Symphony Limited’s heritage dates back to 1988 when having an air cooler at home was considered a luxury in India.
Over the years, Symphony founder Achal Bakeri (62) has kept his cool despite the many headwinds facing the company – from starting up in a nascent market, multiple product failures, bankruptcy to increased competition and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, Symphony, which operates in a single category, is a company with revenue of Rs 637.51 crore (Symphony India), with 48% revenue share in the Indian market and 52% worldwide. .
Leveraging direct-to-consumer (D2C) selling has given the Ahmedabad-based company a boost. After nearly failing in the domestic market, the iconic Made in India air cooler manufacturer is currently present in 60 countries.
Net sales of Symphony stood at Rs 329 crore in June 2022, up 43.04% from Rs 230 crore in June 2021. Quarterly net profit stood at Rs 29 crore in June 2022, up up 383.33% from Rs 6 crore in June 2021. According to Forbes, Symphony is the world’s largest producer of air coolers, selling over 1.2 million units annually.
In an interview with SMBStory, Bakeri outlines Symphony’s D2C growth and expansion plans. He also delves into the comparison between air conditioners and chillers, talks about the company’s initiatives to fight climate change and more.
From bankruptcy to rebound
Bakeri launched Symphony in 1988 to bring aesthetics to the world of air coolers, but on a budget.
For any new entrepreneur, especially in the product category, selling all the units from the first batch can be overwhelming; however, Bakeri sold the entire lot at the end of the first summer of his company’s establishment.
In 1994, Symphony was listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, but a series of events and some errors in judgment and execution led Symphony to file for bankruptcy in 2001.
Symphony’s business was growing by leaps and bounds in the 90s and by the end of the 90s it had also crossed international borders. However, based on the success of operating in a single category, Bakeri believed that air coolers were a seasonal product. He hoped the foray into other categories would help him scale his business. That’s when things started to turn around.
Symphony added washing machines, water heaters, air conditioners and exhaust fans, among others, to its portfolio, but none of them hit the market. Bakeri says the products were way ahead of their time.
“An entrepreneur can dream big, but you know dreams take time to materialize and not everything can happen overnight. And so probably it was just errors of judgment going into too many products at the time. We were a small business then and we didn’t have the resources that we shouldn’t have had. We shouldn’t have grown so quickly,” says Bakeri.
Bakeri spent the next decade rebuilding Symphony.
His determination and hard work not only helped Symphony survive, but the company emerged stronger.
Today, Symphony is the world’s largest manufacturer of air coolers. It has 201 trademarks, 64 registered designs, 15 copyrights and 48 patents.
Innovations at the service of growth
Symphony acquired Mexico’s International Metal Products Co (IMPCo) in 2008 and in 2015 took over China’s largest air cooler company which sells products under the Keruilai brand. The acquisitions helped Bakeri grow the business.
Over the past few years, innovation has been key to the success of Symphony air coolers when the company introduced the Duet tabletop cooler, intended for personal use, intelligent app-control technology for the range of coolers. Diet 3D 55i+, and many more.
During the pandemic, Symphony further branched out with an omnichannel approach and launched its D2C wing. COVID-19 hit India for two consecutive summer months, leading the company to witness an increase in online business.
“In the summer of 2022, we expanded our D2C business and at the same time, we collaborated with Disney to launch a new collection of air coolers for children’s rooms,” adds Bakeri.
Image credits: YS Design
Symphony extends its activities abroad. Bakeri says the company recently opened a Symphony subsidiary in Brazil. In the United States, the company is expanding its sales and has experienced significant growth over the past 2-3 years.
Symphony has a total of 15 manufacturing units located across the world in a mix of outsourced and in-house production.
The Russian-Ukrainian war affected its manufacturing process as its supply chains were affected. It is trying to set up a distribution network in Europe.
AC vs air cooler?
Considering increasing disposable income in urban areas of India and easy payment options, people are turning to air conditioners.
When asked how Symphony is addressing this shift in consumer behavior, Bakeri explains that despite the popularity of air conditioners, air coolers will continue to maintain their presence.
“There is a definite advantage of the air cooler over air conditioners and that is that they use less electricity. Secondly, coolers are portable, you can just place the same cooler in different places in your house. The coolers can also be used outdoors.Even if the house is fully air-conditioned, people use an air cooler on their balcony, in the garden or on the terrace.It is also useful for their security cabins or their staff quarters,” he says.
He believes Symphony air coolers are here to stay.
“We capture 50% market share by value in Indian households in the organized sector and there is huge room for growth,” adds the founder.
The company also introduced residential tower fans, a waterless cooler, as a new product category. Symphony has also set its sights on industrial chillers.
“When it comes to industrial chillers, the challenge is that the market does not exist. We go out and educate customers that their factory or warehouse doesn’t need to be this hot. Factory workers don’t have to work in such inhumane conditions and they can provide them with comfort at very low cost, which will increase their productivity and motivation to work,” he says.
Speaking of ESG (environment, social and governance) initiatives, Bakeri says the company recently conducted a carbon footprint assessment of its products. The report states that a single unit of any air cooler, if used instead of an air conditioner, can help save 42 trees over a six-year period.
“As part of our CSR initiatives, we have undertaken an urban landscape project to create the Symphony Forest Park. With the ultimate goal of redeveloping an abandoned plot of 11,000 square meters,” he adds.