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BioLite Special Field Report: Why Is He Standing on a Stove?

May 30, 2014

We're excited to bring you a special field report from BioLite's CEO and co-founder, Jonathan Cedar, who is currently on location at our India pilot program in Bhubaneswar, India. 

Jonathan here, reporting in from the eastern Indian state of Odisha where I've spent the past week working with our team and learning from the early successes of one of our HomeStove pilots. Here in Odisha we're working with a well-established solar light distributor called Greenlight Planet who currently sells solar lights called Sun King. They've built an impressive network of a few thousand village-level agents who, in addition to their Sun King inventory, now sell BioLite products direct to customers - think of it as an Avon-like model of sales.


Greenlight Planet demonstrates both their Sun King lights and BioLite HomeStoves at a local market

Sales of the HomeStove have been going well over the past few months with hundreds of satisfied customers. Arley, our team member in Odisha, has had to solve many challenges over the past year to make these sales possible. To begin with, stoves are much larger than solar lights, posing a logistial issue when trying to move them in large quantities. When our first container arrived at the port in Western India, we had to figure out how to transport the stoves safely across the country to Eastern India where they would utlimately be sold. 

Perhaps the most challenging part is figuring out how to get the stoves the last 1-5 miles, from the stockpoints in small towns out to the rural villages. You may have heard of the term "last mile salesmen" in other articles - this is a perfect example of it in action. This decentralized sales network has required some real creativity and lots of experimentation. 

The part we're focused on this week is refining the way our village agents demonstrate the benefits of the product and how to help train our customers on how to best operate our stove. All of our customers are, of course, well acquainted with the challenges of open fire cooking, but beyond a tangibly smoky room, how do we convey the cash savings, convenience, and ease of use that the HomeStove offers? 

That is where our ace HomeStove promoters come in.

Arley has recruited a group of incredible storytellers who can help Greenlight's sales agents illustrate what the HomeStove has to offer. We've equipped them with some basic tools like banners, props, and an illustrated flip chart to visually narrate the benefits of the product - benefits that need to appeal to both the men and women of the household. 

Sales Promoter Bishnu highlights the fuel savings offered by the HomeStove (and note the phone charging!)

While the benefits of the HomeStove are compelling, they are only as powerful as the presentation of our HomeStove promoters. The efficacy and impact of this message depends largely on the enthusiasm, energy, and confidence of our agents. And they've really surprised us with the many tactics they've cooked up to make these demos engaging, fun, and, ultimately, convincing.

                                                             

The local Greenlight sales agents write their phone numbers on marketing flyers and distribute them at demos so potential customers can be in touch directly

How much weight can the stove handle? That's answered by literally standing on the stove and lifting a small child over the Sales Promoter's head. Is it easy to light the stove? Like a lightning strike, a lit match flies down from the Promoter's hands down to the stove mouth, instantly creating a roaring fire. Does it burn like gas? An audience member is taken by the wrist and invited to hold her hand 3 feet above the flame to feel the heat. Will it keep pots cleaner than a mudstove? After the burn, the bottom of the pot is shown for all to see how much cleaner it is relative to a traditional chulha. And, of course, there's always the showstopper, taking a phone from a member of the community, plugging it in, and watching the charge symbol pop up! This means a lot for those who otherwise might have to walk into the next town over just to charge a mobile phone.

Sales Promoter Bishwajit stands next to an early version of the HomeStove carrying case. With direct feedback from the promoters, each carrying case model has been improved

Sales Promoter Bishwajit stands next to an early version of the HomeStove carrying case. With direct feedback from the promoters, each carrying case model has been improved

We've put the first kernel of inspiration into the market with the HomeStove - now our job is to listen carefully to the impressive breadth of ideas, solutions, and improvements coming back from our customers, partners, and staff. We look forward to sharing these insights as we continue to learn, improve, and grow our HomeStove business into one that can provide meaningful benefits on a global scale. 

 

With a HomeStove strapped to his bike, Sales Promoter Shushant often travels 100+km each day giving demos throughout his district.

Sales Promoter Prahlad gives a village demo using the flipchart story to visually convey the benefits of the HomeStove to the audience

A crowd gathers as sales promoter Himanshu shows a new customer the best way to remove ash from the HomeStove

 

 

 

 


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