He started with manufacturing geysers for Kashmir markets. Despite the lacklustre response, he put his bets on a battery operated vehicle to ease passenger woes. Saima Bhat reports
It took more than two decades for Manzoor Ahmad Khan, 59, to get recognition for his creation: Jupiton Geysers. “I have made first geysers in 1993,” says Khan, who lives in Baghat Barzullah, Srinagar. In 2007, the state government recognised Khan’s efforts and declared him ‘Best Entrepreneur’.
But Khan’s journey from a science graduate (1981), to an entrepreneur, is full of twists and turns.
Driven by the passion to do something extraordinary, Khan quit his government job in SIDCO after one year. “I always wanted to be financially independent,” says Khan.
For Khan, government employment meant chopping one’s wings, to follow rules and be dependent. “I broke those chains by opting for entrepreneurship,” says Khan, who traces his roots to Afghanistan. In 1984, Khan managed to get a piece of land in Industrial Estates Sanat Nagar to start his small scale fabrication unit. “I was not focused at that time,” says Khan.
A decade later, one day sitting at home, electric transformer in Khan’s locality exploded. “Transformers usually get damaged because of continuous electric supply and negative current from the crude water boilers,” says Khan.
That day Khan realised Kashmir badly needs water heaters with automatic trickling, which can save electricity as well as transformers. “This was a cue for me. Now I knew what I am supposed to do in life,” recalls Khan. Next day Khan landed in Delhi to learn the art of geyser making. “I first surveyed some geyser making companies,” says Khan. With the rough draft in mind, Khan came back and started designing a geyser exclusively for Kashmir.
Within a month Khan, along with a team of ten local staff, was ready with hundred geysers. “My workshop in Sanat Nagar became our laboratory,” says Khan.
At that time there were only two outside players selling geysers in Kashmir: Venus and Rcold. “Competition was less,” says Khan.
With hundred units sold in no time, Khan was ready with another six hundred units. Despite selling the first two consignments, Khan’s sales were less than what he had expected. “I visited almost every corner of Kashmir to tell people about my product. Still, people were no ready to buy made in Kashmir product,” says Khan. Yearly Kashmir has an appetite for some 32,000 geysers, out of which Khan’s share is just two thousand units. Rest comes from outside.
“We live in a consumer state. Here competition is both healthy and unhealthy,” says Khan. “Besides, there is no check on the quality of units, that come from outside.”
The response from the local market to Jupiton Geysers has left Khan disturbed. “Kashmiris like to think themselves as ‘brand conscious’ consumers. But they are not. They simply look down at local products,” says Khan. “Made in Kashmir products are not always bad, as people think.”
Khan alleges that most of the electric products sold in Kashmiri markets, including geysers, are not even BIS certified. “They (outsider) use stainless steel capsules inside with coating and glass lining, but charge for copper capsules,” alleges Khan. “No doubt it is new technology but not as reliable as the old one.”
Khan claims, if this steel capsule gets a hole anywhere, it becomes useless. “You have to throw entire geyser away,” says Khan. “Besides, outsiders don’t provide after sale services.”
Khan holds the government responsible for the decline of local industries. “Our government doesn’t protect small industrial units. Instead, they push us towards consumerism where we rely on outsiders,” says Khan. “You can understand government thinking by the fact that our silk industry, joinery mills, Baramulla match stick factory etc. are all shut.”
With a modest yearly turnover of Rs 80 lakh, Jupiton Geyser is struggling to survive the competition. “Despite offering best quality we are not popular in our own land,” says Khan.
To compensate lack of market for Jupiton Geysers, Khan tried his luck at diversification by starting Chinar Steel Industries. But this didn’t take off as expected, and he closed it down.
In 2014, Khan came up with another idea. This time he wanted to try his luck in automobiles. A year later, and an investment of Rs 1.50 crore, Khan is in the final stage of completing Jupiton Hawai – a three-wheeler battery operated passenger vehicle. “First ten units will roll out soon,” says Khan. For this project, Khan has roped in at least six non-native employees.
Priced at Rs 1.20 lakh, Khan is waiting for approval from the state government before putting these vehicles on roads. “I don’t want buyers to face problems later on,” says Khan, who is busy completing formalities.
Khan’s Jupiton Hawai is designed to run in city colonies where the transport facility is not available, or there is no regular service. “It has a maximum speed of 20 km/hr. I have designed it keeping in mind the needs of colonies like Bemina, Hyderpora, Lal Bazar or KU campus.”
Khan boosts Jupiton Hawai as noiseless, pollution free vehicle which can ease commuter’s woes in Srinagar. “If the response is good, I will work on six-seater vehicles for boulevard road.”