Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Nov 09, 2002
Marketing - Strategy
Detergent, a survival game for Super Team
VADODARA, Nov. 8
TRUE, they lost the latest edition of the Santosh Trophy, but Kerala is undeniably one of the powerhouses of present-day Indian football.
And Gujarat continues to be the country's central business hub despite some recent reverses, some wreaked by nature and some, of own making. No argument that these are two extremes.
So what could possibly be the link between Kerala's soccer skills and Gujarat's business enterprise? Try for size a football team in Gujarat comprising players from Kerala which has set up a manufacturing unit in their adopted State to keep the ball rolling.
Add for good measure the product developed in Gujarat by the non-resident Keralites reaching out to their home State arguably the everyday marketing firm's idea of paradise, or God's Own Country, as the ad man says and trying to create a major market there. All this for the glory of football.
Hallelujah! It is one of the latest items being test marketed in at least a handful of the 300-odd outlets of Margin Free, a leading departmental chain in Kerala. And the product? Yet another detergent powder in a market that is already crowded. But the consumers in Kerala may be nudged that extra bit to buy this product once it is known that `Super Team', the detergent powder manufactured in faraway Vadodara came into existence to bankroll a football team comprising young players who could not make it big elsewhere.
That the Team Providence is no fly by night operator is borne by the fact that it became the first club from Gujarat to enter the National Football League last year. Here one is talking about a bunch of youngsters who get to play football with all the necessary trappings only if they prove themselves to be successful marketing men in the earlier part of the day. Super Team now sells 1,500 kg a month, having started off with a modest 40 kg in August 2000, proving that the football-detergent combination has been as telling as an overhead volley by Ronaldo.
And it is not as if Providence Inc does not have its claim to fame in the corporate world. It was launched into the detergents business by none other than Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd (IPCL) when it procured a one-time donation of 500 kg of linear alkyl benzene and technical knowhow to get them started in a business otherwise lorded over by the MNCs and domestic players like Nirma.
"The next fortnight will see the top management of Margin Free make a spot survey of our production facility. We may need to go in for fresh investments for a makeover from a manually run production unit to one that is fully automated. It was only earlier this year that we purchased a mixing machine and now we may have no option but to go in for an automatic sieve and even a drying machine. That is the only way we will be able to meet the demand of Margin Free that is pegged at 10 tonnes a month, a stiff climb from our present output," Mr Sadanandan, one of the promoters of Providence Inc, told Business Line.
Agrees Mr Satyajit, a football player who had donned the jersey of Calicut University during 1997-98 before passing out with a degree in chemical engineering, and currently in charge of production as well as marketing of Super Team. "The main activity of Providence remains football and the detergents business only an incidental spin-off. We had set ourselves a target of closing 2002-03 with a monthly sales of 2,500 kg per month. But all that will be history once the Margin Free deal comes through. And for the sake of the game's progress, we may need to forego our brand name in favour of Margin Free. It is going to be a two-way association as the Kerala market chain is set to make us its master franchisee in Gujarat by January 2003," Mr Satyajit said.
Ultimately, it is going to be the soccer crazy Keralites who will decide the destiny of Super Team and its team of young footballers from Gujarat. Weighing heavily in favour of the detergent company would be its modest price tag of Rs 70 per kg, which is roughly half that is being charged by brands like Ariel and Surf Excel in which segment Super Team has positioned itself. Clearly, it is going to be a tough battle in the Kerala market, but then Team Providence has under its belt many a 90-minute battle on the soccer pitch.
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