Wish to replicate past success in new diversifications: Arjun Ranga of Cycle Agarbathies

Ranga, Managing Partner, NR Group & Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathis, talks about the 71 years of Cycle as a brand, empowering rural women and their initiatives in the technology front

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Cycle Pure Agarbathies by NR Group is as old as the incense stick industry in India. The company, which started in year 1948, is one of the pioneers in India's fragrance industry. With so many unorganised players in the market, Cycle has been successful in carving out their own space and establishing an organised market for themselves. 

With the third generation running the show, there have been some swift changes and development that has made Cycle stand tall in the fragrance industry. 

Arjun Ranga, Managing Partner, NR Group & Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathies, has successfully sustained Cycle Pure’s market leadership by initiating bold business and marketing strategies.
In a conversation with exchange4media, Ranga spoke on a range of issues from the 71 years of Cycle as a brand to empowering rural women and their initiatives in the technology front. 

Excerpts: 

With so many unorganised players in the fragrance market, how has Cycle carved its own space? How has been the journey for Cycle Pure as a brand over these 70 years?
Cycle Pure was founded by N Ranga Rao who had very humble beginnings as he had to provide for a family of 3 after the early demise of his father. His early income came from giving tuitions and selling goods from wholesalers to various vendors in his village.
  
Right after Independence, a free trade licence became exceedingly easier to obtain. This is when Rao started a small agarbathi, food powder, and edible oils factory in Mysore. His inclination towards spirituality and his ability to make tailored fragrances drove him to work solely with incense sticks. While launching the brand in 1950, he chose the name ‘Cycle’ because everybody in the country, irrespective of language or background, could pronounce and relate to the same.

He launched Cycle Pure Agarbathies with the tagline - "Cycle Brand Agarbathi - as simple and affordable as a cycle". Over the years, we have kept the cycle at the centre of our communications, how agarbathis are prevalent throughout an Indian's cycle of life, and how the symbol of a cycle personifies one's hopes and dreams that need to be self-driven or need a prayer that is powered by one’s own will. 

Rao expanded his distribution network to different cities in the southern states, through sales agents who travelled by train or bus.

Over the years, Cycle Pure has looked at regionalising a number of agarbathi brands and their fragrances, like Vasu, Rythm, Woods and Sandalum. He did so because his target consumers could relate to these brands and their fragrances better. Even today, along with localising manufacturing and distribution, brand ambassadors of Cycle Pure have been carefully picked and used in specific regions for specific brands. 

Branding with Cycle, creating fragrance with age-old secrets, and rapid professionalisation of the entire company are the three pillars on which Cycle Pure has been built over the years. Also, because of our transparent operations and process, scalability becomes easy for us which is one of the challenges for others. 

How do you deal with competition in an unorganised sector like incense and prayer material?
Cycle Pure's fragrances and products are tested for quality in our state-of-the-art lab in Mysore. This, I believe, is what differentiates us from the unorganised sector. We are one of the few companies with an in-house fragrance research lab. Others get their fragrances from the same place you get fragrances for soap and other scented products.  

This lab helps us to strictly standardise and ensure quality of fragrance of all our products. We strive to maintain consistency in our products and ensure we deliver value to consumers. Also, our supreme quality sets us apart from the competition in the market. 

We also emphasize on ethical and eco-friendly practices. Hence, we have consciously worked towards ensuring sustainable growth. We are the only agarbathi company certified as Carbon Neutral agarbathi manufacturer in the world. 

We also ensure sourcing of raw materials from a re-grown forest and not from Virgin Forests. The packaging material of all Cycle Pure Products are also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) board, building efforts towards sustainability. The organisation has also achieved certification to ISO 45001:2018 and 14001:2015 for its operations and scope in India. We are also the first Indian organisation in the world to achieve ISO 45001:2018 in our industry. 

As an organisation, we strive to be economically viable, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

Cycle Pure provides opportunities for rural women through a cluster-based model. Can you elaborate on how the brand is empowering rural women?

In the rural areas, we have a cluster-based model similar to the cottage industry. Currently, Cycle Pure is providing over 5,000 rural women across 30 agarbathi clusters with agarbathi making machines and raw materials. Post production, we purchase the agarbathis and process it further in our factories. This helps women generate independent sustenance and empowers them to make own decisions. Our clusters are present across the country, a few key centres being Balasore in Orissa, Gadchiroli in Maharashta, in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

We also have a school in Mysore for visually impaired girls of the state. Ranga Rao Memorial School for Disabled provides children with food, lodging and quality education to help them beat the odds, and achieve great heights. We also conduct vocational training for women from an impoverished background in Mysore through our initiative - Project Prerepana.

Cycle Pure has introduced ERP-enabled supply chain management. What are the other initiatives used by Cycle Pure in the technology and innovation front?

We have embraced technology and innovation across the organisation quite early in our journey. Both on the manufacturing and customer front, we have leveraged the technology to service our customers. The entire organisation has been back-end support with SAP. Hence, all transactions happen real-time now. This was only possible due to financial transparency and discipline existing in the company over the years. 

We have deployed Internet of Things (IoT)-powered salesforce automation application “Sales Diary” in our process, which enable us to be a more efficient and connected enterprise.  The application gives our employees a complete overview of operations and in turn brings about better distribution and delivery execution at the store.

On the consumer front, we have Pure Prayer, a mobile-based app for Puja and other spiritual needs. Pure Puja connects temples and religious institutions across India. It provides up-to-date ‘information bank’ on events, festivals, pujas, priests, astrologer services and other religious services being held at the prominent temples across India. Users in Karnataka can also select a ritual, the location and a priest of their choice. They can also pre-book their service by making payments online via a secure payment gateway.

Which has been the biggest marketing and brand promotion plan for Cycle Pure. Throw some light on your marketing budget and advertising strategies?
In our 71 years, we had some spectacular campaigns executed across the country. We have actors Amitabh Bachchan and Ramesh Aravind, and sportspersons like Sourav Ganguly, Mithali Raj, and mountaineer Arunima Sinha as our brand ambassadors.

“Everyone has a reason to pray”, a cricket and third umpire board-led activity that was rolled out during the 2011 World Cup, has been one of our biggest exercises. Post the success of the campaign, ‘Pray for India’ gave a platform to all ardent cricket lovers across the country to pray for Team India’s win in the ICC World Twenty20.

The national campaign was rolled out across 50 cities in the country. The campaign featured a series of on-ground initiatives, invoking cricket lovers to pray for the country’s win. In each of the city, Cycle Pure Agarbathies branded mobile vehicles were moving around collecting wishes and prayers from the fans. The mobile prayer van also carried a 6ft Akhand Agarbathi that symbolised continuous prayer and support for the Indian team’s victory. 

We are also votary of inclusive growth, and believes that a lot of cricketing talent lies in the smaller towns of India, waiting to be discovered and nurtured. This very belief saw helped us in aligning with the Karnataka Premier League. We own Mysore Warriors, a KPL team representing Mysuru region.

We can't disclose advertising and marketing budgets. However, our strategy has been relativity straight forward. 
Our strategy revolves primarily around giving our consumers value-for-money products of good quality, coupled with making sure the consumer gets the product whenever he goes to the store and ensuring the brand is completely communicated throughout. Without good quality, differentiated products with relevant fragrances, there’s nothing we can do. We are the only carbon neutral and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified agarbathi in the world. So, all of this backed with relevant integrated communication is what gives us an advantage. A brand can’t expect a good ad with a celebrity to sell a product, unless it's a good product. That is, I think, the fundamental ethos for the company and brand. 

Being a major force to reckon with in the South, we see Cycle’s association with Amitabh Bachchan as an attempt to corner the northern market. Has this celebrity association in the past helped you achieve your commercial goals? Can we expect Cycle to use more celebrities in the northern region while focusing on social issues in the south? 
Our association with all our ambassadors has helped us in conveying our vision and message to the consumers effectively. We have Amitabh Bachchan as our ambassador for the north region, Sourav Ganguly for the eastern market and Ramesh Aravind for the South. Through these associations we have successfully established a connect with our consumers in all the regions. 

We are happy with the associations and feel they perfectly represent our brand’s vision and ethos. We are also hoping for a long-term collaboration with each one of them.

What are your hopes in terms of revenue and growth in the coming years? What are your key focus areas for 2019?
With our strong presence in the agarbathi market, in-depth understanding of consumers’ needs and preferences, and supply-chain mechanism, we are confident of adding value to the market. We wish to replicate our past success in new diversifications as well.

We have quite a few initiatives going on. We have launched our new Pooja Samagari line under “Om Shanthi” brand. We are also strengthening our presence in the functional air-care segment with Lia room freshener and car freshener. We have also entered the bathroom freshener category recently, with an array of products under STOP-O. On the other side, we also have Pure Puja app. Another key initiative is Soulveda, which embraces spirituality. 
 

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