In one of the dusty bylanes of Badarpur, inside a glass edifice that houses many tech companies, is a new company trying its luck in the Indian smartphone space. Unlike the latest entrants, this is not a big billions Chinese venture, but a homegrown challenger who hopes to cash in on local marketing knowledge and focussed approach for its success. And Comio has had some success in the first few months of its launch.
When Comio was conceptualised in February 2017, Xiaomi was still an online player, explains Sanjay Kumar Kalirona, CEO and Director, COMIO. “Indian brands were not doing well in the Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 price band. There was no strong offline brand in this budget segment and it was mostly online brands selling in the offline channel too.
My intuition was that if we work in a focussed manner offline we would be successful. The plan was to secure a 30 per cent market share in this specific segment and become number one. So as a manufacturer our strength is this mid segment, we are not into feature phones or high-end smartphones.” Kalirona, who was mobile business head of Intex till 2016, is known for his understanding of the traditional channels in India’s mobile market.
Less than half a year after a launch in August, Comio is pushing monthly sales of 1.25 lakh units and hopes to go completely local with manufacturing soon. “These numbers are almost three times better than my initial estimates. But, though we earlier thought of expanding to south and east, now we are going to focus on North India till April at least and consolidate this position,” says Kalirona, adding that it was better to become a strong player in the markets you have entered by plugging the gaps than spreading thin right from the start.
Comio has since launched with three models priced Rs 5,999, Rs 8,999 and Rs 9,999, with a Rs 7,199 expected soon. “The idea is to cover every Rs 1,000 price point between Rs 6,000 and 12,000 targeting different specs and user segments.” But what was the confidence of success in such a crowded and saturated market?
“We realised no one is able to give an overall experience like Vivo or Oppo does in the Rs 12,000 to Rs 20,000 segment in the segment below it. We wanted to bring that experience to a lower price point with a better display, metal body and camera,” Kalirona explains. So to build his brand and some confidence in it, Comio offered 100 days extra warranty, offline exchange offer and upgrade offers with 40 per cent cash back. “These USPs we have been able to give in hardware, software and services.”
Kalirona says the conviction that they were not a flash in the pan player has also helped. “I had a clear long-term vision for the brand and did not turn towards any short term shortcuts. So we did not experiment in online or go to a national or regional distributor. Those would have been easy steps and also less expensive. But from offices to warehouses and teams, everything is our own. Also, thanks to deck distribution we save some money which we pass on to customers.” But he accepts that it has not been that easy and his experience in this segment has helped.
Kalirona says in a post-GST world, there is no longer an advantage being an online-only player. “The difference in pricing between these two channels will come down further in the future. Also, in smaller towns people still want to get a look and feel of the device before the purchase and local dealers are still influential. Except during festival seasons, online sales don’t cross 35 per cent even now.”
However, he does not want to overlook the online channel. “If I pitch myself as an offline brand, I need to keep the dealer distributor confidence high, especially in terms of maintaining the price point. So while we are available on all e-commerce players, our price is the same there too. It is a challenge, but we are maintaining somehow. We have to do it as our focus is offline,” he adds, adding that online is important when you look at certain segments of buyers and for brand building.