tackling the access challenge

for clean energy systems

one household at a time

About Frontier Markets

The Problem

FM targets the access challenge faced by rural household for quality products. Over half the worlds population uses deadly cooking and lighting practices that kill over 2 million people annually, where half of these deaths are children under the age of 5 (WHO). Product solutions exist to fix this staggering issue, but the problem still lies in the education and distribution channel for these products that does not exist at scale

Frontier Markets responds to the market failure to provide rural BOP villagers in India with access, training, and servicing for clean-energy products. Despite a clear demand, rural villagers are reluctant to purchase clean energy solutions either because they are not educated on how they work, have skewed quality perceptions of solar due to government subsidies and cheap products that flooded the market, and a lack of trust in solar based on an inferior product purchased in the past. Product companies exist that design products with this target customer group in mind, but they lack on-the-ground infrastructure to deliver these to last-mile locations, do not understand the rural customer, and do not have the capability to provide education and servicing after a sale is made.

The Solution

Solar lights offer safety from kerosene fumes and fires. They are a cheap, sustainable way to use free energy from the sun to light a home.

Frontier Markets offers a unique distribution model as part of its inclusive business commitment, partnering with local entrepreneurs who sell clean-energy products under the brand name ‘Saral Jeevan.’ We have set up brick-and-mortar service facilities to fix any technical issues, as well as educate customers. We periodically meet with consumers to better understand their product and design needs, so that by working with technical partners we are able to provide them with high-quality and relevant products. Our 18+ years of experience in rural marketing and market-based solutions have given us a better understanding of how to reach the right customers, and provide applicable products to different segments of the market. Our 3 years of experience with product companies give us an advantage in negotiating price points which are affordable for our target customers. Because of our high-touch approach and emphasis on quick and simple servicing, customers have begun to trust our brand and regain confidence in clean-energy solutions as a way to improve household health, wealth and productivity.

Our Promise

At FM, we believe that each and every household deserves access to goods and services that will enhance their health, wealth, and productivity. We are a for-profit business with a social mission: to eradicate deadly killers like kerosene and ensure a more energy-equitable future for millions of BOP households. Our brand is based on customer trust—unless rural households can rely on us for dedicated service, education, and continued local presence, they will go back to using dangerous forms of energy.

We promise to provide high quality products, educate the masses about solar, create local access to these solutions, provide on the spot after-sales service, and stay in constant touch with our end customers. We believe that true customer service is the key to satisfaction, and FM will always put the customer first.

To date, FM has sold over 20,000 clean energy products in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. We are present in 16 districts of each state. FM is targeting 50 million households in next in 5 years.

What We Do?

Market Challenges

» Distribution

When your mission is to provide rural households with clean energy, distribution is a huge challenge. The market is huge, but bringing products and services to the people demands innovation.In a place like India, villages are dispersed and dot the countryside like an endless mosaic. The terrain is rugged, and roads are patchy. To have an impact on the lives of villagers in remote areas, you have to deliver products to within 1mile of the end consumer (last-mile distribution).

» Service

Even good products break from misuse, either because lights are not charged properly, they are not cleaned and maintained, or local engineers offer a 'fix' which often just makes the problem worse. The challenge we face is to provide service centers conveniently located near our distribution hubs which will fix broken products swiftly andeducate customers on better use and maintenance.

» Retention

Solar is still an essentially new technology in rural India, and customer trust has to be won over and maintained. The government has flooded the market with cheap, subsidized lights—making rural villagers think that solar energy just doesn't work. Other companies have delivered lights to rural areas, but don't have a permanent presence making villagers feel like they've been abandoned. Accountability is key in winning back rural villagers' trust in solar as a means to improve their lives.

» Quality of Products

There are many solar solutions in the market today; the main problem is that 80% of them are low-quality products as a low price. These products seem to work for a period of time, but then break down leaving the household light-less, powerless. Low quality products have been ruining the image of solar, people have been referring to it as failed technology because their experience is linked to product failure. Frontier Markets would like to emphasize a change in quality control so that households are satisfied with their products and their investment in solar.

Our Approach

» Demand Mapping

Before we enter a new area, we hold meetings with local farmers, women's groups, local leaders, and small business owners to better understand villagers' energy and product needs. Through extensive research and data collection, FM conducts customer segmentation modeling to determine the most pertinent products from our basket to offer in a given area.

» Marketing

We engage in a variety of different marketing strategies for different occasions and markets. We set up canopies (tents) to display our product basket in public forums, rent stalls at large fairs and exhibitions, and have a branded van with a dark room to show potential customers just how bright solar lights are compared to candles, lanterns, and cheaper torches (flashlights). We educate potential customers on the benefits of solar for their lives, livelihoods, and household savings, and demonstrate how to use and maintain a solar product.

» Distribution

In order to deliver to remote locations with minimal overhead, we use a hub-and spoke model for distribution. In our model, our head office is the 'hub', and our various branch offices are 'spokes.' In addition, each branch office serves as its own hub, with a network of village-level entrepreneurs (VLEs) as sub-spokes. Our VLEs ('sahyogis') already have a presence and reputation in their communities, and are owners of general stores, electronics stores, agricultural supply points, and home supply shops. Our VLEs sell our solar solutions under the brand name SaralJeevan (Simple Life.) They serve as a crucial link between FM and the customer, letting us know when there is a spike in demand for products, a need for additional orders, product feedback, and products in need of fixing. We provide our VLEs with marketing services, product training, and attractive margins to supplement their household income. Our sahyogis are not mere sales-people, but respected members of their community and an indispensable part of our team.

» Service

We are committed to superior customer service as the key element to ensuring customer trust as our brand equity. Each new customer receives a call welcoming them to the company, and we make sure that they know how to use their products, clean them, and maintain them for maximum product life. After the welcome call, we call customers twice more to conduct check-ups, and make sure that they are satisfied with their purchased.

In addition, we routinely travel to villages to meet with customers, and provide a forum for them to provide feedback on their products and voice their demand for additional product or design needs. Our relationship with manufacturers allows us to convey customers' feedback and product needs. Because of our deep knowledge of villagers' design preferences, and a history with product companies, we are able to provide customers with the right kinds of products at an affordable price.

» Follow Ups

Frontier Markets follows up with every customer we sell to; we want to ensure they understand what product they purchased, review its specifications, and ensure they understand how to use it properly. We also connect the customer to our service staff, service centers, and local partners to ensure they feel closely connected with the company in case anything goes wrong. We believe in following up with households through surveys to understand their satisfaction with the solar solution, and understand what other solutions Frontier Markets can introduce to help improve their lives.

Channel Partner

» Self-Help Groups

The government of India has created self-help groups to provide low- interest loans to large groups. These women meet more independently; FM staff connect with them to determine a training cycle for products, and seeding them with households to determine demand.

» Farmers

Farmers have a large presence in rural Rajasthan. There are many organizations that work with farmers for training, better product understanding, and lending. We link with such organizations to interact with these farmers, to better understand their energy needs.

» Dairy

Most major Dairy companies have a network of Dairy workers who have booths or chilling centers located in areas nearby for local villages. We work with dairy folks to gain access to the larger village households and conduct meetings to understand their needs.

» ASHA Workers

ASHA workers are women nurses that work with Primary Health Clinics located in rural areas. They visit homes, and provide basic medicine or education to their targeted areas.

» Anganwadi Women

Anganwadi school teachers and workers are responsible for day-cares where children learn and get fed meals every day. It is a very large government initiative spread throughout India (both rural and urban). FM partners with the Child Development and Women Empowerment Office in Rajasthan to connect, train and work with Anganwadi workers who create meetings, demo products, and have built relationships with households.

Impact

» Cost Savings

By switching to solar, families save an average of Rs 300 per month, roughly USD $5. At this rate, the solar light they purchase pays for itself in just two months, and families will start accruing extra savings thereafter.

» Lives Saved

Without the threat of kerosene in something as explosive as a burning lantern, families don't need to worry about their children suffering traumatic burns, or losing their home in a blaze. In addition, they will be able to work, cook, and eat safely without exposure to heavy carbon smoke which causes acute respiratory disease.

» Reduced Emissions

Frontier Markets serves the environment as part of our triple-bottom line. By scaling clean energy solutions throughout rural India and beyond, we are promoting a cleaner atmosphere with fewer carbon emissions.

» Livelihoods

In addition to providing income to our sahelis and sahyogis through commissions, solar lights sold to households offer reliable power which can be used to keep a shop open for longer at night, and/or have more energy to engage in livelihood activities.

» Ease of Life

Solar can simplify life so that people can live and work again freely, without the pains of black outs, fires, and worry. When people have access to regular and reliable solar solutions, they are able to focus on their life worry free. This ease of mind can help households live and work better.

Initiatives

Line of Credit

Line of Credit

Our village-level entrepreneurs (VLEs) often anticipate seasonal spikes in demand for products, but lack [...]

Technology Pilot

Technology Pilot

FMis implementing a comprehensive tech system which will beused to track impact, conduct field audits [...]

Solar Sahelis

Solar Sahelis

During 2014, FM will be focusing on identifying women leaders and woman-focused NGOs to identify, [...]

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