General Manager – Housing BU Panasonic Life Solutions India
Panasonic Life Solutions India recently opened its 21st exclusive interior solutions showroom in Kathmandu in collaboration with its local partner Rukmani Group. Rahul Thakkar, General Manager – Housing BU of Panasonic Life Solutions India, was in the country to inaugurate the new showroom.
During his visit, Business 360 got the opportunity to speak to Thakkar about the life solutions market in general and also about Panasonic’s vision to develop the market in Nepal. “We have been revolutionising the industry within the SAARC region for quite some time now and we have entered the Nepali market to continue with this journey,” he said.
Thakkar mentioned that the Panasonic Housing BU is a very important division of Panasonic Corporation and assured that the company will be providing the best products and services to customers here keeping in mind the 103-year-old legacy of the company. “We have just entered the market here but I am confident that with the type of products and services, we have to offer Panasonic will be able to lead the market within a couple of years,” he stated.
Excerpts from an interview with Thakkar…
Previously, Panasonic was renowned for electronic goods. Why this shift to life solutions segment?
Actually, the BU division is not a new one and this journey started in 1958. We are a company that has had a remarkable impact in the interior solutions market across the world. And within that kitchen solutions is one product that we are focusing on right now. We also have other products like smart flooring and cladding to name just a few. We provide solutions as per the need of the consumer. In fact, we do have doors, smart toilets and smart bathrooms too.
So this journey for Panasonic has been a long one but as I speak I must say that kitchen is one of the most important divisions for us. We have business worth more than a billion dollars in this segment worldwide right now. We have already installed six million kitchens across the world and counting. So, I wouldn’t say it is a new introduction. The fact that we have installed six million kitchens means we have touched the lives of six million homes. At present, we have been installing around three lakh kitchen units annually. We have had a huge impact on the lives of people who have availed the solutions provided by Panasonic.
What do you feel separates Panasonic from the other brands that are available in the market?
Firstly, it is a Japanese product which means there is trust and belief in our products. Everybody across the world is always looking for value-for-money solutions. The other reason I would say is our products are very sturdy and it saves you time and money because they are low-maintenance products. Lastly, the reason why I would say our products are different is due to the after sales service we provide in any market that we operate in. It is not limited to just selling a product, we sell you a solution to make your life better. These are the four Japanese ethos we have imbibed and I must say these four aspects are very important for any consumer living anywhere in the world.
This is not limited to only our interior solutions segment, you will be able to feel it even in our electronic products and wall solutions or anything that we deal in. We not only deliver products, we deliver trust. And in this segment, especially the kitchen business, I doubt if you will be able to recall any other brand which provides the solution the way Panasonic does. Previously, there was a vacuum of trust in this particular market and in all these years we have helped fill that void. Any Panasonic product is a lifetime product. When you come to us we will give you a complete solution. Like what I always emphasise on is that we are not selling you just a kitchen with the required hardware but we are selling you a concept. It is very tiring for the customer trying to understand all the technical aspects of a product and we act like a bridge for them. What adds even more value to our products is the confidence in our after sales service.
After sales service for any product is very important. In fact, it has become the most important factor today. With the support of Rukmani Group, our local partner, we have set up a technical team here. The people who instal our products are a technical team trained by Panasonic. Along with that we provide 10-year warranty on our products. There is no compromising as far as quality goes. We give two free services annually for the first three years. This also increases our bonding with our clients. Whatever we are doing in India we will be bringing that in Nepal too. We want to build an association with our customers.
Panasonic is a premium brand as compared to other brands available in the market. So, have you planned anything regarding the pricing for the market here?
Our products provide the luxury that people seek. We have introduced products in different price ranges. For instance, we have brought the L Class series and the I Class series of kitchens keeping in mind that every person will have their own requirements according to their budget. So, we say the journey with Panasonic is for the mass and also for the class. We have always placed our products in the affordable luxury category. You can afford it and at the same time also get a luxury experience. That has always been the tagline for our kitchens. I would say our products are for everybody.
Among all the various products that Panasonic manufactures what is the reason behind this special focus on kitchens?
There are actually two reasons behind this. What you will notice is that in the SAARC nations, we tend to use more products. And then we also need to think of society and nature. We were the first in the world to introduce eco-friendly kitchen, which is of a very high standard and we save on the cutting down of trees that are needed to manufacture our products. Also, what you will notice in this segment is that consistent quality and finishing are missing. Usually, when you do handwork for these products those aspects are missing. However, we use state-of-the-art technology in our factories in Japan to manufacture our kitchens so that we can deliver a lifestyle product which comes with consistent quality and second you help the world save from cutting down trees also. So you get both benchmarks together. In wood solutions, we have not limited ourselves to only kitchens. We have furniture, doors, flooring. So we have a complete plate to offer. Since there was a vacuum of smart tailoring work in these products we decided to focus on this segment.
Till date, our products are being manufactured in Japan. There is no manufacturing plant in India and there are no plans to open one right now. We want to be associated with Japanese quality and benchmark. But even though our products are manufactured in Japan we keep in mind to control our pricing.
How do you view the market of the life solutions products globally and for Panasonic in particular?
When you look at the market in the SAARC nations in the last five years there has been an increase in the shipping of modular kitchens by 17% to 20%. So it is transforming quite quickly. At the moment there is also a shortage of skilled craftsmen who can make these products as per the expectations of the customers. That is why we need a product that can really give the dream solution to the consumer. The increase in the shipping of such products by 17% to 20% means it is more than double the rate at which the economy is growing. So this industry is booming at the moment because consumers need a proper solution. And we are a complete solution company. Not only kitchens, we also have wardrobes, flooring, exterior cladding, everything I would say. So we are a one-point solution for consumers. That is the reason we have been growing.
How will you be collaborating with your local partner, Rukmani Group, in Nepal?
The main reason why we chose Rukmani is that it is a group with a vision. We want to bring our world-class products to Nepal and set a benchmark here. We want to set a trend and we believe they will be able to achieve the numbers based on mutual expectations. Another reason why we chose to partner with Rukmani is they invest very well not only in the products but also in expansion and social life. So, any company will always be looking for a partner who has a vision and good social bonding and connect. Everything needs to be done mutually. They have this understanding of our vision as Panasonic and we will be continuously bringing the next generation products to Nepal. We have plans to expand our presence in the other key cities and towns of Nepal after a year. We will have to expand because we need to reach the customers for them to experience the product. I am sure with the support of our local partner we will be expanding to more places within the country.
How do you view the future of the life solutions market in Nepal?
I would say that Nepal is growing at quite a good pace. Yes, there will be hiccups along the way but overall the country is doing tremendously well and when we see the potential for growth in the country we are happy about it. We came to Nepal because we want to be a part of that growth. While speaking about Panasonic, I am confident of our growth here as we have the right partner and we will connect with the right consumers. So, when we have more stores in the country to connect with more customers we see this country as a good market. The market here definitely has potential. Moreover, due to the Covid pandemic, people’s mindsets have also changed. They want to live a better life, enjoy life because you don’t know what could happen in the future. So, you will see people are spending more these days to lead a more comfortable life.
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