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Apr, 19 2010

Green Entrepreneur

An entrepreneur, by general definition, is one who thinks ahead and walks the untrodden path. This is what Surendra Kumar did when he launched solar heater manufacturing devices. In an interview, Kumar discusses the company's plans

An entrepreneur, by general definition, is one who thinks ahead and walks the untrodden path. This is what Surendra Kumar did when he launched solar heater manufacturing devices. In an interview, Kumar discusses the company's plans of foraying into franchising in order to accelerate its present annual growth rate of 50 per cent.

How did Nuetech Solar originate?

Starting with an investment of Rs 25,000, in Madihalli village in Tiptur in 1988, we four partners started manufacturing the energy-efficient wood burning chullhas (CPRI). We supplied more than 5-lakh chullhas in south India, which had a high potential market between 1988 and 1992, but with the subsidy withdrawal by the central government, the product lost its market. However, our experience in the field of non-conventional energy helped us in developing solar water heaters. 

What challenges did you face in the initial stage and how did you overcome them?

Nuetech, at the outset, had about five factory workers and we personally marketed the product moving door-to-door. During the initial two years we were able to market only three to four units per month, incurring losses. Today, our customer base has multiplied not only in the domestic but also in the industrial categories like hospitals, hostels, hotels etc.

How big is the solar thermal industry in India?

Solar water heaters are becoming popular as a non-polluting renewable source of energy both in domestic circles for home-use and also in institutional and industrial for hot-water usage. The potential for solar water in India is estimated at 140 million sq.mtr. However, by the end of 2009 only 3.5 million sq.mtr had been commissioned, thus leaving a wide gap of 136.5 million sq.mtr.

With dealer strength of 150 already in place, why do you plan to take the franchise route?

The over 150 dealer base is not equitably distributed across the country but is concentrated in solar activity hubs, such as Karnataka, Maharastra and Gujarat. A few dealers are scattered in the rest of India whose reach is usually limited to their local boundaries. In the fast changing situation where most of the states are expected to take proactive steps to encourage utilization of solar energy, optimum reach is essential to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

What are your expansion plans? Which cities are you targeting for expansion?

The company is planning to diversify into solar air/space heating and solar steam generation in the next financial year. All state capitals where there is no considerable representation and category II cities where demand for the products is perceived are the targets for expansion.

What are your requirements from your franchisees?

We require a minimum showroom area of 250 sq.ft and an investment of about Rs 5 lakh for state capital city based franchisees and 200 sq.ft and Rs 3 lakh for category II cities.

What training and support will a franchisee get partnering with you?

All appointed franchisees shall undergo a mandatory induction training comprising of product knowledge, relevance of solar energy, site and customer requirements, installation and maintenance, trouble shooting and special marketing techniques. Branding /designing of the showroom, sharing of promotional expenses, and after-sales-service are some of the supports a franchisee may expect.

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