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Home > Business > Special

India ready for luxury mobile phones?

Priyanka Joshi | March 11, 2006

For most, classic luxury goods entail a mix of haute couture clothing, accessories, wines and luggage. Now, get ready to sample the latest entrants - mobile phones - that have fast breached this lordly circle of goodies.

One such mobile maker, Vertu, believes in leaving no stone unturned to make sure these handheld gadgets are just the right tech-accessory to gel with the designer look donned by Indian millionaires.

Chances are that not many in India have heard of Vertu, which is the premium mobile manufacturing arm of Nokia. Well this is all the better for Vertu, since they have no intention of becoming a household name.

The company, happy with its select group of customers, has set its eyes on the euro 815 million mobile market (2005 figures). And Vertu must be heartened by the number of people in India who sport Hugo Boss or Prada, who preen themselves with Cartier diamonds, sip on premier Chateau wines and 'imported' caviar, smell of Chanel or Bvlgari's latest limited editions, wear Breguet's timepieces and drive around in a top-end sports cars - and this number is growing.

Talking of numbers, even a conservative outlook for the luxury mobile market, say around 0.2 per cent of the total mobile market, with sales figures touching 2-3 million units (annually), will translate into an astounding 4 billion in revenue by 2010, or so believes Vertu.

The reason for all the hoopla perhaps also lies in the numbers. Ballooning bank balances, though a relatively recent phenomenon for Indians, are here to stay or so hopes Vertu.

Complete with precious stones, ruby rings to enhance the durability of the keypad, titanium and liquid metal components, Vertu's mobiles are certainly a notch above many.

"Detailing and designs are crucial when you are making a mobile that's worth Rs 450,000 onwards. You cannot afford to slip up on the customer delivery part," believes Frank Nuovo, creative director and designer, Vertu.

Manufacturing has to be extra meticulous, especially when dealing with precious components like the ruby bearings that go in keypads, the gold and platinum plates for the exteriors. The process is completely manual.

So, that's all about the body, but what about the technology? The mobiles are really a piece of art that, at best, are show-off pieces. As far as technology goes, they are no better than a Nokia 6600. The surprising bit is that the phone sports no camera and that's a company policy.

"How many millionaires and tycoons whip out their phones and take pictures? The phone camera is of no use to our customers," reasons Nuovo, who shifted gears from designing Nokia phones to classic editions at Vertu.

To set itself a class apart, the manufacturer offers concierge services for its users. Vertu Concierge is an exclusive lifestyle service that comes with every Vertu phone (with just a button click) and is complimentary for the first year. The service is to complement the lifestyles of Vertu clients, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Like any personal service, Vertu Concierge works better when the client has given detailed briefings concerning his needs and a realistic deadline.

For example, if a client meets with an accident in his Porsche and damages two wheels, he can call the Vertu Concierge. The concierge will then give the client the name of nearest dealer, route directions and the issue can be resolved quickly.

Or if a client wants a SacherTorte cake couriered to Kuwait the next day from the Konfiserie at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, the Concierge can arrange that as well.

The marketing approach adopted by the manufacturer entails a slew of limited editions for the season that is promoted as a collector's item.

"Two new service centres will be launched in the first quarter 2006, in Hong Kong and Moscow. The new Hong Kong service centre will serve Asian markets, including India.

"We intend to repair turnaround time to minimum for the Asian markets," shares Kathryn Robinson, global head of consumer acquisition marketing, Vertu.

The APAC region remains to be the most significant for the company as it houses nations that are the world's fastest growing economies.

Vertu phones are currently sold at the Regent Watch & Jewellery store at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai and at the Maurya Sheraton hotel in Delhi. But lack of exclusive retail space is sure to put a spanner in the works for the march of luxury brands.

At present, a hefty chunk of luxury brands has restricted retail presence to only five-star hotels in metros. "A luxury brand needs a luxurious ambience as well, else brand equity suffers," says Robinson.

"We are expanding our distribution network in India and we will announce this shortly," is all that she reveals. Their aim - be in places where well-heeled customers, backed by Swiss bank accounts flock.

A quick session in arithmetic tells us that if the predicted growth rate of 7- 8 per cent for 2006-7 holds true, the economy will have grown by 85 per cent in 10 years. Talk about the population of 1.1 billion Indian people, luxury markets see a lot of people getting richer in India. Bling bling.

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