It makes sense to talk about a growth approach in the traditional way – getting into processes to improve productivity and efficiency. However, the small and medium-sized print companies could do well to evaluate their current state and prepare an approach based on present circumstances.
Covid-19 has taught a print firm in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh to be nimble, and find additional opportunities.
“Like many other organisations, we could not run our printing press for three to four months due to the onset of Covid-19. In June, we could achieve only 30% of sales, year-on-year. As a result, we were not in a position to pay rent or salaries on time,” says the sexagenarian director at Mudrica Quality Offset Printers S Krupakar Rao.
In 1983, Rao entered the print business, initially sourcing business across the then undivided Andhra Pradesh and getting it printed at Pragati Offset in Hyderabad. In 1995, Rao started Mudrica in partnership with his wife, with a five-colour Dominant press. Rao says, “It is important to note that we have never opted for institutional finance. The growth in the initial days was above industry average, as we were having a few large customers and were handling their regular business.”
In 2015, the firm lost a major client, which accounted for 70% of its sales. “Subsequently, we have been very badly affected by Demonetisation, GST and now Covid – 19.”
Rao was getting desperate and realised that it was time for him to think and act differently. “Our traditional approaches were not yielding results,” he says.
Whether a business is striving to survive or meet a surge in demand, in both the events the approach should be similar. Anything different can cause tremors to the processes and people and cause uncertainty.
To revive his business, he approached V Rajaraman, a lean expert, whose advice was simple – You should not do anything that is not going to benefit the customer, employees or the organisation, and look for value in whatever you do.
“Rajaraman’s guidance and inputs have helped us to increase sales and by end-September 2020, our numbers were close to September 2019,” says Rao. “We moved from reactive to proactive and developed a strategic roadmap of adaptability.”
A journey of improvements
Under the guidance of Rajaraman, Rao implemented SWOT analysis, 5S in Mudrica. The firm identified its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to business competition or project planning. It also used the mantra of 5S – sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain – to prop up its business.
Rao sought active participation of his team, support of his customers and vendors. “One person can’t bring about a change to your business. But when your staff works together in tandem with customers and vendors, obstacles getting in the way of your goals are eliminated,” he explains.
During this period, Rao also refurbished the equipment at Mudrica and started applying lean manufacturing techniques. “It was a conscious decision not to make any fresh investment. We sold some scrap and excess stock worth about Rs. 1,30,000, spent on refurbishing some of the equipment. We are yet to complete the refurbishment of a few machines.”
Rao created a separate division for digital printing and started offering ‘on demand-book printing’ for printing of ‘one copy to 100 copies’ at an affordable price. “The timing of this ‘on demand’ book print service matched with the current market requirement.” Mudrica used its old digital printers – Canon 3300, Xerox 7556, Xerox 7530 to produce digital print.
A helping hand
Rao has had a long association with Pragati Offset in Hyderabad, which he says, played a major role in his firm’s transformation.
Narendra Paruchuri, chairman of Pragati Group, provided technical and management tips during these troubled times. “I realised that finding a solution to the issues is the right thing to do rather than wait for a revival in the economy. Additional investment in new equipment, reduction of prices, or borrowing funds is not a pragmatic option when the future is uncertain.”
Rao cites 11 factors responsible for his firm's turnaround – meeting customer needs, improved employee engagement, huge reduction of wastage, reduction of cycle time, collection of old dues, autonomous maintenance and refurbishing of machines, improved billing and collection procedures, reduction in cost of purchases, abc analysis in all functional areas, cost control in all activities, and above all, improved planning and implementation.
“We have realised, and that includes every employee in Mudrica, that continuous improvement is not a marathon that can be run in a day. It has to be run collectively, and is a daily journey,” says Rao.
Implementing lean methods, reducing input cost through supply chain management and total employment involvement in the print production through empowerment are the other strategies, which Rao is planning to put into practice.
“We see reasons to be optimistic, for we have found ways to keep our business going. From here on we hope to bolster our productivity and profitability. We will continue to learn, plan, adjust and evolve,” concluded Rao.
S.Krupakar Rao – In conversation
How have you been leading your organisation through this once-in-a-lifetime crisis? Describe a typical day? How much has altered?
With the help of our consultant and utilising my experience of 35 years. I am present at the press from 9.30 am to 8.30 pm, helping my team achieve their best. Along with my team, we have reinstated most of our good practices with perseverance. I feel it is a journey that is going well, so far.
We’re in an extraordinary moment? As a leader what are you telling your team now about the future?
I have shared our financial challenges in paying their salaries and rent with 30% sales, and requested for their improved participation for better productivity, not so much about the future.
Is it different messaging for different teams? For example, department heads, factory supervisors, admin staff, shop floor experts, logistics and support staff?
Not really. Since ours is a small team, we conduct a daily meeting for 10 minutes. Everyone contributes for the betterment of the organisation.
The post-Covid world will need massive HR repair with your entire team: how have you achieved this?
I do not think we will need any repair. Most of our employees are with us for a very long time, and they have multiple skills. Being multi-taskers, they could perform well. We have in fact, added four new employees for our digital division.
Have you been re-negotiating deals with your customers? From a position of strength? Or same old?
No. Our approach has always been inclusive. Everything is as usual, except that now, we are asking for advance payments and requesting for clearing their outstanding.
How have you been planning your next step with your banks and financiers when you don’t know what the future will hold? One step that you have taken ...
No plans for borrowing funds. We never had any bank loans and we are comfortable that way.
Is your factory ready for what next? How have you been empowering your team at the bottom of the pyramid?
No such next level plans in these uncertain times. By the end of this month, we want to clear all our dues of more than 30 days. Similarly, we want to collect all the amounts due from our customers as per the schedule.
We are also working on refurbishment of the remaining equipment and providing training to our team, preparing them for multi-tasking.
Ours is always a flat organization and we have been always empowering the entire team.
Any specific steps (sanitisation, plastic partitions, physical distance, air vents, WFH, etc) to keep your office healthy and psychologically safe?
Yes, from day one. Almost half of our daily meetings were spent on sensitising Covid-19 challenges and strict implementation of disinfection of the entire press, hand washing, social distancing protocols, wearing of face masks from home to home, and this has helped us. We are operating with good attendance, as none of our team except me, fell ill.
How has Covid-19 changed the nature of what you are working on your own resilience and self-renewal and how you do it?
Due to Covid-19, I have realised that my experience, my knowledge, our brand name and my social position is of no use. That is why I was in distress. Later on, with the guidance of our consultant, I have decided to work on the challenge.
In what way has your team prepared for Webex or Zoom or Skype usage? Any creative ideas?
Not much. We interact through Whatsapp groups.
How is the industry in Vijayawada coping?
There are about 50 multi-colour printers and except for a few, most of them are unable to cope.