During a panel discussion as part of the LMAI Conference in Jaipur last year, we had noticed how Rajesh Chadha, managing director of the Gurgaon-based label printing company Update Prints, was unusually quiet while rest of the panellists were waxing eloquence. We were intrigued by Chadha’s unusual stoicism at the industry event held on 16-18 July 2015.
For one thing, the conference was organised to identify the changing trends and help gear the Indian industry to meet those challenges. Meeting challenges have been Update’s forte. Today, Update is a force to be reckoned with in the Indian label segment, with a 200,000 sq/ft state-of-the-art premises in Gurgaon, equipped with the latest high-end printing technologies.
When we visited the Update facility in February, what impressed us most was how affable Rajesh Chadha and his son Aditya, the director of the company, were. They made us completely at ease with their genuine personality, a complete contrast with Chadha’s stoicism in Jaipur.
“There are limitations when you share a stage with your colleagues,” Chadha senior explains the reasons why he kept his own counsel at Jaipur. “When you speak on behalf of the entire industry, sometimes you tend to sound artificial. Hence, I thought it would be better to keep quiet.”
Artificial Chadhas are certainly not. In fact, what impressed us most about Update was the simplicity of its owners. We were also impressed with the company’s focus. Over the years, Update has discovered its own rhythm, unperturbed by market trends and competition.
Rajesh Chadha is happy to be a part of the label industry. “It is an interesting industry,” he says. “There is lot of work and room for creativity and innovation.” He is also proud of his achievements. And why not? He has led the company to consistently achieve an almost 20% per annum growth rate, which is above the perceived industry rate. He beams when he says, “Growth comes naturally to my company because of the quality of our work. It is not fuelled by huge borrowings from banks.” No wonder he heads a fully family-owned successful and growing zero-debt company!
A historic legacy
Update Prints came into existence in 1994. However, the family has a long history of print. Rajesh Chadha’s grandfather initiated the journey into print in 1924, with PC Chadha and Company, which was into transfer printing on sewing machines and for railways. PC Chadha spent some time in Kobe, Japan, where he picked up the art of printing, and started his own business when he returned to Rawalpindi in British India. After the partition, the family moved to Delhi and set shop in Patel Nagar before shifting to a bigger factory in Naraina Industrial Area, New Delhi and then to Gurgaon.
The family started Update Prints in a bid to diversify into other businesses. The focus was on hardcore automation. In 2002, PC Chadha and Company and Update Prints merged into one entity. Now, the company supply labels to all segments in self-adhesive category. “We are the specialist in labels printing and we want to continue with it. We want to invest in our strengths. The label market is growing at about 10-15% every year and that growth can be captured easily,” Chadha says.
He joined PC Chadha and Company in 1976. “We were in the paper transfer business like sewing machines and the ceramics. During my stay abroad, I picked up new printing techniques. So, when I joined the company, I brought screen printing and lithography. Very few people started screen printing then and we were one of them. We used to import materials from America. In 1994, we brought one flexo machine with UV from Focus and then from Orthotec,” Chadha recalls.
Meanwhile, Aditya Chadha, the fourth generation of the family, an MBA from Rutgers University in the US, with a specialisation in marketing, has been involved in the family business since his college days. After a stint in AT&T as a marketing manager, he returned to India in 2005, and joined the family business.
According to Aditya, customer retention is a real concern in the industry. “At a time when competition is so stiff, customer loyalty is difficult to expect,” he says, adding, “We have to look at ways to retain our customers.”
More labels with short-run are another concern. “In fact, competition and end customers both have increased. Brand owners are tempted to bring in more products and to introduce more products from time to time. This necessitates going into test products and test marketing. Obviously, short-run is a big concern. Digital printing presses may be a solution, but in India, digital has a long way to go. Digital is very expensive,” explains Aditya.
In 2001, Rajesh Chadha bought an Orthotec intermittent letterpress at Labelexpo Asia held in Singapore. Two years later, he impulsively bought a Rotatek displayed at a New Delhi print exhibition, on immediate payment basis taking his industry colleagues by surprise. Update Prints under his leadership has been acquiring new state-of-the-art equipment at regular intervals. From the single 600 square yards factory, the company was operating three different plots, one of 1,000 square yards and two of 600 square yards, it was now time to consolidate for a few years.
In another strategic move in 2013, Update Prints moved all their manufacturing operations under one roof to a facility admeasuring almost 250,000 square feet in land area and 32,000 square feet covered area. This exercise required the involvement of a huge amount of money, time, effort and commitment. The land was designated agricultural land. Setting up an industrial project on it was illegal. Many people in the area have done it but Rajesh Chadha is committed to tread the straight path. He got the land use changed to industrial. Any Indian will know the kind of effort and time this takes.
Infrastructure was another problem. The nearest power feeder was far away and to expedite the matter of bringing power to the unit, Update Prints had to install 50 electricity poles at their own expense. The approach road to the unit was in shambles. It had to be re-laid at their own expense.
Reminiscing about his work in the initial days in labels, he says, “The first label I created was for Yardley Cosmetics.” In those days, he had bought two Newfoil three station hot-foiling presses. He used to love working with them creating innovative products. It was the most satisfying part for him because he could imagine and then create labels that would get appreciation from buyers.
He has, over the years, equipped Update Prints with diverse technologies in label printing, decorating and finishing. Whether it is offset printed labels printed on his Rotatek Brava or labels created on flexo, letterpress, hot or cold foiling, screen printing, etc, his company is never left wanting the ability to create. “I deliver quality, service and satisfaction to my customers and for this reason, work comes to me automatically. I do not have to waste time in running after work,” he says confidently.
The company’s latest acquisition, Rotatek Brava, is a high-end press, with offset, self-screen, embossing and flexo, all integrated into one. This gives Update an edge in producing labels of the highest quality. This has also earned the company awards in offset category.
While Aditya is now pondering over acquiring a digital kit, he confesses that the company cannot look into digital being its front line. “It is difficult, especially with the perception of the label printers and the converters, which are not there right now,” he says. “If you really want to make digital a success, you will have to really work closely with the marketing teams of the print buyers. It can add value.”
On the other hand, he swears by the Rotatek. “It gives us the ability to use best of all the technologies in a single machine. We do around 50 jobs per day,” he says, adding, “90% of our work is done on film.”
He explains: “We have our regular washable plates. We have offset for very high resolution jobs (up to 650 lpi). For high resolution jobs, compared to flexo, offset printing plates are more economical. Our biggest concern is the repeatability of jobs with the same result. We mostly run two shifts.”
Update Prints’ business has transformed over the years. It does very little transfers business now and mostly produce labels. Its customers are mostly leading FMCG companies. Ten percent of its produce goes into export. While in Patel Nagar, waste management was a big problem.
With the company growing continuously, disposal was becoming a gigantic issue. It was one of the reasons, besides expansion, that they moved to this present location some 35 km from Delhi. Here, the company has developed collectors who take the waste and convert it for various usages and applications. Chadha strongly feels that someone needs to work in the direction of managing or recycling this waste effectively and believes that a solution will evolve. He also feels going linerless is a good direction but like digital printing, it will be some time before this technology becomes adaptable extensively.
Today, Update has three key strengths that make it stand apart in the competition. It has zero debt. It has a huge infrastructure and it is technically and academically equipped.
“We don’t drive rash. We invest within our limits. Whenever we opt for a machine, we look at the most loaded machine the company has in its arsenal. Whenever we have the money, we go for it, and otherwise we don’t. The technology is upgrading every day. Whenever we get a good and long job, we just do it,” Chadha senior says.
He explains: “In pre-press, we have our designing department and whenever a design comes, we check how we should do it, whether in flexo or in letterpress. Later, we do pre-pressing according to the designated machine. Almost all the machines are in twins. If something is wrong with one machine, we have a backup. We believe in backups. We don’t want to disappoint our clients. Anybody can ask for a shorter run, and we have every kind of technology here,” he says.
The company also has the Ecoflex narrow-web flexo press from Faridabad-based Multitec. “Ecoflex is a good machine,” Chadha says. “If you have a good price and a good range of machines I would believe in it.”
Update has a team of 120 people. “We always keep three or four people extra. It starts from the customer account. We have dedicated people working for customers and when the job comes in, the production person decides on which machine the particular job will run,” he says.
Cricket is a team game, says Aditya Chadha, director at Gurgaon's Update Prints. As he stated during his speech at the Label Manufacturers Association of India (LMAI) in January 2016, “I have observed that in Northern India the printers do not associate as much as they should be. Increased communication and discussing common problems can prove beneficial not only for one company alone but will also contribute to the growth of the industry as a whole.”
Update’s roots can be traced back to Aditya's great grandfather, PC Chadha in 1924 in Kobe, Japan. Today, Chadha oversees operations along with his father Rajesh Chadha at the five acre plant in the outskirts of Gurgaon. The plant epitomises the image makeover that label print factories in North India are endeavouring at. What makes Update’s operations daring is the architecture and the fact that plant shopfloor is a hidden gem.
Chadha did his management studies in marketing at Rutgers University (USA) and studied at Shri Ram College of Commerce. In the era between 1998 and 2001, he captained the cricket team, thanks to his dual skills as a dependable middle order righthand bat and left arm spin.
Chadha, who is in the midst of the technology shakeup at Update, recalls those cricketing days with fondness. He recalls his days at the net and his brief rubbing of shoulders with stalwarts at the Playmakers Academy like Rajkumar Sharma (Virat Kohli’s coach) and Chetan Chauhan. Plus, a brief spar on the pitch with Ashish Nehra. But what he recalls is his hand during a game against title favourite, Hans Raj College. Chadha recalls, “Our top order had collapsed. We were chasing a moderate target of 80 runs in the last 10 overs. I was at the crease but I had sprained by foot while taking a run. It was a grind. A fight to the finish. We needed ten runs in the last over. But unlike Bhuvan (Aamir Khan’s character in the film Lagaan), I could not take our side past the finishing line.”
No fairy tale end to the story but that game earned Chadha the tag: O Brave Captain!
Chadha says, “In India, if we look closely, there is still a lot of scope for label converters to grow their businesses, what with wet glue labels fast making its way for pressure sensitive and flexible film labels. Also, industries which were previously not using self-adhesive labels have now started to adopt them." He feels like India triumphed during the World Cup in 2011, the Indian label industry can be a winner.
Like the World Cup T20 game on 19 September 2007, when Yuvraj Singh hit the England pacer Stuart Broad for six magnificent sixes in an over, Chadha feels the time is ripe for a Yuvraj Singh in Indian labels.
Chadha learnt three solid lessons from that game
1. Beware of over confidence. Like Hans Raj College, never under-estimate your competitor.
2. Technique is important. Chadha speaks about the correct stance. He ‘rocked’ while facing the ball and therefore his body used to move when the ball was being delivered. Chadha remedied this basic flaw. Today, he uses his eye to correct an improper technique. For example, he pointed out to his son not to park his weight on his heels while participating in a race. This tip came handy when he observes his team perform on the shopfloor.
3. To perform under pressure like “a Virat Kohli”. Chadha’s all-time favourite is Sachin Tendulkar. “I like Kohli, but not fond of his abrasiveness. Tendulkar was most compact and most proper.”
Rajesh Chadha being the elder son in his family, like in most migrant Punjabi families of that time in New Delhi, joined the business while he was still studying. He is an alumnus of New Delhi’s Salwan Public School and later studied commerce in Dayal Singh College for BCom and finishing up with a Masters in commerce. His wife Anju is a Master’s degree holder in English and takes an active interest in the business.
These days for two days every week, she attends the New Delhi office operating in Naraina and looks after the HR department. Rajesh and Anju have two children who are both now married. Their daughter Upasna has studied at the prestigious London School of Economics and spent time at Oxford University. Son Aditya, like his father, studied commerce from Delhi’s Shri Ram College of Commerce and later completed his MBA in marketing from Rutgers University in the US. He is being fondly mentored by Rajesh to take charge of the company.
|1. 1976: PC Chadha’s grandson Rajesh joined the business in 1976. The same year they moved factory from Patel Nagar to a 600 square yards plot in the nearby Naraina Industrial Area. With Rajesh at the helm|
|2. 1978: The company started to produce stickers by manual screen printing process. For the next ten years, the screen printing business became the mainstay for Chadhas. One of the first major decisions taken by Rajesh Chadha was to buyEuropean automatic Svecia Screen printing machine to print a full 20x30-inch sheet, quite big for that time.|
|3. 1990: The company started to produce stickers by manual screen printing process. For the next ten years, the screen printing business became the mainstay for Chadhas. One of the first major decisions taken by Rajesh Chadha was to buy a European automatic Svecia Screen printing machine to print a full 20x30-inch sheet, quite big for that time.|
|4. 1994: Rajesh setup Update Prints in 1994 as his flagship venture thereon, gradually taking over all the business of PC Chadha & Co, which was eventually wound up later in 2009.|
Sensing the need to modernise with faster machines at Update Prints, he bought his first rotary flexo label press, a Focus. There is no looking back since.