Rajiv is based out of Delhi-NCR and writes stories on startups, corporates, entrepreneurs of all kinds, and yes, marketing and advertising world. His ‘historic feats’ include graduation in history from Hansraj College, master's in medieval Indian history from Delhi University, and PG diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Another forgettable achievement was spending over a decade at The Economic Times as his maiden job. For the first seven years, he learnt the craft on the desk, and the remaining years were spent unlearning and writing for Brand Equity and ET Magazine. What keeps him going, and alive, apart from stories is the heavenly music of immortal legend RD Burman.
The Mehras: (Standing from left) Parichay, Ranbeer, Ajay and Kanav. SK Mehra and Rajesh (sitting, right) Image: Amit Verma
The year was 1989. Rajesh Mehra doesn’t remember the month, but the nasty incident is still vividly etched in his memory. A senior vice president of a five-star hotel in New Delhi had a cursory look at Mehra, who had taken a business appointment to pitch his three-year-old bathroom fitting brand. “How old are you?” the official asked curtly. Before Mehra could answer, came the retort. “You are just three. Come to me when you are seven,” the honcho muttered in an insulting tone. It didn’t end there. “I don’t want to use a brand that is not established and might disappear over the next few years,” he went on.
A dejected Mehra didn’t utter a word despite the subjugation. Rejections, after all, weren’t alien to him those days. For the record, he was 31 then. “Nobody was willing to give a chance to a fledgling brand,” recalls Mehra, who chose to look at the silver lining instead. “I took the challenge of keeping the brand running,” recounts Mehra, who set up the company along with brothers SK Mehra and Ajay Mehra in 1986.
Mehra’s resolve was tested to the hilt time and again. In spite of having rich experience in the business—Mehra’s father had started a bathroom fitting business way back in 1960 with a brand called Essco Haryana—retailers, distributors and consumers didn’t trust an upstart. “We had to persuade consumers to travel 30 kilometres from Delhi to visit our store in Lal Darwaza Bazaar (Walled City),” he tells Forbes India. “The first few years were extremely tough.”
The persistence and hard work eventually paid off. While it took over two decades for the brothers to touch sales of ₹500 crore (in 2009), growth since then has been rapid.
In 2011, Jaquar crossed ₹1,000 crore. In four years, it had doubled the top line. And last year, it reached the ₹3,000 crore threshold. The group closed fiscal 2019 with revenues of ₹3,588 crore, and claims to be profitable. The next target is to hit $1 billion (roughly ₹7,000 crore) by 2022.
The astronomical pace of growth has propelled Rajesh Mehra on to the Forbes India Rich List for the first time this year. Ranked at No 95, his net worth is pegged at $1.5 billion.
From a single brand, the group now has a bouquet of offerings: Jaquar dominates in the premium segment, Artize is the label at the luxury end, Essco is the price warrior in the value segment and the flagship brand has been extended to lighting.
Jaquar boasts of a presence across 45 countries, produces 28 million bath fittings every year, has a headcount of over 10,000 across the globe, has built six manufacturing units, including one in South Korea, and rolled out signature showrooms in cities such as London, Milan, Addis Ababa and Moscow. “We are proudly made in India, and for the world,” says a beaming Mehra. “Now we are a well-accepted, and well-respected global brand.”
There’s not much that can stop Jaquar’s relentless growth—not even a challenging real estate market in India over the last few years, and an ongoing slowdown in consumption. The magic mantra, Ajay Mehra points out, is simple: A diamond is a diamond because it doesn’t crack under pressure. “We kept hunting for opportunities,” he explains.
New designs and ranges for value as well as premium consumers in bathroom fittings and in lighting have allowed Jaquar to buck the slowdown. “The idea is to keep investing and woo consumers with fresh offerings,” says SK Mehra, who is director and promoter, (technical), Jaquar. Every year, the Mehras plough back $60-70 million into expanding the business.
With the bathroom fitting business in auto-pilot mode, the Mehras are now focusing on the lighting division for exponential growth. “We are investing heavily in the lighting business—some ₹150 crore—where we see huge growth over the next few years,” he adds. The target is to grow lighting from ₹200 crore in 2018 to ₹1,000 crore by 2022.
What has worked brilliantly for Mehras, according to marketing experts, is an early realisation that Indians, across the country, are getting aspirational, and yearning for world-class products. A bathroom, reckons brand consultant Jagdeep Kapoor, is a personalised room in the home. The bathroom over the years has become an extension of the bedroom and drawing room. “Indians want their bathrooms to be world class, too. Jaquar seized the opportunity and created an ultra-premium brand,” he avers.
Jaquar is present in 45 countries and produces 28 million bath fittings every year
Another factor that propelled the business was focusing on superior quality and creating an aspirational imagery that only foreign brands could so far crack in India. “It broke the fallacious perception that Indian brands are a misfit in an aspirational bathroom,” explains Ashita Aggarwal, professor of marketing at SP Jain Institute of Management & Research. High-quality products, backed by aggressive advertising and marketing, have not only added to the lure of the brand but also pushed it across the country. “Many still don’t know that Jaquar is an Indian entity. This is the brand's biggest achievement,” she says.
In their eternal quest to push the envelope, brand experts sound a word of caution for the Mehras: To resist the temptation to keep extending the brand. “It would dilute the brand aspirations and make it vulnerable,” says Kapoor.
Rajesh Mehra, for his part, still sees opportunity. Clearly, the prospect of adversity gets his adrenaline pumping. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” he smiles, underlining the philosophy that the Mehras have adhered to for decades. Perhaps now one could alter it to: Even when the going is smooth, the tough continue to get going.