Chennai-based start-up One Call India, a home appliance management services company, helps people buy new appliances, get good deals, to the maintenance of products and even sell-off old products. In effect, as its CEO Prerana Bhutani says, it seeks to become a household's 'appliance secretary'.
"Today, each household has got multiple appliances, and we want to act as a single point of contact for any domestic needs for appliances, irrespective of brands and types," Bhutani added.
Currently, it caters to more than 120 appliances across 250 brands. One Call India currently has operations in Chennai with a team of 23, but its target is to more than double that to 50 by the year end. It is working on its strategy to start operations in all the metro cities in the country this year before entering tier-II cities in 2013.
It can be reached both, through the phone (via a toll-free number) and its website (after registration). On an average, the company claims to get about 50-60 calls a day, but on weekends the number goes up.
The revenue model is bi-pronged. A Rs 1,000-a-year membership enables a member to make any number of calls, but if one doesn't want to be a registered member, he/she can still use the service with a pay as you go fee of Rs 100 per call.
Though One Call India was launched in June 2010, it has managed to get a user base of only around 1,200, mostly working couples.
Initially, its growth was pretty slow, but now things are on the upswing. "Over the past six months, we have been growing at a rate of 25 per cent month-on-month," said Bhutani. The company is now aiming big with a target to hit user base of 50,000 by end of this year.
Besides credit cards, it also accepts cash and cheque payment for which it sends its own people to member's home to collect.
"We are in talks with VCs to scale up our operations, expand geographically and increase our customer base. And for that we need funds," Bhutani said.
But Why One Call India?
Bhutani explained, "If a customer goes directly to service centers, more often than not, they have to deal with issues like service engineers not turning up in time, customers not being sure of whether or not the service charges are right or even a simple fact like service centers not working after the standard working hours."
One Call's idea is to act as a bridge with service centers and consumers and coordinate visit timings of service engineers as per customers' convenience.
Customers can maintain all their appliance data online on One Call's website and also log a case with One Call even beyond the working hours of the service centers.
Is It Scalable & Will The Concept Work?
According to experts, it's both yes and no. On the plus side, it is the lifestyle factor which has actually triggered such a concept.
However, a senior independent professional engaged in a similar industry is skeptical on the specific business model. "I do not think a concept like this will actually catch on. That's the reason why they haven't managed a good customer base till now," he said on condition of anonymity.
"It seems they are offering some generic services but they need to create a value for themselves to redefine capabilities. Also, I think their focus should be on addressing customers' problems instead of setting about increasing their geographical base," he added.
But others who are involved with the appliance industry find the service concept appealing. Voltas marketing and emerging business head Deba Ghosal said the business concept is indeed relevant specially from the after-sales-service perspective.
"The home appliances category in India needs a much better consumer interface, especially post purchase," he said. According to Ghoshal, many organizations have grown very fast in volumes, but have failed to keep pace with service requirements.
But he raised doubts on how successful would the company be in helping consumers with pre-purchase decisions. "This would be limited, since a consumer durable customer needs to experience the product at the point of sale," said Ghoshal.
A consumer needs to understand the features, price parity, warranty terms, service terms, etc. All decisions happen once a prospective buyer visits at least three touch points which is a combination of exclusive brand shop, multi brand shop and a modern trade outlet, according to him.