Mercury – A Rising Star


here in the world is Mercury? Where else but in Chennai, where the mercury rises every day!

Mercury was started 10 years ago, to manufacture and market steel furniture solely for overseas markets. Our group has had overseas factories for nearly 40 years, but this is the first facility set up with an objective to ignore the domestic market!

During its formative years, Mercury was fortunate to have the support of other companies within the group: ready customers were on hand thanks to Godrej, Malaysia, and Godrej & Boyce provided design and toolings. Despite this, Mercury had its teething troubles — having to unlearn the practices prevalent in India and learning what it takes to succeed in overseas markets.

More than 60 per cent of Mercury’s customers are in developed markets — Australia, North America and the U.K. — and the balance in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The largest selling products are filing cabinets, cupboards and lockers, as well as other storage and filing products. The key design differentiators aimed at satisfying the customer as well as providing an edge over our competitors are:

  • Packing, to avoid damage in transit

  • Components that are easy to assemble

  • Final product with superior fit-feel-finish.

An array of Mercury products.

And of course, all of these features must be made available at a very low price!

This is where the pedigree of Godrej shone through, coming up with the right kind of product design and toolings that did not require sophisticated machines or skilled workmen — conventional machines and Chennai residents would be enough!!

In fact, every one of the customer requirements became complementary, and by starting out with the right approach, Mercury came up with a win-win combination for the customer and the Company.

The product is sent in the form of completely knocked-down components, which fit so snugly in the packet, they not only avoid transit damage, but also occupy very little space in the freight container. In fact, Mercury should be applying to the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of products stuffed in a container.

The “knocked-down” design of the product is not emphasised to the end user, but to the dealer who assembles it, to whom we say it is “easily knocked up”. In developed countries, where labour costs are high, the dealer appreciates the fact that the components fit together easily and assembly is completed in minutes.

The final quality of the product has to meet the requirements of the dealer who assembles and sells it, as well as of the customer who pays for it. Moreover, in many countries, our products also have to meet performance, safety and reliability standards for furniture. At present, selected Mercury products have been certified to American, British and Australian standards.

Well, all these requirements do not come cheap, and customers must be prepared to pay a premium for higher quality, right? Wrong. One of the earliest lessons that Mercury has had to learn — and continues to learn— is that quality and price cannot move in the same direction if it has to survive and prosper. Therefore, each of our products is priced at levels that each market can bear: the prices in Australia, North America, the U.K., the Middle East or Africa are not comparable with one another. Moreover, over the last 10 years, we have had to steadily reduce prices in each of these markets, and the slide in prices has been halted only in the last two years, because of the severe impact of world steel prices.

So far, we have identified our customer to be a reputed importer-distributor, who brings to the table his expertise and knowledge of what is required, and how it is to be sold in his own market. Mercury’s job is to understand his needs, produce it and supply it to him. Each market requires some customisation in features, looks, or colours. But, the standards and quality are the same, whether it goes to North America or Africa.

Of late, however, we are moving to a different phase in the relationship with our distributor, advising him in moving up the product value chain as well as penetrating new market segments. Mercury is also looking at itself: what lessons have been learnt in the past 10 years, both from its finest and darkest hours? How do we want to grow over the next three to five years? All these and more questions will be addressed in future articles.

R.K. Shankar