MERU: Redefining The 'Taxi' Experience
December 1, 2008 11:23 AM
Meru Cabs, operating in four metros of the country has popularised and boosted the concept of radio cabs. Anita Jain maps out the various strategies and brand building activities of Meru
"Today almost 70 per cent of our passengers say that they travel by 'Meru' instead of calling it a 'taxi' and this is what has been our focus. We are increasingly becoming a brand by itself, making the 'taxi' experience more comfortable, safe and reliable in India," said Gavin Dabreo, Vice President - Sales and Marketing, Meru Cab Company Pvt. Ltd. It's hard to believe that Meru Cabs, the brand which created the concept of radio taxis in India is not even two years old but according to the company; the brand is growing and has been giving tough competition to the other players in the market.
It all started in 1998, when Neeraj Gupta, MD, Meru cabs started
off with a small auto workshop, 'Elite Class' to provide high quality
auto maintenance services at affordable prices. The unprecedented
success of 'Elite Class' with corporate clients such as Tata Infotech,
Blue Dart and Sony, led Gupta to start a passenger transport business
under the name 'Travel Link' in 2002. Within a year, the sales jumped
eight times. In 2004, Travel Link was rechristened 'V-Link Tours &
Travels'. In partnership with private equity firm India Value Fund
Advisors, Meru cabs - metered taxi services was launched last year. The
company received an offer letter from Maharashtra government to
operate the radio taxis in Mumbai.
Initially, the service was limited to Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), but by June 2007, the service slowly started covering the entire city with improving fleet size. Starting off with mere 46 cabs, the company was successful in registering about 200 cabs within three months of operations. It was known that the company faced stiff opposition from the conventional black and yellow taxis of Mumbai. The company later made a specific network of business and leisure travellers, thus creating its own brand in the market. Today, it has redefined transport sector backed with 24X7 call centre and with its trained staff of professional chauffeurs (called subscribers by Meru). Gupta even received the Udyog Rattan Award last year from The Institute of Economic Studies for the high quality of transport services offered by his company.
Today, Meru operates about 1800 cabs in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Bangalore. The company is planning to first consolidate the current operational markets and then introduce similar services in Kolkata, Chandigarh, Chennai and Pune.
Building the 'Meru' Brand
Since its inception, Meru has tried to encourage the trend of radio taxis in India. With about 35 per cent of repeat clientèle, the company has been recording a growth of 15 per cent in business every month. The future looks even brighter to Mark Pereira, CEO, Meru Cabs. "The current fleet of 1800 is not enough to meet the increasing demand from the market. We are aiming to put more 4200 cabs in the market by March next year to decrease the gap between higher demand and lower supply. By 2011, we are looking at operating about 12,000 cabs in India," said Pereira.
For building the brand, the company had started various ad campaigns and promotional activities. The tag line of Meru - 'Rely on us,' sends out a message of safety and hassle-free ride on board. It released a radio ad campaign of a small boy going all alone in Meru to receive his grandmother from the airport. Since last month in Delhi, it has rolled out the 'Don't drink and drive' promotion to encourage people to call for a Meru instead of drinking and driving. For this promotion, Meru Cabs identified four TGIF (TGI Friday's) pubs and 160 restaurants, where it has placed tent cards and utilised their LCD screens to spread the message. The tent cards carried the message - 'If you find this hard to read, it's time to book a Meru cab.' In another interesting innovation, colour coding was used on coasters. A customer was given the first drink on a black coaster. The subsequent drinks followed on green, amber and red coasters. The red coaster signified that it's time to call for a cab which comes with the message, 'You do the drinking, we do the driving'. Thus the company connected a public service message with the idea to boost sales. Dabreo added that the promotion will be intensified around New Year and other occasions in the coming years with more innovative ad campaigns. He further added, "Meru Cabs is a national brand now and the challenges in every city are different. For instance, in Mumbai and Delhi, the company needs to differentiate itself from other brands. In Hyderabad, it needs to create the category itself."
Services like 'Dial-a-Meru', 'SMS-a-Meru' and 'Meru-on-the-Net' are available and customers can also hail a Meru by the curb-side. All Meru cabs can be tracked from the main control room to determine their geographical location and ensure a quick response and despatch. Emergency security features such as a panic button are installed in the car along with First-Aid kits in case of any accidents or emergency situations. Meru also has a 'Lost and Found' tracking system in place so that any item left behind unintentionally in a cab can be traced to the vehicle that the reporting customer has used. Recently, it has also started a corporate travel programme on a test mode for business clients.
The company is constantly looking at various innovative ways to market the product and increase its visibility. Currently, there are various ideas being conceptualised by the marketing department of the company. Hence we will have to wait and see what will be the next marketing campaign Meru will use to increase the penetration of the concept of radio taxis in India.