Achal Bakeri, Founder, Chairman & Managing Director, Symphony
Interiors

Achal Bakeri, Founder, Chairman & Managing Director, Symphony

Achal Bakeri is regarded as a game-changer in the industry of environment-friendly products. He founded Symphony, the world’s largest air-cooler company, in 1988 with an aim to make economically viable cooling accessible to all. Driven by a design-thinking approach, he has propelled Symphony to be a pioneer in the industry, dominating maximum market share over the years. Under his leadership, the company has remained close to the ideas of its conception: design and efficacy. His entrepreneurial advancements have resulted in an infrastructural presence in over 60 countries, along with significant value assets with eight patents, 49 registered designs, 108 trademarks and seven copyrights.

Achal Bakeri is regarded as a game-changer in the industry of environment-friendly products. He founded Symphony, the world’s largest air-cooler company, in 1988 with an aim to make economically viable cooling accessible to all. Driven by a design-thinking approach, he has propelled Symphony to be a pioneer in the industry, dominating maximum market share over the years. Under his leadership, the company has remained close to the ideas of its conception: design and efficacy. His entrepreneurial advancements have resulted in an infrastructural presence in over 60 countries, along with significant value assets with eight patents, 49 registered designs, 108 trademarks and seven copyrights. An advocate for green and environment-friendly cooling solutions, he also popularised aesthetically and ergonomically designed evaporative coolers in the residential, commercial and industrial segments. The immense adoption of its products in a formerly unorganised sector has made Symphony a name synonymous with cooling. In an exclusive interview, Bakeri shares more on the air-cooler market in India, the company’s plans and offerings, and more, with SERAPHINA D’SOUZA. Tell us about the industrial and commercial market for air coolers in India. India has a long way to go when it comes to the need, awareness, intent and penetration of workspace cooling. Most commercial and industrial workspaces just use fans or simply natural air cooling, with the majority of workers still working in oppressive climatic and ambient heat conditions. Heat stress is one of the largest problems that needs to be addressed when it comes to shopfloor workers. Most MSME industries and many large industries can benefit from Symphony Large Space Venti-Cooling. The opportunity in customer-facing retail spaces is also enormous. India has approximately three million factories, 18 million commercial spaces, 2.2 million educational institutions, 3 million religious places of worship and 400+ industrial zones. There are diverse application areas like hospitals, hotels, gyms, warehouses, showrooms, workshops, banquet halls, prayer halls, service centres, offices, bungalows, theatres and cloud kitchens, apart from factories and industries. What is the concept behind ‘venti-cooling’? There are primarily two methods of cooling large spaces: evaporative air cooling and air-conditioning. Most commercial/industrial businesses would relate to one of these methods of cooling workspaces. However, the pandemic has brought health-related concerns into sharp focus, especially when it comes to the health and wellness of employees and workers. According to physicians, ventilation and circulation of fresh air are crucial to slowing down the airborne spread of the virus. It has been scientifically proven that the virus does not spread as easily in open, cross-ventilated work environments. Whereas it spreads more rapidly in closed, air-conditioned workspaces, where the same stale air is recirculated. As air coolers require fresh air for effective cooling, they naturally circulate cool, fresh air in large spaces. Air coolers can be used even with open windows and doors and still effectively cool the space. So, the natural processes of ventilation and cooling happen simultaneously with air coolers. It was important to highlight this significant advantage of air coolers over air-conditioners, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, we decided to highlight the lesser-known ventilation benefit along with the known cooling benefit of air coolers. Symphony Large Space Venti-Cooling (LSV) is the customer-facing nomenclature of our industrial and commercial air-cooling solutions. What are the cost-benefits of air-cooled spaces? Symphony Large Space Venti-Cooling operates at a fraction of the cost of air-conditioning. The cost benefits are in all three expenditure areas: capital investment (capex), cost of running (electricity or power) and cost of maintenance (AMC). The capex is nearly 50 per cent lower than that of air-conditioning. The electricity power consumption of Symphony LSV (Rs1 per sq ft monthly) and the cost of maintenance are less than 10 per cent than that of air-conditioners. For a 3,000 sq ft workspace, over 10 years (the average lifespan of our installations), cost savings on account of all these three expenditure heads would be about Rs75 million. Which markets are untapped in the venti-cooling space? How is Symphony aiming to reach them? Our initial focus is on small and medium commercial and industrial enterprises. In geographies where the climate is hot and dry, the ambient temperature inside workspaces also tends to be high owing to the use of machinery or heat generated in the manufacturing process. Many customer-facing commercial spaces also need cooling. We currently have a network of 500+ dealers that can service close to 25 cities in India. We plan to double our dealer network and tap more industrial and commercial hubs in India with a dedicated sales and service team for Symphony LSV to provide end-to-end solutions. Symphony has innovated and developed Universal Packaged Venti-Cooling Solutions that are currently available in two capacity configurations: Venti-Cool 25U and Venti-Cool 20U. We also offer Movicool, a range of portable air coolers that can be used in large open or semi-open spaces, with seven offerings currently. Other than these initiatives, we have developed an entire range of non-corrosive ducts and accessories. All our cooling solutions, ducts and accessories are made from weather-resistant and UV-stabilised engineering plastic. With various solutions in the domestic category, how do you plan to address the increasing need for air cooling in commercial and manufacturing facilities? Symphony LSV is a focus business for Symphony. This business is not seasonal. The installation of our cooling solutions has a direct impact on business metrics like productivity, efficiency, downtime, turnaround time, worker absenteeism, worker health and staff morale. We are looking at continuous product innovation. With Universal Packaged Venti-Cooling Solutions, we are trying to ensure that installations can take place with minimum disruption of work as well as minimal effort and resources. This is a big reason more enterprises will opt for cooling solutions. We aim to scale up production and enhance our dealer and sales networks. We are also investing in training our sales force and dealerships so that they can better understand customer needs, act quickly and meet their cooling requirements. Our solutions do not need HVAC intervention and this saves valuable time and money for most enterprises. We are aligning with architects across cities so that Venti-Cooling becomes an integral part of the factory or retail architectural design itself. There is a lack of awareness about air cooling across workplaces and establishments; how do you plan to address this? What are the benefits of a conducive work environment? Air cooling for workspaces needs evangelising and education about the long-term benefits. There is a need for commercial and industrial enterprises to think beyond the short term. Additionally, there is apathy towards workplace conditions and a visible discrimination vis-à-vis the white-collared workers. Success for most businesspeople is measured by business metrics like growth, profit, turnaround time, downtime and uptime, throughput, schedule, productivity and efficiency, not by worker comfort or happiness. Hence, there is reluctance among owners and CXOs to invest capital in seemingly intangible worker happiness or comfort. Air cooling is healthier, safer and more affordable than air-conditioning. The biggest barriers are a lack of awareness about air cooling (evaporative cooling) for workplaces, its feasibility and business benefits, and clear guidelines in Indian labour laws about workplace conditions and the ideal temperature for workers on shopfloors. India has a high percentage of contract labour, which is mobile and transitionary in nature. Key influencers like HVAC consultants, architects and interior designers must become important proponents of air cooling in workplaces. What are the benefits of venti-cooling in commercial establishments like gyms, restaurants, hospitals, etc? Various audiences will benefit from Symphony Venti-Cooling: Owners, decision makers and CXOs: Direct impact on business metrics and not just worker comfort or happiness: growth, profit, turnaround time, downtime or uptime, throughput, timeliness, productivity and efficiency. Customers: Higher footfalls, spending more time browsing, shopping or eating, bigger ticket size and enhanced customer loyalty. In hospitals, better patient recovery and safer, healthier air space. Environmentalists: No depletion of the ozone layer, no increase in global warming, reduction in the use of energy and lower waste owing to longer lifespan of products. You mention the absence of guidelines in Indian labour laws about workplace conditions and ideal temperature. How this can be addressed? We need to galvanise changemakers (policymakers, SMEs, MSMEs), catalysts (worker unions, NGOs, labour reform organisations, environmental groups, media and key opinion leaders) and impact segments (workers, businesses across industry segments) to ensure that the government makes the necessary changes to labour laws and workplace guidelines. Symphony LSV could facilitate discussions on prevalent work conditions, existing laws, global best practices in workplace conditions and the need for cooling in relevant sectors and segments. We could also participate in suggesting necessary labour reforms and potential solutions.

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