the last few months, we would have done a lot of zoom calls because that is the trend now, so we keep on evolving according to time.
In terms of the current changing market topography, how does Orient Bell plan to propose to take the brand further?
Yes absolutely, you know a lot has happened to tiles, you have large slabs, double charged, and you have glazed tiles so a lot of things have happened on the product style but very little has changed on the way you buy tiles. The way we buy tiles is pretty much the same way our parents bought tiles as well. You go to the store, you choose a tile. We are trying to make the process of buying a tile better and we are putting a whole lot of digital technology in place so for example; you want a grey tile all you have to do is go to the website and click on a grey tile and you will see grey tiles. There is a wide assortment of filters so you can look for grey tiles in the size of 2×4 or grey tiles in the same size but having marble designs so you have multiple filters that help you navigate different tiles we have.
India is a large expansive market with very a variegated style across the different zones, primarily being North, South, East and West, what kind of demand and trade differences does the brand encounter across these zones in terms of preferred choice in design, styling and climate? Can you share your experiences?
You are so incredibly right. I say this often to my boss. In India, as you travel ten kilometers the food changes, the clothes change. So we do see that difference. In the north, there is a demand and a higher preference for lighter coloured tiles. On the other hand, in the south, we see a higher preference for slightly darker tiles. It also depends on the climate. Cool tiles are so much more sold in the west and what cool tiles do is that they keep the temperature inside lower by 5-10 degrees than the outside temperature because even if lots of sunlight falls upon them it gets reflected, keeping the indoor clean and people use it even in Rajasthan or in Haryana because it saves on the electricity bill. There are two peculiar things: one is, there is a bit of difference in the consumer taste across different regions at the same time we as a country are becoming cosmopolitan in taste. In Bangalore or in Chennai, it is a complete mix of people from all kinds of ethnicity, you see all kinds of tiles gradually picking up everywhere. There are a few climate differences and we know the nuances but it’s gradually also becoming one kind of a taste.
Lastly, what kind of initiatives/steps are being taken by Orient Bell to take care of the safety and overall well being of its large family of employees during this phase of restarting?
I think we have made a whole lot of changes to ensure that every employee feels safe while working for orient bell. We have made changes in the allowances not only from a conveyance perspective but to ensure that people are not trying to save money on masks and sanitizers and stuff like that. We also did something interesting, we launched insurance for our few channel partners and we launched a CovidKavach, which was insurance basically to protect even our channel partners that if they get hospitalized, hopefully not, then there’s an insurance to take care of them.
Contact Details: www.orientbell.com