Ch.
N.M.

 

Please tell us more about your working in Godrej.
After I worked in Forklift and Machine Tool Service, I joined Bombay Sales Office in outdoor typewriter sales, the product so dear to me.

But getting to BSO (Bombay Sales Office) was not easy. Towards the end of 1968, there was a vacancy for Typewriter Salesman in BSO. The minimum qualification required was graduation. I had everything needed for typewriter salesman except the graduation degree. Mr. Bhandari was in charge of BSO. I applied. But they didn’t shortlist me, as I hadn’t completed my graduation. Instead, one Bharucha (external candidate) was selected. He barely worked for three months and resigned.

Again, the internal Notice appeared for the same vacancy. This time it mentioned that due to computerisation there were surplus staff and non-graduates, too, could apply. In those days a Salesman’s job in Godrej was considered very prestigious. I did not apply.

 

  Ch. Why? Especially when it was considered so prestigious and you were so well placed?
  N.M.

BSO was filled with Parsis. It was their forte. My perception at that time was that, again, some Parsi bava would have been selected. In fact I was convinced about it. Besides, I thought that this time the competition would be even greater as both graduates and non-graduates would apply. When I was a non-graduate, Company wanted only a graduate. When I graduated, Company wanted non-graduates as well. I was dejected.

But Mirchandani again persuaded me to send in my application and appear for the interview. At that time Kharas and Captain Katila were Managers. Mirchandani had sent a note: "Mani would be a great asset to you in Sales." I was grilled in the interview. They said that Mirchandani had spoken very highly about me. I replied: "Let’s get to the point." They told me customers had found a lot of defects in our typewriters. I retorted that as far as my view was concerned, there were no defects. I said, please specify the defects to me, are there after-sales defects or design defects? They said customers were not able to attain speed. The type bars kept getting stuck. I replied that speed was a relative term. Speed with reference to what? It all depended on the sense of direction and strength of the typists?fingers. I explained to them all the technical details. I proved my worth with my incredible product knowledge and selling skills. I was selected.

 

  Ch. Did your apprehensions of Parsi ‘bavas? being given preference come true?
  N.M.

No. It took me some time to get over this prejudice of mine. The way my Parsi bosses treated me was commendable. They saw my work and always encouraged me. I must say that it was a pleasure to work with them. They were all such nice people!

 

  Ch.

Being the biggest branch of the Company, there is always a lot of work pressure in BSO. What was working in BSO like?

  N.M.

I started selling Typewriters in 1969. I was well received by the Branch. B.K. Dalal was the Sales Supervisor, who encouraged me when I started going to the field. As I said earlier, Godrej didn’t have a good brand image in typewriters despite Godrej ‘M-12?model being an excellent machine with a very light touch and smooth carriage movement. But because of the earlier ‘M-8?and ‘M-9?models, which were none-too-friendly for typists, our Company paid the price! If the product was still moving in the market, it was purely because of personal selling efforts and the rapport Salesmen had built with customers. I used to conduct programmes in offices, what you call Road Shows these days.

The first programme on invitation from the Indian Oil Corporation for their commercial trainees won laurels. In fact this invitation was a godsent opportunity to sell our product in a big way, to convert this platform for selling typewriters, to describing its features.

I prepared 10 questions. The correct box had to be ticked out of three options. The first few questions were general on typewriter technology. I then gradually progressed to questions specific to the Godrej typewriter. After I finished asking all the 10 questions, I started my talk right from the invention of typewriter by Christopher Shole to modern-day typewriter technology. In the process I explained to them everything about the buffer and other technical features of a typewriter. B.K. Dalal, who had accompanied me, was stunned. Little did he know that in my four years of College I was the first to go up on stage and even win!

At the end of the programme I asked for an interactive session of questions and answers. There was one particular person, I remember, who complimented me for my lucidly-explained lecture. However, he wondered as to why his Secretary still preferred Remington to Godrej! The O & M Manager, who was present there, said that this was a question of a personal nature, which I need not answer. I said there could be no better opportunity than this to answer the question. I requested the young gentleman to forget about all the technology talk I gave. I said, go back to your school days. When you were in Std. VIII, you had a pen, which you always used in your exams and you passed. You thought that that pen was lucky. Now, if you are sitting for the final Board papers and a friend comes and gives you a brand new Parker pen, which pen would you use? The gentleman said, you’ve answered my question.

IOC wrote to Godrej about the content and the manner in which it was presented. Personally, it was not only a testimony of product knowledge, but this programme laid the foundation for future marketing strategies when I became Product Executive in typewriters.

The Company also backed me by coming out with a series of ad campaigns for ‘M-12?through Ulka Advertising. The message was "we had lost your confidence but we have a better model to gain your confidence again." Thus, for the first time in the history of Godrej, the Company openly accepted the fact that our previous models were not customer/user-friendly and Godrej ‘M-12? model is different, listing its features and benefits. It showed a Godrej mechanic sleeping, as he did not receive any complaints!

 
N. P. Mani (standing) conducting a seminar on Godrej Refrigerators

 

  Ch.

This was just the beginning. You were lucky to get a platform like IOC. Later, how did you perform on the field in selling Typewriters?

  N.M.

Oh, great! I really enjoyed my field selling. A number of hardcore typists were won over by Godrej. Once Godrej received an enquiry from a small office located at Brahmanji Master Road, parallel to Dalal Street. It was a Parsi company. Makujina, a Godrej employee located at Fort, had a very good rapport with them. When I reached there, I found that they had almost finalised the order with Remington. The typists, all ladies, complained that Godrej typewriters were no good. As I was closing my bag, one of the ladies enquired: "What’s the price?" I said: "Rs. 3,800/-." Then, she asked: "What’s the Remington price?" I replied: "Rs. 4,300/-." She remarked: "See, lower the price, poorer the quality." All the other ladies started laughing. This raised my hackles. I had actually got up to leave, but this remark made me sit down again. Now, the ball was in my court. My mind was already working at a furious pace. The idea was to reply clearly without hurting anybody’s sentiments.

I repeated her sentence aloud: "Lower the price, poorer the quality." I almost questioned her: "Madam, the best cleaning powder loved by the housewife is Odopic?" She said: "Of course." Now, I said: "Vim has 300 mesh and Odopic has 400 mesh. Vim has 3% ABS slurry whereas Odopic has 4% ABS slurry. 600 gms. Vim costs Rs. 3.25 whereas 1 kg. Odopic costs Re. 1/-. So, lower the price, poorer the quality?" She understood and told me to wait. My message was clear. My confidence showed. She gave the order to Godrej. We gained an order we had almost lost.

 

  Ch. Any advice you would like to give to our Godrej sales force?
  N.M.

We were the first to introduce the Exchange Scheme. I suggested that we sell new typewriters at half the price and give the old typewriters to dealers at a very low price. I convinced Naval Godrej and Hathi that the secondary market would not compete with our new brand. On the contrary, we could penetrate into first category full price market where our new entrant competitor was making inroads.

We were also the first to introduce Road Shows to sell typewriters. Also, we were the first in introducing a workshop on typing skills. I started this workshop during the launch of ‘PB?Typewriters. We sent letters to various organisations asking them: "Are you getting the best out of the ‘man and the machine?" The organisations had to sponsor their stenos/typists for this programme. This strategy made us quite popular. We also conducted these programmes in large Government, Public Sector Undertakings and Private organisations. Apart from typists/stenos, even senior executives would attend the programme. At the end of the programme, the Chief Executive or Senior Managers would sum up and distribute the prizes. It was well accepted as a very useful programme for improving typing skills.

The other most talked about strategy that raised Godrej ‘PB?‘Prima?to Himalayan heights was the Speed Typing Contest. It was a matter of pride for me. What a wonderful way it worked! It was not sheer accident that we tried something like that. A lot of thinking went into it. I vividly remember, we were discussing with the Secretary, Bombay Shorthand Writers Association, that we wanted the speed test not to be confined to a few toppers, but to a mass of typists and stenos to test their speed, that too only on Godrej typewriters. There was just one restriction, that above 50 w.p.m. papers alone would qualify for corrections. The idea was to attract as many typists as possible and prove that Godrej would respond to high speed and remove the myth that our typewriters had "hard touch". The Secretary was skeptical and remarked: "To attain a speed of 60 words and above per minute in a new typewriter, least of all ‘Godrej? Are you joking?"

He was proved wrong when correcting the papers. He not only admitted that our typewriters were superior in quality, but went all out in organising the programme in a big way. There were hundreds of typists who not only attained the speed of 60 w.p.m. with 98 per cent accuracy, but there were so many above 90 w.p.m.! In fact many typists who joined the Contest as fun realised their potential. The Certificate and the awards with the contestants?names appearing in the newspaper were seen as the recognition of the typing community as a whole. This indeed boosted my morale and I went all over the country conducting the programme. Godrej ‘Prima?attained first rank not only in India, but also became number one in International Typing Competitions.

My marketing strategies were not just limited to typewriters. When I was transferred to Trivandrum Branch as Branch Manager, Godrej had a share of only 18 per cent in the Refrigerator market under Trivandrum Sales territory. This was primarily because Godrej presence was not felt. Dealer service image was bad.

I conducted a workshop for housewives on refrigerators, which included the working principle, care and maintenance of refrigerators, including food preservation, etc. This was followed by a workshop on health care. I had to make that extra effort in taking the help of Food Research Institutes to make housewives understand the use of refrigerators as a product of more than conventional use. The programme became very popular. Our market share shot up to 48 per cent within a very short period.

I wrote to Dr. Hathi about this programme. He asked me to make a presentation of Godrej refrigerators to dealers at a wholesale dealers?meeting in Vikhroli. In the afternoon I gave my presentation with slides. Naval Godrej and Jamshyd Godrej were also present. After my presentation, a sharp comment came from one of the leading wholesale dealers: "It was all figures right through this meeting, but Mr. Mani showed us the way to sell Refrigerators."

I believe that the customer should be reached by us in several ways.

 

   

In the second part in the next issue we shall see how N.P. Mani became a trusted man of Naval Godrej, how he started franchising in the Company and how Godrej entered the space and hi-tech industries. CHANGE also discusses his present role as Consultant in Godrej, and how he perceives the future of this Company.

   

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