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Sharp won’t go gently into that good night

iPhone assembler Foxconn Technology Group bought 66% stake in Sharp in return for a cash infusion of USD 3.82 billion in August 2016.

May 24, 2019 by Ebin K Gheevarghese
Sharp won’t go gently into that good night

Sharp used to be a household name in India up until the late 90s. To put things in perspective, the Japanese company sponsored the English Club Manchester United from 1983 through 2000. But as the market opened up, more and more players entered India, and slowly, Sharp was relegated to the fringe. The elegance of Japanese designs, with the exception of Sony, couldn’t stand up to the price points of spec-heavy Southeast Asian brands like Samsung, LG, Xiaomi etc.

However, Sharp quietly persisted in the background, not giving up completely on one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Along the way, Sharp India faced fiscal issues while pursuing rapid expansion and had to discontinue India operations in 2015.

The Passage spoke to the MD of Sharp Business Systems (India) Pvt Ltd, a wholly owned Indian subsidiary of Sharp Corporation, Japan.

“Sharp Business Systems is mainly a B2B business. The key to scaling a B2B business is coverage. We have to expand geographically. So far, we have offices across 14 cities in India,” said Shinji Minatogawa, managing director, Sharp Business Systems.

“India is a big place. We need arms for a bigger outreach. We have 200 plus channel partners. Through the partners, we sell to corporations, government bodies etc. Soon, we are going to launch Dynabook,” he added.

Sharp Corporation acquired 80.1% of Toshiba's PC business in June 2018 and rebranded it as Dynabook.

“Dynabook will be placed in the premium segment,” Minatogawa said.

Harish HV, former partner at research firm Grant Thornton, said Sharp already has a basic distribution infrastructure, courtesy: Toshiba. “The company has a better chance at the laptop market with Toshiba acquisition. But again, it all comes down to distribution, pricing and innovation,” he said.

The laptop would hit the market soon and also benefit from Sharp’s newfound interest in IoT products and AR smart glasses. The company is also adding cloud connectivity and AI capabilities to its devices.

“I feel Sharp is bullish on their e-commerce strategy rather than a full-fledged distribution network. Electronics, including accessories and home appliances, account for 20% of large e-commerce players businesses. While India is a fragmented market, if Sharp has a clear value proposition, they should be able to get some market share here,” said Ujjwal Chaudhry, associate director, consumer internet, RedSeer.

Sharp is also championing the expansion of 8K ecosystem.

The rise of the Phoenix

iPhone assembler Foxconn Technology Group bought 66% stake in Sharp in return for a cash infusion of USD 3.82 billion in August 2016. The acquisition marked a turnaround in Sharp’s balance sheet, after the company bottomed out a year before.

“We were into all kinds of products. In 2015, we discontinued business as we faced financial problems due to sudden expansion,” Minatogawa said. In 2017, Foxconn had signed a distribution and product development agreement with Reliance Retail. Reliance Digital CEO Brian Bade had then said the retailer has entered into a long-term exclusive partnership for the Sharp brand across all channels.

In the consumer-facing category, Sharp is betting big on air purifiers. Sharp India is eyeing Rs 500 crore turnover from its air purification business segment by 2023, Kishalay Ray, Sharp's Consumer Electronic Division president, told News Today last year.

According to a report by TechSci Research, India’s air purifier market stood at USD 49 million in 2018. It is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 28% during 2019-2024 to reach over USD 220 million by 2024, on the back of rising expenditure on health and wellness products along with growing awareness regarding hazardous effects of air pollution.

“If you look at air purifier, the Chinese are still not dominant in the category. Indian companies are pretty strong in the segment too. So there is potential. A lot rides on how Sharp is going to position themselves—whether as a premium brand or a mass market brand. There is always potential to create disruption and take market share. Everything depends on how they build their strategy, how much they invest, and how Indian they will be,” Harish said.

Sharp Corporation has interests in mobile phone segment as well. However, the business hasn’t taken off in international circuits yet. Sharp was the leading mobile phone brand in Japan from 2005 to 2010.

“We have been motivated to develop global models,” Tomoki Tamura, head of product planning department of small appliance business unit, had said. Sharp is counting on bleeding edge technologies to change the game. “We have come up with AIoT – a combination of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the IoT (Internet of Things),” said Yoshitaka Honda, DGM Office Solutions.

When asked about Sharp Business Systems strategy to stand out in the face of competition, he said: “India is a market with huge potential. Our major competitors in B2B include Canon and HP etc. We offer one stop solution with a complete range of products including digital copiers, photocopiers, multi-functional printers and interactive white boards.”

He illustrated the point vis-à-vis the newly-launched printers. “The mono MFPs are built on a single-engine design that will empower businesses of every size to choose the performance and features they need, while taking advantage of the learning curve of a common interface,” Minatogawa said.

The models also support popular mobile technologies, including Apple AirPrint, Android Print Service and Google Cloud Print.

The managing director also spelled out Sharp’s mantras, going forward: “Quality, combination of applications and personalisation,” were his exact words.

Ebin K Gheevarghese

Ebin Gheevarghese is a Bangalore-based tech journalist. He focuses on emerging Indian startups. He can be reached at ebin@thepassage.cc.

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