In tough times, how Kaydee manages its print hubs - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

He spent 12 hours a day, fine-tuning equipment, planning and upgrading the entire workflow from March to June 2020. Implementing them is a form of unwinding, he says. That’s Captain Rajendra Agarwal for you. Noel D’Cunha reports

01 Aug 2021 | By Noel D'Cunha

Captain Rajendra Agarwal’s favourite book is Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. I asked him how he stopped worrying and started living with all the bad news. The seasoned ex-serviceman in him retorts, if Arunima Sinha can climb Mount Everest besides leading a normal life, then why can’t we.

Agarwal is the founder of Kaydee Colour Lab in Lucknow and Kaydee Prints in Surat. And he hopes to boost revenue. Like Apple’s revenue in China, which jumped a staggering 87% to USD17.7 billion, propelled by strong demand for its first 5G smartphone.

I ask Agarwal where does he look for inspiration and see that it’ll all be okay, Agarwal replies, “One of the things I look at is the technology I have. If that does not keep the optimism going or keep you committed to trying to constantly pitch ideas and think about solutions, nothing will.”

Agarwal says, “Every time you are at the helm of a task like this, you need to think differently. The most important of all was that we had to deliver. This (different) thinking, was not only required at the top, but had to be scaled down to every single person in your factory. To make the impossible possible, you need to have the entire team believing that they can do it. We all believed it could happen.”

Big prints and quick
In 2010, the 1996-established photography lab and studio specialists Kaydee Colour Lab diversified its business portfolio. The firm made its first move into digital photo printing in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) with an investment in a seven-colour HP Indigo 5500 for specialised photo book printing. The 5500 was installed in March 2010, which was followed by the launch of Rishtein Yaadein, a customised, fade-resistant, non-tearable, lightweight, waterproof designer photobook.

At PrintPack India 2013 show, Agarwal inked a deal for four (yes, four!) NexPress SX 3300 digital production press with the NexGlosser and 36-inch long sheet feeder. The first of the four was installed at his firm’s Surat location, a unit he had established in a bid to expand operations. In those days, Kaydee dealt with more than 12,000 studios and had more than 2,000 dealers with 21 collection centres.

The Kodak SX 3300 NexPress has the capability of a photo press and also to produce different applications such as dimensional, flood-coat and glossing, larger printing area and size scalability, higher productivity, the versatility of the press, colour reproduction, and Kodak’s service and support. “The invitation cards and other printed products showcasing NexPress applications distributed during the event is a first-hand proof as well as
an example of versatility and quality excellence of this press,” he had said.

“I am a firm believer in technology. I have always invested heavily into it,” says Agarwal. “This keeps my business well protected and less dependent on manpower. We managed to reduce about 25% of manpower owing to the pandemic and managed well with present production volume, which is touching almost the same as of a few years back.”

Agarwal adds, “Bad times also teach us a few good lessons, provided we observe, plan and are ready to learn and willing to adopt.” He says, “Luck never comes to the unprepared. Every company has to prepare for this moment. We had to build breakthroughs that would change.”

We concur with this theory. The chairman and CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla said, “We were looking at changing the whole company.” Pfizer significantly increased the investments in digital and research. The reason being: Bourla knew that the company can’t be transformed by changing the business portfolio or by changing the location. Bourla said, “You can only transform it by changing the culture. If we didn’t have the courage to think big,
we wouldn’t think of manufacturing three billion doses. That’s how we found solutions.” Agarwal believes in this credo.

Digital wherewithal
Also, Agarwal believes in Benny Landa, not as a printer innovator, but for his vision of digitisation, which is happening now. Who can forget his famous line – “Everything that can become digital will become digital” – and printing is no exception. Not surprisingly, when he decided to make his first move into digital print production his first buy was the HP Indigo press.

Kaydee’s present infrastructure comprises two Kodak NexPress digital production presses and a HP Indigo 5500 at Surat and a HP Indigo 7600 in Lucknow, both the locations specialising in photobooks and high-end textile catalogues.

The presses are complemented by adequate post-press capabilities to ensure that the printed products are finished with utmost precision. Agarwal, adds, “We also have a sound designing team and a well-equipped studio to cater to the needs of our customers.”

Captain Agarwal on supplier relationship

We currently have two Kodak NexPress digital production presses and an HP Indigo press in Surat. The presses are complemented by adequate post-press capabilities to ensure that the printed products are finished with utmost precision. We also have a sound designing team, and a well-equipped studio to cater to the needs of our customers.

We have received continuous support from Kodak to meet customers’ demand in the last few months with the quality product printed by Kodak NexPress. Let me have the privilege to say that to fulfil my vision and policy to survive and create a niche in the competitive and pandemic-hit market, Kodak team and Kodak NexPress proved to be the pillar and my strength to achieve it.

We are satisfied with the support of our suppliers and share a cordial relation with them. They have been like our partners during this journey of ours.

The changing scenario
When I asked Agarwal what is the change in the print market in cities he operates (in the past 12 months) that we should be aware of, he says, “Considering the market situation, the customers are not placing orders in bulk, which means reduced printing.”

Therefore, one has to stock raw material accordingly. Plus, as the market is tight, clients are facing hardships and are using pandemic as an excuse to delay payment. “Cashflow is important, and we as service providers have to tread with credit period cautiously,” Agarwal says.

So what is the solution? “Discuss with your key clients and advise them to avoid falling into long credit-line business. There is no point in being bullish in the market and end up losing a lot. More importantly, ensure that you don’t hold huge inventory, thereby avoiding their capital trapped into it,” explains Agarwal.

And to underscore what he calls his chutzpah, Agarwal reduced dependency on manpower and relied on technology, as one of the steps he took. “We endured getting maximum output from all the equipment at our command with the available manpower. A strict credit policy even meant having fewer volumes, which has kept our cashbook healthy to face the challenges of the future.”

Everything tough was not hunky-dory. There was a major swing in paper demand and supply. Blame it on inward supplies from overseas manufacturers or importers due to the ongoing pandemic or just domestic paper manufacturers’ politics, pricing of paper shot up by nearly 40% in the last eight months with further supplies unpredictable, says Agarwal. “Price of paper is behaving in the line of the share market and keeps changing at every supply. So we have to take the average paper pricing of the last few months, which turns out to be about Rs 85 per kilo, as our production cost.”

Add to it, the woes of immediate payment against paper supplies. “Adjust these changes in your production cost. In hard times, one cannot sustain with minimal margins,” Agarwal says.

The power of digital
Agarwal acknowledges that business has been weak in the current doldrums. “The entire economy of the world collapsed due to the pandemic. Our revenue last year was not surprisingly down by 20% to 30%.”

The situation improved when the lockdowns were eased, and there was a turnaround. Digital growth in India is racing with full steam and if some jobs are affected by soft copies of pictures, brochures, then due to smartphones and digitalisation, new avenues also opened up.

Agarwal says, “The sale of smartphones increased. That meant more packaging and literature was printed. People ending up shooting a lot of pictures ended up getting approximtely 10% to 15% prints of the soft copies. Plus, there were coffee table books and few new business opportunities, too.”

Print business these days, it is said, is a challenge. Agarwal welcomes the challenge and is looking forward to turning print business into bustling enterprises, once the pandemic is under control, and the national economy picks up.

“Right now, people may seem to be conservative in spending, but that can’t last for long,” says Agarwal. “I believe people will marry and when they do, they will need photos of memories. Likewise, it
will be with textile and garments. And providing prints for these events and industries is the business we are in,”
concludes Agarwal.

Captain Rajendra Agarwal – At a glance

Captain Rajendra Agarwal, founder of Kaydee

How did you unwind during the pandemic?
Spent over 12 hours a day to upgrade with technology, planning and upgrading the entire workflow with minimum manpower during the lockdown period from March to June 2020. And now, implementing those is giving a lot of satisfaction and a form of unwinding.

One phrase you heard during the pandemic months.
How long and when will the vaccine hit the market?

Which film or web series did you watch?
Mostly English, and the list is long. Few of them are: The Godfather, Scent of a Woman, Forest Grump… but most of them are based on true stories that are motivational.

Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to?
On my shop floor to implement and execute all the plans planned during the pandemic to ensure volume goes up many manifolds.

Favourite snack.

Favourite book.
Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start living; Barack Obama’s In His Own World; and William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall Of the Third Reich.

Your adda in your city.
Home in Surat with my family and my workplace.

One historical thing about the city you live in that no one knows.
Good question, let me find this out...

One print job you love.
All the modelling and product catalogues were shot and designed by us.

One print innovator from history you want to meet.
Benny Landa (although I met him at Drupa a few years back) is not a print innovator, but I am a firm believer of him and his vision of digitalisation, which is happening now.

One phrase, you utter at least once a day.
Take up one idea and make it your life.


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