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Early signs of recovery are encouraging: Manish Sharma, Panasonic


NEW DELHI: As lockdown lifts there will be a distinct change in buyer behaviour. Perhaps more people will shop for white goods and other products online and depend on videos and virtual assistants for product information.
Manish Sharma, president & CEO, Panasonic India & South Asia discusses the situation post lockdown, consumer behaviour, impact on manufacturing and so on.
Edited excerpts:

What will be the new normal now?

The new normal is already here as home is the new office with organisations opting for the ‘digital-first’ mantra. Post Covid-19, safety will continue to be the topmost priority for employees, consumers and all related stakeholders. Even post lockdown lifts, organizations will be cautious about bringing in the full workforce immediately. We are also working on a staggered approach for our manufacturing plant, corporate office and branches.

Rest assured, social distancing, frequent sanitizing, usage of masks among other initiatives to protect our workforce will be the new norm in times to come. The role of a leader becomes even more prominent in these times where we need to keep our people motivated and engaged and lead from the front.

On the manufacturing front, automation and digitisation will be key to driving production efficiencies. Even raw material and finished goods will need to go through a full sanitization process to maintain safety standards.

We anticipate a change in buying behaviour as consumers will be extra cautious and, will shift to online purchase from either e-commerce platforms or short visits to the offline retailers post online research to pick up the product of choice. After sales service and installation will be critical as customers will be cautious and technicians too will need to follow highest standard of hygiene for their own safety too.

What are your priorities at the current time?

Safety and well-being will continue to be top priority. We are following all safety norms mandated by the Government and WHO to ensure proper health of our employees and our stakeholders.

Social distancing, hygiene at workplace, limiting visitors, staggered work shifts to name a few, will continue across all touch points, offices and shop floors. To ensure proper sanitisation across our manufacturing facility in Jhajjar, Haryana we will be sanitizing raw materials and finished goods too.

Second, organisations need to reconfigure themselves to a digitally compatible model where technology takes precedence. Automation, digitisation, robotics, virtual meetings, digital conferences etc, will continue to be the new norm for organisations giving a strong push to the Digital India narrative.

On the consumer front, digital solutions for customer service like DIY videos, virtual assistants to resolve small issues and technicians well-equipped with hygiene standards is the new normal. E-commerce will continue to drive the market trend with consumers either buying or continuing to make purchase decisions online with short visits to the store to pick up the products. With the proliferation of digital mediums consumers would opt for a minimal human intervention purchases.

What is the prognosis for rest of the year? What is your plan? Will you be hiring and will you have more people working from home etc?

I am more optimistic now than I was a few weeks ago. There will definitely be an impact on the overall economy and consumption. However, in markets such as Japan and China, there has been a recovery in demand. In India too, very early signs are encouraging and wherever shops are opening, we are seeing consumer’s walk-in to buy products, which are necessities such as refrigerators and ACs.

I believe, in the worse-case scenario, the industry will see a 20-25% impact on annual demand but we are hopeful that recovery in demand will happen in some time.

I believe smart appliances that help consumers multi-task and products loaded with hygiene features are expected to see traction among consumers in the coming days.

We are consistent in protecting employees and have drafted an exhaustive plan to resume work in a phased manner for the next couple of weeks. We plan to have employees come in batches, follow a strict roster system, ensure social distancing, frequent sanitising and usage of masks among other initiatives.

What’s your strategy as we get closer to lockdown being lifted?

While the pre-requisite for us will be employee and customer safety, business continuity planning in line with changing environment will be top priority.

To enumerate three top priorities for me:

· On immediate term, we are focusing on sales and re-instating service to regular standards. All the work we did during lockdown has helped us ensure a smooth supply chain meeting consumer demands

· We have a mid-term strategy in place focusing on diversification of our businesses, re-look at operations with the new normal of working remotely, re-look at the channel strategy to ensure consumer reach among other initiatives

· We are working on a long-term strategy in partnership with the industry and the government to ensure sustainability while making India more competent on the global front for exports

We are closely monitoring the situation, keeping our people motivated through various employee-centric activities, analysing our supply chain and optimizing inventories to sustain consumer demands.

With factories being allowed to open up as lockdown is eased, is manufacturing back on track?

We have got the requisite permissions for our factories to start operating. We have been testing employee safety protocols and running maintenance work for the last couple of weeks and are starting production on a small scale from June first week. We will begin operating most of our units with 25% capacity in the coming weeks and gradually ramp it up to 50% capacity. We’ve have resumed manufacturing at our TV plant near Hyderabad, run by one of our partners.

Are the supply chains available to enable manufacturing to work smoothly? If not, what are the issues?

Markets are opening up and delivery supply chain has also been activated. While we have enough components to meet any future manufacturing demands, we feel this is the right time for companies to support component manufacturing in India itself driving backward integration and creating opportunities for the MSMEs.

As for sales: is there a silver lining in the otherwise dark clouds? Do you see customers coming back? If so, what are they buying?

Since easing of the lockdown allowing sale of consumer electronics, we are starting to inch towards steady sales. On an average, we are seeing a 10% growth day on day since May 7. We are seeing maximum traction in cooling and grooming products. In fact we have seen 3x increase in sales of our trimmers, while pent up demand for other appliances starting to kick in – specifically AC, Washing Machines, microwave ovens and refrigerators.





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