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Kumar Labels: The industrial engineer who was destined to be a label printer

19 June 2017

Realising the customer need of short-run labels, Anuj Bhargava of Kumar Labels made some wise decision that sealed his fate in the label industry. Harveer Sahni narrates the success story.

img89795249-699x380 Anuj Bhargava of Kumar Labels

While still in school Anuj Bhargava had a good ear for music and the quality of sound stirred him. He wished to reproduce sound in a better way. He was in class six of New Delhi’s prominent Delhi Public School, when he developed an amplifier and sold it to a friend. Encouraged by the deal he went on to manufacture 50 such amplifiers and sold them to friends and relatives at that young age. This interest in electronics lead him to join YCCE college of engineering and pursue further studies leading to BE (Bachelor of Engineering) in electronics.

Thereafter Bhargava went to the USA to study Masters of Science in electronics. As luck would have it, after the first semester he had a change of heart and he switched to study industrial engineering. He worked to support his education while studying in America. On completing his masters in industrial engineering, Bhargava took up employment in the central engineering department of a glass manufacturing company called Corning for display technology. His job required him to coordinate with all Corning plants in various countries like Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

In 2002 he got posted to their Japan plant. As luck would have it, before he arrived there the company’s packaging development engineer had quit his job and Bhargava was asked to replace him. Bhargava’s family was in printing and packaging business and had advised him to avoid printing as a career option but that is kismet! (destiny). Fate had destined for him to be elsewhere. One day he wished to be in electronics, another day he wanted to be in the furniture business but had to give up due to the huge investment that was required, and finally he landed up with a job in the packaging department of a global company for large-sized glassware.

Anuj Bhargava attends Ipex
In 2006 Bhargava resigned from his job and returned home. His father S K Bhargava was planning to visit the Ipex print exhibition in Birmingham. Bhargava decided to accompany him to visit the premier show in printing and packaging. While in college he was greatly influenced by a professor who was an expert and consultant on lean management in aerospace industry. This was the subject that Bhargava felt would be an asset in manufacturing and which he would eventually specialise in. Digital printing appealed to him and implementation of lean manufacturing principles in the process seemed to be in synergy with that appeal. Moreover digital printing appealed to him because of creativity and possibilities that it offered.

During the Ipex show he kept studying about digital printing but yet again fate had other plans for him. By end of Ipex he realised that pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) labels were “the talk of the town”. The growth that it was offering and the possibility of success made him decide to seriously contemplate labels as his field of business. Strange as it is, destiny drove him to labels.

A mentor in M K Bhargava
Bhargava belongs to the second generation of the Bhargava family who scaled immense success in the printing industry in North. His uncle M K Bhargava who has been a mentor to Bhargava, is the eldest of the three brothers, who initiated his career in printing as a freelancer. He would seek orders from customers and outsource printing from companies like Delhi Press and Zodiac Printers.

In 1964 M K Bhargava started his maiden venture Kumar Printers with a rented single-colour Dominant press from a 200-300 sq/ft factory at Doriwalan in Karol Bagh, New Delhi. The second brother N C Bhargava and Bhargava’s father S K Bhargava who was the youngest of the siblings and who was pursuing his studies at Allahabad Print College, joined Kumar Printers soon after. In 1970 all three brothers joined Kumar Printers to take the business forward. M K Bhargava had gained knowledge from having worked with established printers during his stint as a freelance printer and it helped them establish and grow their maiden venture. With a profound commitment to human values, quality, integrity and hard work, the family grew its business. Their mantra, which they passed on to the next generation was that each one had to work his way up in life and nothing would come to them served on a platter. They encouraged their second generation to set up their own ventures.

M K Bhargava’s son Sandeep Bhargava is an alumni of IIT Chennai and Sanjeev Bhargava son of N C Bhargava is an MBA graduate while Bhargava has been aptly described in the opening paragraph of this article. Sandeep inherited the reigns of Kumar Printers while his father continues to work at the ripe old age of 83 years while Sanjeev set up his own venture called Premier Paper Packaging and S K Bhargava‘s only son Bhargava set up his maiden venture Kumar Labels. It is interesting to note that the first generation Bhargava brothers continue to be together as directors at Kumar Printers while their second generation, have set up new businesses separately.

All three ventures are successful and continue to grow. The family businesses do not compete with each other.

A feasibility study in labels
When destiny appeared to have led him to labels, Bhargava on his return from the Ipex trip in 2006 decided to evaluate a life in labels. In the process he did a feasibility study, met prospective customers and wrote a business plan. He spoke to many label printers and was surprised that most people suggested that he invest in a Mark Andy rotary flexo press which was a very popular brand those days. Bhargava was not impulsively indulgent and as he researched, he came to the conclusion that major customers had now started to demand short-runs on a regular basis. He saw the gap in that segment and decided to opt for an intermittent letterpress label machine instead of a rotary press that was suited for larger volumes as he saw a demand for short-runs growing and the smaller run supplies from rotary flexo printers was being done hesitantly. Before investing in a press, he ordered a plate-making machine. With negatives and plates in his kitty he left for Korea and Taiwan.

Using the same plates he got samples printed on various presses like Iwasaki, Shiki, Bangsung, STR, Dolphin, Mida and Orthotec to arrive at a decision. While working at Corning he had learnt about Kepener-Tregoe problem solving and decision making tool. This tool is used by all aerospace companies. Since he had been trained to use this tool he used it to make comparisons and generate evaluations of the printed samples. On completion of analysis, Bangsung won with the highest numbers and the decision was made. The order was finally placed with Bangsung. As luck would have it Bhargava got a nod from Punjab National Bank (PNB) for machine loan based on which he placed an order. However at the very last moment PNB declined and within 15 days Bhargava obtained funding from SIDBI (Small Industries Bank of India).

The growth at Kumar Labels
It all started in 2007 with the arrival of his first label press, an intermittent Bangsung at a 1,740 sq/ft area of rented factory in Okhla Industrial Area, New Delhi. Two years later in 2009, Bhargava bought another identical Bangsung press and the shop-floor space in Okhla started falling short. In 2011 he shifted his factory to 18,000 sq/ft area of rented factory in Sector 83 Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh. He also added an inspection machine and screen printing equipment. With space at his disposal and his business growing, the outgoing entrepreneur in Bhargava became unstoppable. In 2012 he added two Multitec flexo rotary label presses. One was installed in January 2012 and another in June 2012. In the same year Bhargava started his own captive machine division to build semi-rotary intermittent registered die-cutting machine. He showcased this equipment initially at Labelexpo India 2012 and later at Labelexpo Europe in Brussels in 2013 and 2015. Till date he has sold 16 machines and all seem to be functioning well. He is proud to say that repeat orders came from export markets of Poland and Korea. In 2013 Bhargava decided to go for backward integration and started to produce silicon release papers and self adhesive label stocks for his captive consumption.

By this time in 2013 not only was the space in the factory getting crowded but the lease was expiring and the landlord also was not willing to renew. Bhargava, took the bold step of buying a plot of land measuring 1,750 sq/mts in Greater Noida. In 2014 he started construction, finished it in a record time of 48 days and moved into the new 25,000 sq/ft factory in September 2014. Once operational in the new factory, Bhargava bought another screen printing machine, a Gallus label press along with many ancillary equipment. For his label stock manufacturing he added equipment to produce label materials with special effects and textures. In the same year he filed two patents. A year later in 2015, Bhargava Bhargava bought the adjacent 1,800 sq/mts of land for further expansion.

Kumar Labels is Bhargava’s sole proprietorship company. He reminisces about his earlier days when he started printing labels. Bhargava mentions his first customer that was his big break– Bausch & Laumb. It gave him the sample of “a complicated label with a very tight registration to print”. Even after inumerous trial they were not able to get it right. That night he himself operated the machine and kept on trying and finally got it right at 3.00 am in the morning. He took the materials in his car and supplied to the customer 80 kms away.

The method at Kumar Labels
Kumar Labels, is presently operational with nine label presses, 105 employees and a shopfloor of 25,000 sq/ft in size. It has additional land next door for expansion. Bhargava believes in continuously training employees so that the production is not left stranded when an employee quits. He proudly states that he has trained over 300 personnel in label conversion but is not comfortable with the fact that in this industry skilled employee retention is a problem. Especially at a time when competition is getting intense and reverse auctions are making life uneasy. He plans to begin a special technical training program under the aegis of Government of India Skill Development Program.

Bhargava has active support from his wife Somya, a Bengaluru girl he married after his first year in labels. They have two children a six year old daughter and a four year old son. Somya is an engineer with MBA degree and looks after the finance, procurement and human resources (HR) at firm. She comes to work from Monday to Friday.

A future in innovations
Vis-a-vis the future, Bhargava wishes to concentrate on the art of print and create innovations in labels. He wishes his enterprise to be a frontrunner in decoration of labels for leading brands where quality and innovation will matter and not just volumes. He is committed to make his business grow at 15% per annum not just in top-line but in the bottom-line as well so that with added profitability he can invest more in creativity. Digital printing does catch his interest and the indulgence may happen soon when his plans and ideas for it fall into place.

Bhargava is in the process of developing a process to reduce waste in self adhesive labels by almost 50%. When prodded about the technology, he says, “I will divulge later when it’s ready”.

Harveer Sahni is the managing director at Weldon Celloplast.

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