In contrast to the webinars highlighting the negative outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Bombay Master Printers Association (BMPA) introduced six individuals (as panellists) from the industry who made use of the lockdown situation to revisit their businesses and redesign their mode of working.
Titled Covid Positives, the webinar was conducted on 15 January 2021. Iqbal Kherodawala, president, BMPA moderated the discussion. Meanwhile, Faheem Agboatwala presided over the meeting.
"We have had enough sessions on the negative impact of the pandemic, but now team BMPA feels it is time to discuss the positives," BMPA noted in its invite.
Kherodawala started off the two-hour-long webinar by highlighting the transport issues, financial woes, the migrant labour exodus, lack of raw materials and the risk of infection that posed a major threat to almost all industries during the initial days of the lockdown, which was imposed in March 2020.
He also shed light on the financial actions planned by businesses in India. He said 37.6% businesses in India are implementing cost containment initiatives 25.8% businesses are modifying their financial plans to address the economic woes it faced during the pandemic. However, Kherodawala underlined the 28.9% businesses, which were deferring or cancelling their planned investments.
"In such a scenario, what our industry needs is some sunshine at the end of the tunnel," Kherodawala said. "Today, I have got those exact people who have not really been bothered about the pandemic."
"What drives them is the long term planning, which their businesses have followed. They used this pandemic to hone their current strengths, they looked at the weaknesses and took strong decisions. These six panellists continued their plan for growth, for upskilling of their workers, and for changing the way they look at customers and their service," he added.
Later, Kherodawala introduced the six panellists, which included Tejas Tanna of Printmann Group, Anuj Bhargava of Kumar Labels, Milap Shah of PrintStop India, Kashyap Purohit of Surya Offset, Denver Annunciation of Janus International, and Vivek Khanna of Ajanta Print Arts.
Following are the measures adopted by the six panellists, who survived the pandemic blues.
Anuj Bhargava, director, Kumar Labels
The pandemic came as a shock. Around 80% of our production was liquor labels. When liquor was banned in the middle of June, we were pretty much out of business for a long time. Our plans before the pandemic was to have a much larger facility at our Greater Noida base. But, as the pandemic struck, we realised that our customers who are in different parts of the country wanted us closer to them geographically. Just as the market opened, we realised that one of the quick things we had to do was to be multi-location. So we planned and built a small facility in Goa.
Before the pandemic, we were planning on [investing in] some brand new high speed machines, which was capable of a lot of embellishments in one go. However, we decided not to invest in one gigantic machine, rather we invested the same amount in smaller, more agile machines, which could do more. Besides that, we were allowed to work only with 20 people in a factory, which normally used to have 150 people. In just a few days, the person who used to run our flexo printing machines was taught how to run flatbed die-cutters, and the die-cut operator was trained to run camera inspection. So multi-skilling, which was very difficult, happened as we went through the pandemic.
Bringing some diversity to our customer base was another aspect. We realised that we were heavily dependent on the alcobev industry. Our sales team, while they were working from home, was able to tap in some new customers and get some business, which was non-alcobev.
Tejas Tanna, director, Printmann
Senior people are very important. But, during the pandemic, there was a fear. People above 50 were not willing to come to the factory due to health reasons. The family pressure was there. That was a time when we realised that we need to upskill the younger technicians. We tried to give them a free hand. We developed a team where they got the confidence to run the factory even if the senior technicians were not around. The gap was bridged due to the pandemic. That was a brilliant time for them to realise their potential.
We are predominantly dependent on the pharma sector. So we kept adding new products that were required for the pharma segment. We were into cartons, leaflets, labels and blister foils. During the pandemic, we realised that if one segment goes down, all our products go down. Previously, our marketing was through word-of-mouth. For the first time, we have invested in marketing. We hired a marketing professional whose role was to tap businesses that were not related to the pharma sector.
Milap Shah, CTO and CMO, PrintStop
Our primary clientele are B2B corporates, and we used to supply a lot of print material such as stationery marketing collateral to these companies. And in the pandemic, all these offices were shut down. And they are still shut down. Our business was impacted in a big way. But as far as our offices and people were concerned, we very quickly ramped up to a complete work-from-home scenario. All the office people were empowered to work from home and we were using various technologies to make things work.
First two months were very bad. The pandemic forced or helped us to try new avenues that we were already procrastinating on. It helped us expedite and do things which we had planned a few years down the line. It fast tracked things. For example, we wanted to diversify beyond paper. The concept was moving slowly. But during the pandemic, we completely put our efforts on it and today 50% of our sales are non-paper. We could get a lot of new customers because we got into these different sectors.
We also monetised the use of our online platforms by our customers, and made it evident that we are not a printing company but a technology firm. And now vendors are using our platform to procure non-printed things. The move from being a printer to a technology happened quickly because of the pandemic.
Denver Annunciation, director for strategy, Janus International
We are known in the industry as liquor/beer label printers. When I joined the company, 90% of our topline came from the beer industry. Today, beer doesn't exceed more than 50% of our topline. The shutdown accelerated this process. For the last six years we have made active efforts to diversify and broaden our customer base. We invested in new machines just before and during the lockdown.
If you do not have good customers in your system who are not contributing to your growth, then it’s time to relook at things. You need to individually see at your customer bases to know whether you are making money or not. Customers who have been longer with us give the least amount of profit. Meanwhile, new customers give us more profits. In any case, customers are always looking for new suppliers. In case they are not, then they are good customers. And will give you fair prices.
Kashyap Purohit, director, Surya Offset and Security Printers
Technology allows people to collaborate and share information in real time, even if they are not physically together. The new emerging technology is interactive, collaborative, shared, virtual and customised digital work. How will this happen? This is immersive technology, which is nothing but a blend of virtual reality and augmented reality. In layman terms, it defines a parallel virtual world. This has placed digital representation of objects in a physical space.
Such platforms and applications could be transformative. For companies it could allow them to connect with specialised expertise instantly, no matter where they are based. And this could completely change the way offices process the work and most importantly removing the cost of redoing it.
Vivek Khanna, director finance and marketing, Ajanta Print Arts
Has pandemic changed anything for us? Not really. Things are as they are. Covid was just a blip. But the outlook is a lot different. Like Anuj Bhargava, we started a new plant, we got new equipment, we are getting ready for growth. If you are good, and if you have the focus there is business out there. I hope there isn't plenty of business out there for all of us.
Cost is extremely important. More upskilling will help control cost. At Ajanta, we implemented an ERP because of the pandemic. An ERP changed the way we looked at things. It gave us numbers and visibility. It gave a platform for everybody to connect.