November 27, 2021

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Remarkable business & finance

BPL, India’s former favourite TV brand is making a comeback. Thanks to Reliance

Illustration: Manisha Yadav | ThePrint


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New Delhi: Before dainty plasma and flat screen TVs made their way to the walls of most average Indian homes, bulky television sets held court in every living room in the country. Back then, one of the most popular TV brands in India was BPL — the logo had the brand name in a simple font in silver.

While the company had lost out to competition over the years, it seems poised to climb the success ladder again in the consumer durables and electronics market and win back the popularity it enjoyed in the ’90s.

In August this year, it was reported that Reliance has acquired the license to manufacture and market consumer durable products under the BPL and Kelvinator brand names. “It’s a joint partnership, while Reliance plans how to scale up the business, we’re still taking care of product innovation and quality assurance. It’s proven beneficial to us. BPL TVs are among the top five highest selling TVs already,” BPL CEO Sunil Khurana told ThePrint.

Consumers who recall the brand’s earlier products are happy at the prospect of bringing back a BPL TV. “As a kid BPL was a well-respected brand we all knew about. I still remember the grand old TV in my living room which we discarded not because it was dying, but because the technology became obsolete. I wasn’t aware about BPL’s comeback. If available, I will fill my house with BPL products without a second thought!” said Vijay Lalwani, a Delhi-based marketing professional.


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Reliance not the first partnership

The partnership with Reliance isn’t the first time the company has tried to bounce back in the durable electronics segment. In 2015, BPL partnered with Flipkart to sell products such as TVs, washing machines and air conditioners exclusively through the e-commerce portal. The deal with Flipkart was scrapped in 2017 and the brand then entered into a partnership with Amazon.

“Our partnership with Flipkart and Amazon was definitely successful, but you know people don’t want to buy durable electronics online. When it comes to TV people want to see what its picture quality is like, and when it comes to a fridge, they got to look inside and understand if it fulfills their family’s needs,” explained Khurana. “Also physical stores are important for us to penetrate Tier-2 towns or smaller metro markets, which has definitely worked for us.”

“There’s immense faith in BPL, a company known for the durability of its products… Now that the country is focusing on Indian products and taking pride in Make in India, we’re sure Indians will be very happy to buy our products,” said Khurana.

Talking about the partnership with Reliance, a reliance spokesperson said, “Reliance Retail continues to bring unique customer value propositions through exclusive brands and products for the Indian consumer. BPL, an iconic Indian brand, is one such proposition. Various products in categories like electronic appliances — both large and small, and electricals are being launched in this brand.”


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It started with panel meters for defence forces

An acronym for British Physical Laboratories, BPL was launched in 1963 by T.P.G. Nambiar in Kerala’s Palakkad district and is currently headquartered in Bengaluru, Karnataka. The company is now headed by T.P.G’s son, Ajit Nambiar.

The first product BPL set out to manufacture was panel meters for defence forces. They slowly diversified into making electrocardiographs and patient monitoring systems. After its disappearance from the consumer electronics market, it’s the medical electronics goods that have kept the company going.

BPL is still among the most respected ECG maker in the country. They make other health equipment too, such as portable X-ray machines, no-touch thermometers, oxymeters and oxygen concentrators, that were completely sold out during the second Covid wave, according to Managing Director Ajit Nambiar.

“We had anticipated the demand for patient monitoring systems ahead of time and had actually imported parts well in advance. Since supply lines were disrupted, we brought in equipment in chartered planes to increase our production capacity,” Nambiar told ThePrint.

According to news reports, BPL started manufacturing televisions after the introduction of colour televisions in India with the 1982 Asian Games. At its peak, BPL was selling more than a million TV sets in India a month and dominated the Indian consumer durables and electronics market through the ’90s. It reported peak annual revenue of Rs 4,300 crores in the late 1990s and was then among the top 10 brands of India.

It also sold refrigerators, medical equipment, music systems and home theatres, even vacuum cleaners and gas stoves.

The company also claims to be the first to introduce wide-screen TVs, 3D TVs and frost-free refrigerators and the first company to introduce Indian homes to VCR players, portable CD players and alkaline batteries.

In 2004 the company started feeling the market competition and were unable to tackle it. The damage caused by an earthquake to the Japanese company Sanyo in 2004 — with which BPL had a tie up — also impacted the company. Sanyo was finally bought out by Panasonic in 2009 and BPL found it increasingly difficult to meet the competition posed by the entry of Korean companies like Samsung and LG into the Indian electronics market.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


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