Shanghai-based Opple Lighting is a leading manufacturer of LED-based lighting products. Starting in 1996 as a CFL and ceiling fixture manufacturer, Opple significantly expanded its product line to include a vast array of products and services—ranging from electrical appliances to large-scale commercial lighting solutions. Today, it is the largest home lighting company in the Chinese market with a network of over 30,000 sales outlets.
Opple’s recent growth has not only come domestically, but also internationally. With sales and services now offered in over 50 countries worldwide, the company boasts not only of the demand for its high-quality products, but also of its strong commitment to R&D. Because of its emphasis on innovation, the company has been able to stay at the forefront during the global switch to affordable LED technology.
While Opple celebrates 20 years of its establishment in China, it has already spent two full years in its flashing neighbourhood i.e. India. In these two years, the company got in the groove of what actually the market in India was asking for. The period witnessed quite a few notable changes in the company’s Indian management at the top of the ladder to settle down the operations in a country with more diverse a market than expected initially.
To explore Opple’s strategy for India, LED World caught hold with Tim Yun Chen, the company’s General Manager, International Business Unit, who spoke at length on how the company noted the requirement of a change in its strategy to win over India, why it became essential for Opple to follow ‘Make In India’ drive and Opple’s plans for India. Here’re the edited excerpts:
How has been the journey for Opple Lighting in India?
It’s a double dose for Opple Lighting. While we are celebrating two decades of our existence in China, the year 2016 mark the completion of two good years in India earning many milestones in the way. Today, we have a network of over 100 channel partners – a mix of retailers and dealers plus the product portfolio has also been expanded that seems like quite complete at this point in time with proclivity to see further expansion as and when we innovate or the market requires. We are happy with response as the customers here are really appreciating the quality of our products. This has given us the strength to move ahead and penetrate deeper as the appetite of this market is huge, so is the demand for quality products like ours. At the same time, we noted that the gamut of products available here are relatively low in quality, which provided us the opportunity to emphasise. This is our responsibility that together with players like Philips, Osram, Bajaj, etc. we need to promote the quality in this burgeoning Indian market.
How has been your experience so far?
The experience over the last two years is quite interesting for us especially when it comes to learning about a market as diverse as India. This is because in the beginning, we tried to put the Chinese-designed products in to Indian market, which we realised only last year i.e. in 2015 that the products coming from China is not really suitable for the Indian markets simply, because the tastes of people here are a bit different. Indians have unique inclination towards warm and vibrant colours as against ours majorly white. Also, they develop some level of emotional touch with whatever they possess or opt for. So, I must say that for these two years, we got good learning from both the sides – consumers as well as distributors.
What specific changes did you do in your presentation?
Simple, we now have products that are designed and developed keeping in view the Indian needs and hence, these are perfectly suiting to our customers here. We are further Indianising the whole concept at Opple India. Starting from product portfolio, we do have changed our sales & marketing troops making it purely Indian, which is quite visible as all our staffs are Indian, with whom we have developed a very good relationship. We work like an Opple family. Making sure that this company is driven by these Indian guys, we now are placed better to understand people and market alike. Going forward, we are planning to set up our manufacturing facility somewhere in the next year i.e. 2017. This is because we believe that if we are really sitting far somewhere in China or in Europe, we won’t be able to understand people and their specific needs. In short, now our slogan for India reads as: ‘Let Opple India be an Indian company’.
You seem greatly influenced by the much hyped ‘Make In India’ drive!
Yeah you can say that. We loved the approach promoted by Mr. Modi-led Indian government. It will not only benefit the company in putting a cap on prices and maintaining quality, but also it will provide a push to the country’s manufacturing capabilities. This, in turn, would increase employment opportunities besides enhancing skills. Further, this can also make India emerge as the manufacturing hub as well as an export source for a gamut of products and technology in this part of the world.
Have you started developing your products in India?
Not yet, but we do have such plans in near future. For this, we have hired a very experienced team of engineering professionals, which along with our sales team is has started working on. Now that we are able to understand industry’s nature, we can make use of varied colours, texture and patterns to develop a direct and emotional relationship between Opple products and our customers.
As of now, which portfolio is contributing to Opple India’s revenue–professional or retail? Which region is showing you greater potential?
We have both the options – professional as well as retail. Though, our focus is more towards professional because we understand this market much better and find it easier dealing with B2B customers; we do have a repertoire of consumer products for which we are getting good feedback from our channel partners associated with especially from the NCR, Chennai and Mumbai. But I can say that when it comes to portfolio contribution, professional luminair is doing the strongest business for us in India.
Geographically, North India is very good while in the South, Chennai and Hyderabad is growing very fast. Also, we have recently opened our sales office in Mumbai to cover up the West.
How important are the specifiers/designers for Opple India? How do you see Indian designers moving in the fray?
In last two years, we have developed very good relationship with designers as well as specifiers to exchange ideas on trends and information on how things are going in the market. To move in tandem, we need to understand each-other better as these designers are quite fancy and want something unique to be created each single time they come with an idea. Also, they are well aware of what is trending in the market now what can replace the existing soon. They always are the pioneer when it comes to design, and are important source for us to help us develop new products and applications.
In the past, it was different when designers from overseas preferably from Singapore and New York were leading Indian market. But nowadays, we see new leagues of professionally qualified Indian designers who are making their way in. These people are very talented and are greatly involved in the designing work, which forced us to building the community of local Indian designers, instead. I must say that every time whenever I travel India, there is something new for me to learn and gain.
Which specific type of collaborations are you looking at?
As I mentioned, we already have made up our mind to set up local manufacturing and R&D centre in India. This shows our commitment to a market we want to serve with our quality products. Further, we are looking for collaborations not only in the country’s lighting industry but also outside it. Further, even our R&D centre would not meant for lighting only but also for the proposed smart cities. Though we would invest a lot on bringing technology from China to India but the R&D that we are going to set up here would not only serve Indian need but global, as from here we can export our technologies to other countries.
How do you see the potential coming from projects like smart cities?
We are very much enthusiastic about it and would go be happy adding another milestone. For now, none of the developed cities is perfectly smart. However, a few modern cities are in process while others could deploy only a part of the smart services. This is because none of the suppliers are the master of all arts, and hence, everyone needs to work hard to build the community and develop alliances. Smart City is such a huge project that nobody can do it alone. However, a lot of experiment is going on in the form of smart street lighting. We too are doing the same but with a difference, and are adding security, internet, cell phone tower, and so on to the street lights. We want to go further to add advertising as a component like the billboard and cell phones charging station. We, therefore, want collaboration with designers as we can’t design the concept but provide the interface as well as infrastructure to those who are really expert in this domain.