In No-Man’s land

by 12 Apr 2006

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” was the classic line from George Bernard Shaw’s My Fair Lady. It seemed cute and funny then but is clearly unacceptable in the modern context.

Today, women hold positions of responsibility. In India, right from the corporate sector to the rough world of politics, they play vital roles.

In the automotive industry, women can be seen on the shopfloor putting together cars (as seen at Ford India, which also has a specific gender policy) or assembling critical components at various plants in the country. In households, women have a major say while buying cars or two-wheelers. The gearless scooter concept was largely intended for women and this is evident in cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai.

Hero Honda has now taken a giant step by launching exclusive showrooms for women. Called 'Just4her', these outlets will retail the company’s debut scooter, the Pleasure. Celebrities Priyanka Chopra and Hrithik Roshan recently inaugurated outlets in Delhi and Hyderabad. The company has earmarked 22 such showrooms in Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Pune (two), Bangalore, Hyderabad, Vadodara, Madgaon, Chennai (two), Chandigarh, Jaipur, Nagpur, Jamshedpur, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Each outlet also has a state-of-the-art service bay and spare parts sales area. Sales of the Pleasure will not be confined to these outlets but will be available at other Hero Honda showrooms too.

Kinetic heralded the revolution of the gearless scooter and while the core target was the female rider, men found it useful too for negotiating crowded roads and in cities with poor public transport. It became the best option for going to work, dropping kids to school and carrying groceries.

Men bore the brunt of the ‘pansy’ tag initially but gradually more men bought gearless scooters as it made more sense in chaotic traffic. For instance, nearly half of Honda Activa users are men. Eventually, the reasons for choosing a two-wheeler remain common to both sexes — style, comfort, mileage and, of course, price. However, Hero Honda has clearly identified women as the target customer for the Pleasure and the Just4her showroom is an extension of this effort.

Will this make a big difference to the buying experience? It will certainly be a relief not having a salesman ogling at his customers or being deliberately condescending at the Just4her showroom for any of the interested female buyers.

However, what is puzzling is the choice of Delhi among the many locations. Hardly a market for gearless scooters, nine times out of 10, the riders are essentially male. What's more, given the concerns about safety in Delhi, women prefer driving cars rather than riding two-wheelers.

##### Apart from female service supervisors and sales executives who will attend to women customers, Just4her outlets will also provide ‘Anytime’ pick-up and emergency service on a 12-hour basis. Additionally, if the actual user of the scooter is a woman, she will be eligible to join the Lady Rider Programme — the first ever women’s club initiated in the industry. The club will offer special benefits to members including milestone rewards, personal accident insurance, participation in Winner of the Month and invitations to special events, among other things.

Pawan Kant Munjal, managing director, Hero Honda, says: “The launch of our first scooter is a momentous occasion for everybody at Hero Honda. There is a huge untapped segment of women customers, which offers immense growth potential. With this launch, we are now ready to extend our products and services to this vast customer profile.”

On the Just4her concept, he adds: “Women customers need to be handled more delicately. That is why we are making special efforts to ensure they feel comfortable visiting our showrooms, both during the purchase process and thereafter. It is going to be a unique experience when they visit our Just4her showrooms.”

Just4her is a unique strategy to win the hearts and minds of female consumers. And Hero Honda's unconventional move to connect with women on their own turf will surely get the marketing men in the rival camps thinking.

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