A Tanishq jewellery store in Mumbai, in 2005. (Photographer: Santosh Verma/Bloomberg News)

The Story Of Titan’s Tanishq Turnaround

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This is an excerpt from ‘TITAN: Inside India’s Most Successful Consumer Brand’.

The Tanishq team was bolstered with Harish Bhat joining Titan in 2001 as vice president. Harish moved to Titan from Tata Tea where he had led marketing of its tea brands. In March 2002, Harish attended the Tanishq business associates’ meeting at the famed Taj Fort Aguada resort in Goa. Xerxes [Desai] had been project manager for this hotel many years ago when it was being built. Jacob [Kurian] made an impassioned pitch, pacing up and down the stage, and spelt out the vision for Tanishq, saying it had had enough of having ‘lived’ off Titan’s watch business for all these years. ‘Everyone gave him a standing ovation for several minutes. It was very important when the business was going through a tough phase for the leader to inspire and galvanise the team for the future,’ says Harish. Xerxes came to Fort Aguada at the end of this progamme as it was to be his farewell to the Tanishq team for he was retiring. Also present at the meeting was the famous Goa-based cartoonist Mario Miranda, a friend of Xerxes.

Jacob continued to have town hall meetings on the shop floor, one of the things he had learned from former Tata Steel chairman Russi Mody when the latter had given a lecture at the Xavier School of Management (XLRI) in Jamshedpur where Jacob had been a student.

I even told them that we have one year to turn around the business or they and I will all be out of jobs. They were stunned as the factory staff had no idea how badly Tanishq was doing since they were getting the same wages and increments as the watch business staff.
Jacob Kurian, Then-COO, Tanishq

On the ground, however, nothing much changed. People still came into the stores to check their jewellery on the Karatmeter and went back to lambast their jewellers. Sales didn’t pick up and the Tanishq team was at its wits’ end.

The advertising only served to reinforce the perception that it was a high-priced brand.

Tanishq’s early ads, one of them which featured actor Malaika Arora, were presented in a western ambience and showed only studded and diamond jewellery. All this served to reinforce the elitist profile that Tanishq had adopted for its stores as well.

Then, one day, the penny dropped. Jacob was at the Dickenson Road outlet when a lady walked in, tested her jewellery on the Karatmeter and made to leave, looking extremely flustered. Jacob intercepted her and asked if he could be of help. ‘You don’t do anything to solve our problem,’ she snapped at him. ‘All you do are things to make us feel bad!’ Upon inquiry, the store staff told him the test had revealed that her jewellery was only 17 carats, not 22. Jacob ran this information and the customer’s reaction over and over in his head. That’s when it struck him: the Karatmeter was telling people their jewellery was worth a lot less than they thought and that they had been made fools of, but Tanishq was not offering a solution to the problem.

A Tanishq jewellery store in Mumbai, in 2005. (Photographer: Santosh Verma/Bloomberg News)
A Tanishq jewellery store in Mumbai, in 2005. (Photographer: Santosh Verma/Bloomberg News)

After some serious brainstorming, Tanishq came up with an idea that almost gave the finance head, Khushroo Kapadia, a heart attack, Jacob recalls chuckling. It would, in a sense, reverse matters for customers through the ‘Impure to Pure’ scheme. Tanishq offered to exchange old jewellery for new 22-carat ones. Harish Bhat explains that the scheme was called 19=22. Women could bring in their gold jewellery and test it on the Karatmeter. If the purity of their jewellery was lower than 22 carat and higher than 19 carat, it could be exchanged for Tanishq’s 22-carat jewellery of their choice by paying only the manufacturing charges.

Tanishq would bear the cost of the gold.

On the evening the scheme was launched, Jacob dispatched one of the staff to check out the stores. ‘He called me from the Dickenson Road store and asked me to come immediately to see for myself. I thought it was another disaster in the making. When I asked what happened he said in great excitement: “There are people in our store!” We got into a car and went to the store. It was like a zoo!’ recalls Jacob. The key had been to identify the problem and offer a solution. It was not surprising that this scheme became popular all over India.

Harish, who took over as chief operating officer, Tanishq, when Jacob quit in 2003, recalls the festival sale over Diwali that year, which was huge for the brand in terms of sales. ‘We would be dialling stores around the country to tally the sales for the day and see if it had exceeded targets and go home after midnight, much after the last customers had left our stores,’ he says. Several of Tanishq’s stores registered sales of over Rs 1 crore on that one day.

Vinay Kamath is Associate Editor at BusinessLine. Excerpted with permission of Hachette India from ‘TITAN: Inside India’s Most Successful Consumer Brand’ by Vinay Kamath. Hardback Rs. 599.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.