Luxury is a state of mind. Huh? So this is probably not what you thought i would be saying. But this is something i believe. Why? Well … If you have been a manager for some time, trying to contain costs, you probably don’t have a choice but to subscribe to this viewpoint. After all, what you get at lower costs is functional knick-knacks. Huh? Let me explain.

Not that i am going to start now. For now, allow me to tell you this. I started writing this a few days back, with a few drinks on the inside of me (if you havent figured that out yet, please resist the temptation to continue reading). I tried to pick up the threads a few days back, in one of those rare moments of complete sobriety but they seemed to be disappearing into clarity. Today, with a few cocktails inside of me, those threads are clarity themselves.

Back to the topic that i am writing about. What is luxury? And what is it that makes some things luxurious? The question is straightforward, the answers not quite so. To begin with, luxury is like beauty. Not that there is something innately similar between the two, rather, that they both lie in the eye of the beholder. What is luxurious to one person may not be so to another person. While that is a reflection on the nebulous nature of luxury, there is also the idea that the way luxury is seen changes with time. What you thought was luxurious when you were at college, and were drinking hooch from plastic glasses, sprawling on the lawns of the hostel (if at all you believed in something as civilized as glasses), would be quite different from your idea of luxury at 60, with more than a few streaks of silver.

Lets take a few examples. There was a time, for example, when rich, fattening red meat, the richer and the more fattening the better, was considered a luxury. The oh-so-un-luxurious ones lived on the simple fare of Daal and Rice. Need i say anything more? The Daal, in all her beautiful simplicity could cost you quite a sum in a luxurious atmosphere. To some people, Kewda, Kesar, Khus-Khus, Pista, Kishmish, and of course, Ghee, are luxurious ingredients. You wouldn’t find too many of the rich and mighty counting themselves among fans of Khaalis Ghee. Or, that the Feni, which adorns any self-respecting bar, is essentially country-liquor, which got transformed into a luxury drink. There are quite a few people (i have done that too) who would have paid much more for Steamed Rice Dumplings with Coconut Sauce, than for Idli-Sambar. Arent they the same thing? They taste the same, and the only difference the discerning could discern would be the crockery, the ambience, and the fluency of the people in English. One is luxury, the other is what is lovingly called Tiffin. Or take the example of gold. Apart from the fact that gold is inert, and it endures, what is it that makes it highly valuable? If you think thats because it endures, then one would need to ask what you think makes crystal so valuable?

So what is it that turns something commonplace into a luxury item? The Ghagra from the villages of Rajasthan and Gujarat became luxurious when ethnic chic became “in”. Functionality, quality, look-and-feel, or service? Or a combination? Rather difficult to say, isnt it? And thats the question i am asking. Is it positioning, or is there more to it? While i think the former, being the philistine i am, please do leave comments and let me know what you think.


8 Comments on “Functional”

  1. Nimmy says:

    Interesting post….I’m inclined to think it is the consequence of the relationship between demand, supply and cost+positioning at any given point of time or perhaps in a specified period of time. The curve may perhaps look somewhat like a normalization curve. Sorry about sounding like an economist. But that’s what I suspect…. 😛

  2. thoughtsandme2004 says:

    you may have a point there, Nirmala. but does that mean positioning is all there is? extending the question … does this concept apply to KM as well … that the value proposition of KM is dependant on the positioning primarily, as long as the basic requirements are met?

  3. Nimmy says:

    I am not sure if positioning is the primary factor. I believe the existing demand-supply equation and the cost (versus real value) of the service/product may dictate quite heavily.

    For example, the World Radio service was positioned as in a “high” spot, but I think people did not really take to it as a fashionable thing. There were ‘flaws’ associated with the demand-supply assumptions – availability of much cheaper substitutes were not given their due. Only Music Connoisseurs would have perhaps considered it seriously.

    Maybe Gladwell’s Tipping Point research has some relevant answers!!? A simple thing like a celebrity flaunting something repeatedly makes it a “luxury”!

  4. thoughtsandme2004 says:

    but then, couldnt it be said that the World Radio service example you took is a positioning issue?

  5. Nimmy says:

    If you mean it was not positioned “right”, I guess I have to think further about it. Right now, I’m unable to see it that way…simply because the product had an extremely high ‘cool quotient’ and advertised heavily but it never made it even to the niche-luxury segment probably because it had a lot of disadvantages compared to other substitutes….(no mobility, for one)

  6. thoughtsandme2004 says:

    nothing can make up for product functionality, but even so its about how to position it. i remember once trying to make Keema by boiling it, and since there was too much water, positioning it as Keema Stew. 😀

  7. thoughtsandme2004 says:

    folks thought it was actually Stew and came out nice.

  8. Nimmy says:

    🙂 Ha ha!!! That was a good example!

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