How Cycle rode cricket to unite India in prayer: Q&A with Arjun Ranga, NR Group

How Cycle rode cricket to unite India in prayer: Q&A with Arjun Ranga, NR Group

The MD of Cycle Agarbathi opens up about the group’s association with sports, genesis of ‘Everybody has a reason to pray’, market share target, geographic focus and an expanding product portfolio.

Neethu MohanUpdated: Sunday, March 19, 2023, 03:10 PM IST
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Arjun M Ranga - Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR Group |

If you watched the match, you could not have missed it. As cricket fans pray for a decision in their team’s favour, the words ‘Everybody has a reason to pray’ appears. Joining them in prayer on the giant screen across stadia and on TV screens in homes is brand Cycle. 

What agarbathis are to prayers, Cycle has become to the ‘Decision Pending’ moments of cricket.

We were curious to know when and how the message came to be. Before getting into the details, Arjun M Ranga, Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR Group, gives us a little bit of a backgrounder.

It turns out that the business family has always been an ardent follower and supporter of sport. And cricket was front and centre. Ranga himself has been passionate about cricket and even captained his college team. He recalls an early association of the group with cricket. It was in 1986. For the uninitiated, it was the year India won its first ever Test at Lords, and three years after India became the world ODI champion for the first time. 

The same year, NR Group brought down Indian cricketers Sandeep Patil, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri for an exhibition match in Mysuru. His uncle Vasu played the lead role in organising the event, recalls Ranga. 

However, the tagline ‘Everyone has a reason to pray’ came about in 2002, before the brand’s foray into cricket. Its introduction to cricket happened quite by chance, reveals Ranga.

“We believed we need to be present at occasions where India prayed together. We identified cricket as one of those opportunities, where India prayed together. Then in 2004, an India-Pakistan match happened after a long time, which was broadcast on Ten Sports. We got the opportunity to be part of the tournament as one of the sponsors backed out at the last minute. We had a couple of properties like Super 4 – every time when a boundary was struck, we said, ‘Everyone has a reason to pray’ (both bowler and batsman). When the Third Umpire happened a year or two later, we sensed an opportunity on the giant screen. We said, ‘Why don’t we put in our logo and animation when the third umpire decision is pending?’ That’s how we initiated the third umpire branding,” explains the Cycle MD.

The brand stuck with the association for around 15 years. Obviously, it is working? 

Arjun M Ranga - Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR
Group

Arjun M Ranga - Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR Group |

“At that point of time the brand recall definitely improved for Cycle because it was an apt tagline. It worked as the brand stood for the fact that we are united in prayers. But, when you consider cricket as a property, you need to sustain and can’t get on with one series or a tournament because there is so much clutter and so many advertisers. We need to be constantly visible to the people, else the recall value goes down,” adds Ranga. 

‘Cricket is one of many avenues’

It wasn’t just the tagline and third umpire association. The brand has had several associations with cricket including as title sponsor of Asia Cup and owner of Mysuru Warriors, the Karnataka Premier League franchise.  

From the first during the India-Pakistan tournament in 2004, the associations have contributed to the brand’s growth, but it cannot be attributed as the singular reason, underlines the official. 

Arjun M Ranga - Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR
Group

Arjun M Ranga - Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR Group |

“We have grown as a brand over the years. But I am not sure what percentage of the growth can be attributed to cricket because we advertise widely on different formats including TV, on GEC, news genre, movies etc. For Cycle as a brand, cricket is also one avenue for advertising and not the only avenue,” he emphasises. 

It certainly must count though as a clutter-breaking and high-profile avenue, one can safely guess.  

Riding cricket, giving back 

Cycle partnered the Sri Lanka Premier League 2021 as title sponsor and recently announced its official sponsorship of the Sri Lanka Women’s Cricket Team for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023. 

“Sri Lanka is a developing market for the brand hence the associations and advertisements. We are very new in the Sri Lankan market; the brand entered the market around two to three years ago. Sri Lanka is a very important market for the brand and I believe we can grow and expand in the market in the future,” the MD explains.  

His uncle and father had supported sportspersons from Mysuru back in their day. ‘Cricket is life’ Ranga had said, speaking with the Star of Mysore newspaper. It is under Ranga now that the group owns the Mysuru Warriors franchise. 

“The family has been in Mysore city for years. I have been born and brought up in Mysore. We as a brand and family wanted to give something back to the city. We wanted to give back something that unites the city as one. We felt that the Mysore cricket franchise would be something that would help us with that objective. It has been proven right. We have an active and vibrant fan base and a good number of followers on social media platforms,” he notes.  

The brand has also been supporting golfer Aryan Roopa Anand who has won the Eastern Indian Amateur Golf Championship crown and finished as the best placed Indian in (tied) 38th spot at the 3rd Asia Pacific Amateur Championships.

Beyond bathis

In January 2023, Cycle launched Karpure – an exclusive range of camphor-based home and pooja essentials. 

Arjun M Ranga - Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR
Group

Arjun M Ranga - Managing Director, Cycle Pure Agarbathi & Managing Partner, NR Group |

“The initial response has been very good. We believe that camphor as a commodity is getting converted to becoming a brand. We have different products in different formats in Karpure. We will be doing awareness campaigns and category expansion and with that we are optimistic that the category will take off in the next couple of years,” reveals Ranga.

The product is currently available online and the company are planning to market it through the digital route for now. Once the category and products pick up, it will take the offline route as well. 

Air care and home fragrances seemed like a logical extension. Aircare brand Lia, which has car and room freshener products, is doing quite well, says the Managing Partner. A toilet freshener Stop-O is pitted against Odonil, Godrej Aer etc.

But can they leverage the established distribution chain of Cycle agarbathis? “Right now, these don’t have the same network as agarbathis. They have a different network because of the profile of the consumers where the outlets they have been sold are different,” cedes Ranga.  

On the company website, we find ‘Healing Touch’ hygiene products, deos under ‘DNA’ and ‘Iris’ luxury soaps making up a nascent personal care portfolio, recent for the 1948-born group. 

Healing Touch was officially launched in 2019 in Mysore and is currently present across India. While it was in demand during the pandemic, sales have come down. DNA was launched in 2017 and also has a national presence. It’s doing well, notes Ranga. IRIS Soap, launched in 2018, is available through the company website and at IRIS offline stores.   

Allan V. Crane

Cycling beyond South to snare share 

Cycle sells about 12 billion incense sticks, with a share of 15 to 16 pc of the organised sector in India (Nielsen). The stated intent is to increase market share to 25 to 30 pc in three years by further developing the North, East and West markets, growing from its stronghold in the South. 

Cycle, which sells through 8 lakh retail outlets, had planned to establish 50 company-owned stores by March 2023. The current number is 34. The company is in the process of finalising its retail expansion plans for next year. Physical store sales is a major contributor for the brand. With a unit price range of Rs.10 to 15, the online share is negligible. 

While the double digit number of owned stores are not expected to contribute much to sales, they have a role to play, explains Ranga. The brand-owned stores have over 350 products whereas the regular stores may stock just 20 to 25. Their fundamental role is for branding and customer interactions. 

In line with that role, they are company-owned and there are no plans to take the franchise route. 

Indian cricket’s numbing numbers  

Paytm paid Rs.326.8 crores for the 2019-23 Indian men’s  team’s home season (BCCI), at 3.8 cr per match, up 58 pc from its winning Rs.2.4 cr per match in 2015. As per 2017 media reports, Cycle had bid for BCCI title rights for international matches but Paytm snared it. 

The brand with a longstanding association with cricket also hasn’t gone big on IPL. In earlier seasons, Cycle had been associated with the Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) franchise. 

The brand has become so integral to cricket through the third umpire’s ‘Decision Pending’ association that one is almost disappointed not seeing it in every match and every format. 

We asked the legacy agarbathi group’s Managing Partner if he aspires for Cycle to sponsor the Indian cricket team at some point. Is it worth it at the current costs?  

Refusing to be drawn into the numbers game, Ranga surmises, “Of course, we will. But not right now. I wouldn’t know if it is worth it at the current costs as we haven’t won the bid and I believe that whichever brand is advertising thinks that it’s worth it.”

The early part of the response underlines the brand’s aspiration and affinity for the game – one that unites India in prayer.

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