Home-grown electronic products company ECCO has developed multi-purpose solar LED lamps, solar and mains-powered hybrid inverters and hybrid smart power packs. The company, which designs and makes its wares keeping in perspective the needs of the community it operates in, aims to become a global leader in creating sustainable products that cuts across the social strata. ECCODiva, the company’s first line of products, was conferred on the India Design Mark Award for 2012.

Satish Jha, Chairman, ECCO Electronics, spoke to Business Line on the company’s products and vision for the India market. Edited excerpts:

What growth potential do you see for ECCO Electronics in FY2013-14?

ECCO so far had been focused on institutional sales through CSR, semi-Government organisations and NGOs. We are now focusing on growth by rolling out products in the retail market in a phased manner. During FY12, we had revenues of about Rs 2.2 crore, FY13 closed at around Rs 4.5 crore and we are expecting it to be in the range of Rs 25-30 crore this year. We were in a product development mode, trying to establish the right business model for the past two years. This will be our first year of actual commercial operations and (we) will launch three to four new products this year.

What strategies have you applied to appeal to the national consumer and international players?

We appeal to our national and international players through our products that use cutting-edge design and the best technology. These make our products highly energy-efficient and reliable, and yet are priced very affordably. All our products are global leaders in terms of performance, quality, form aesthetics and affordability, which enable us to excel in the market.

ECCODiva has been designed with a patent-pending micro-controller technology, giving users the brightest levels of lumination in the most energy-efficient manner, from a single charge.

We believe the best technology should be available not only to the affluent strata that have the opportunity, but also be used to develop highly-efficient solutions and products for the seldom-addressed 'bottom of the pyramid'. Our micro-controller-based electronics allows users to charge the light from an option of main grid-based power supply, solar panels and other human powered charging sources.

Our lighting products use the environment-friendly rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries, photovoltaic solar panel and high power LEDs that have a lifespan of over 50,000 hours and eliminates hazards.

What challenges have the company faced in the Indian market?

ECCO has faced a lot of challenges in the Indian market in terms of the manufacturing ecosystem because it is difficult to get acceptable quality in India even in basic components like wires, harnesses and connectors. Even though India claims to be a major manufacturer of solar panels, one has to really struggle to get small capacity solar panels at realistic prices. If we have to import components like batteries, LEDs, connectors, PCBs and cables, high taxes and duties are levied. For example, for importing a lithium ion battery you have to pay 29 per cent duty, whereas a finished solar LED lamp attracts zero duty.

That’s not all. There are too many poor quality products, such as cheap LEDs, being imported from China at very low prices. Indian manufacturers can hardly compete with such ridiculously priced goods. Also, since there are no standards that need to be followed for such products, they result in health, safety, reliability and environmental hazards.

Certain specifications relating to lanterns, mandated by the Government are very rigid. It is a myth that a lantern provides 360 degree light. Also, in task lights, half of the light is wasted. These solar lamps use poor quality LEDs, which are harmful for the eyes. Now many Government bodies have responded to the innovative products of ECCO. We hope the government makes the use of lithium ion batteries mandatory for all manufacturers of solar lamps as they are now comparatively priced vis-à-vis lead acid batteries.

What has been your biggest success till now?

ECCODiva has been very successfully used in Leh, Ladakh and Kargil through an innovative distribution model adopted by the Ladakh Renewable Energy Development Agency and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, where the Government machinery is used to reach the lamps to the remotest regions without having to provide subsidies. It helps reduce the harmful effects of kerosene-based lighting and provides high-quality light and power to run portable devices such as mobile phones and radios.

The agency purchases the lamps in bulk and distributes them at cost to the end-users. It is heartening to note that the product has been well-received as it has provided light and power to users through the harshest winters.

During the last one year, we have been awarded the CII Design Excellence Award, India Design Mark Award in the category of Good Design and the Designomics Award.

How important is dealership network to your success?

The dealership network is very important for our product sales to grow on different levels. It helps in the marketing campaign; pricing and different sales processes. Since the conventional dealership network has most of its reach in urban and semi-urban areas, the reach becomes minimal in the rural areas. As ECCO products are targeted both for the rural and semi-urban sectors, we wish to use a combination of dealership network to reach these areas, creating partnership programs using an innovative model for distribution at the rural level by village-level entrepreneurship or ECCO entrepreneurship programs.

How do your activities sync with the CSR activities of big companies corporates?

ECCO is a for-profit social enterprise and its model builds itself around a responsible, sustainable and viable future. Therefore, we tend to work with the CSR projects of large corporates and NGOs to empower sustainable development through sales and services activities at the grass root levels.