Sivalakshmi: Always preparing for the future

S Ravichandran started as trader for pressroom chemicals establishing Sheela Enterprises as a brand for consumables in the print city of Sivakasi. Later the city morphed and so did Sheela into Sivalakshmi Enterprises. In his own words…

18 Aug 2021 | By PrintWeek Team

Sivalakshmi Enterprises office in Sivakasi

For me sincerity has been the steepest learning curve of my career. I started my company with a very low available finance out of my savings and a bicycle. The only thing I knew well was how to work hard. The customers that I made during those initial days are still with me. For more than 30 years they have been supporting me with their order and payments.

To be here from a point where my company didn’t even have our own telephone connection for the first two years is my measure of the hard work. Prior to my own business, I worked as a sales official in the local Sivakasi market for seven years from 4 November 1984 till May 1991. And then, in 1991 Sheela Enterprises – my own company came into being.

The timeline of a journey
We started as a professional trading company to cater to chemicals and consumables to offset printing industry.

During 1996 we were the sole distributor for the entire range of pre-press and pressroom chemicals manufactured by Bromide Color Chemicals (BCC), Jabalpur. BCC was a pioneer in manufacturer of film processing chemicals even during the traditional Lithotex camera dating 35 years ago. The company is well versed in the printing industry for manufacturing and sale of chemicals needed by pre-press and pressrooms in domestic as well as export markets.

From 1998, we extended our operations by supplying a few major chemicals needed by the match industry in Sivakasi. And then when the market underwent a technical growth from conventional to digital technology, we coupled our growth with this new market trend.

We engaged in distribution of pre-sensitised aluminium plates and were appointed as a channel partner for down South of Tamil Nadu by Stovec Industries, Ahmedabad – a technically renowned company engaged in production and distribution of high resolution pre-sensitive aluminium plates needed by the printing industry.

At this point we had grown to an extent of expanding our activities towards an import business. And so, we floated a sister company in the market in the name of Sivalakshmi Enterprises to import PS plates, rubber blankets and a few consumables from China. The blankets that we provided were of manufactured by Hangzhou Yuanyang Industries and the PS plates were manufactured by Zhejiang Aoguang Printing Materials in China.

We stood tall in the market with a solid name as a supplier of high-quality compressible rubber blankets and PS plates.

During 2007 the Sivakasi printing industry saw an exponential growth due to the introduction of a technology called computer-to-plate or CTP that eliminated film technology. By virtue of our goodwill an international giant Kodak India joined hands with us for CTP thermal plates in the Sivakasi market. Today, it has led to us being in the proud position of having 80% distribution ownership of thermal plates needed in Sivakasi market for Kodak plates and chemicals

And by the natural progression of this fruitful partnership, from 2015 we got promoted as Kodak’s official channel partner to sell its CTP thermal platesetters as well. In the same year in July, we sold our first CTP Trendsetter Quantum machine in Sivakasi during July 2015.

Team Sivalakshmi Enterprises

Upgrading to manufacturer status
2020 is when we upgraded our trader status – and also became a manufacturer of pressroom chemistry. The license arrangement we have with BCC entails complete transfer of technology support and guidance to manufacture chemical in our name and to market them in South India with our principals to existing channel partners.

This was a timely move. Since the time was to eliminate added up cost like transit freight from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh to Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, which was a big burden. The idea was to pass on the cost savings by providing better price than other products.  

Now, we serve nearly 40% of the printing industry in Sivakasi. It has been a tough market with lots of leasing and subleasing.  From day one we have always maintained personal care and support to the products, which we are serving to our customer.

I am a student of commerce but with my practical experience I have upgraded my technical knowhow to test the chemicals manufactured by us in all parameters. Our customers are our bosses who have uplifted us right from the ground level. We are committed to serve them in a reciprocal manner. This is our principle and a moral too.

Print in Sivakasi: Now and then
The Covid situation has been grim. We had a tough time for the past 12 months in Sivakasi but as far as our sales and return of investment with our customers is concerned it remained better after August 2020.
2021 looks like a challenging time for businesses especially when printers don’t even know what’s going to be on the presses in the next six hours, let alone the next day or next week. It is a crystal clear truth that even after so much increase in the cost of production and with so many consumables involved, compared to other industries ours is still profit-gaining.

A whole lot of new players have started flocking in it and it is getting fragmented too. People with new hopes to take the share of the pie are cutting the cost to run their machines somehow or the other. Our industry is investment oriented with a lot of risk and wastage at each and every step of processing till it is finished. The one thing I would like to impart on the industry, if I can, is for it to not undercut the end prices simply to sustain day to day needs.

Apart from that since the past three decades the commercial print market in Sivakasi and Madurai is moving more towards post-press with UV applications and more and more printing jobs are getting limited in quantity; sometimes with frequent needs. The reach of the industry is far and wide owing to the technical development and computerisation wherein even a basic computer operator can handle a pre-press and a press unit.

Previously there were only limited printers with only a few big printing houses. They had adopted all conventional technologies even for platemaking by using egg albumin, and a few chemicals added to it. The profitability then was good. We had only a few four-colour presses and all the others survived with single- and double-colour machines. Mostly the Sivakasi market was driven by Russian Polygraph presses and then Manroland machines.

And then, there was a period when a raft of Mitsubishi presses was installed in Sivakasi. We were quick to capitalise on this and developed our sourcing and sales after this induction of new machines in Sivakasi. Our sales improved after this.

The Nadars of Sivakasi
I will always appreciate the presence of Nadar community in the Sivakasi print market. They are a strong business community. They have become successful because of their dedicated investment and personal interest in the printing industry. I remember seeing press owners assisting in operating the printing presses and that too by wearing a simple dhoti. Till today, it continues to be a frequent sight of owners personally and physically participating in packing and dispatch.

The first safety matches manufacturing factory was built in the 1920s after two young local entrepreneurs, P Ayya Nadar and his cousin, Shanmuga Nadar, went to Kolkata to understand how the safety matches industry worked. The similarity between matchstick and firecracker manufacturing led to the foundation of firecracker’s factory.

Now many families have set up fireworks and pyrotechnic chemicals units in Sivakasi. Soon, printing and label-making factories came up to service these manufacturers. However very few families have an in-house arrangement, approximately 10 or 15 firms. Mostly they outsource the printing and label-making.

Fireworks and matchsticks
From 1998 onwards, our company extended its operation by supplying a few major chemicals needed by the match industry. Compared to any other place for match manufacturing, companies in Sivakasi and surrounding belts are more informative and dynamic to upgrade. They have upgraded themselves in even in non-technology heavy sections like manufacturing splints, dipping and box filling. This is the simple reason why matches from Sivakasi are a global brand. Plus, complete automation with a whole lot of safety measures.

The interesting fact is that today, Sivakasi’s 1,070 medium and small-scale units account for nearly 90% of the country’s firecracker production. The industry directly employs 3,00,000 workers and through allied sectors, another 5,00,000. This has had a big impact on print and packaging industry in Sivakasi.  

The firecracker industry has played a vital role in Sivakasi printing industry. Manual letterpresses as well as a traditional manual scoring and creasing machines were ably supported by the firecracker printing work. In turn, the sale of firecrackers is solely dependent on the attractive designs in print and packaging. Now a lot of attractive labels and cartons are being printed with UV.

Women constitute 74% of the total workforce employed in the safety matches industry in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, according to the 2014-15 labour ministry report. Other than low wages the reason for such participation of women is because Sivakasi is surrounded by many villages wherein women are mostly under educated.

Moreover, these women do not have any other vital industry to accommodate themselves. They are being paid production- based wages. Being a hot and dry place there is no cultivation around Sivakasi to employ women labour workforce.

Hari Harish: manages chemical manufacturing and plate business

Printing plates in Sivakasi
I have seen many developments in plates used in printing industry, starting from zinc plate to CTP thermal aluminium plates. I have encountered many changes while servicing this market; right from zinc plate with egg albumin coating then to the thermal process free plates now. Plates have always played a vital role in printing. So, I got into the industry as a plate provider too.

When the market underwent a technical growth from conventional technology to digital technology, we engaged in distribution of PS plates. In a territory which deployed graining, it was difficult to convince customers about PS. Eventually Sheela Enterprises carved a niche as a supplier of high-quality PS plates for the Sivakasi print industry. This was in spite of the fact that we never participated in the dynamic pricing war.

It’s a parallel growth story between printing industry and development in plates. Because the industry installed many new concept-oriented machines like the alcohol dampening CPC machines with coater. Printers in Sivakasi have always shown interest in updating themselves with latest plate technologies.

Once a particular printer takes the initiative and upgrades to a new plate technology, it immediately sets the trend rolling and automatically gears up the rest of printers in the industry to follow. Today, Sivakasi boasts of major book factories like Srinivas Fine Arts, Lovely Offset and Safire Offset Printers. Their upgradation practices are a lesson to learn for any industry.

CTP was launched in India by the turn of the century. In 2007, Sivakasi saw the advent of CTP. We prepared ourselves for this new development in printing industry. With past experiences, we were able to judge the technology development.  

Printing industry will grow with CTP thermal technology and it is a known fact that Kodak is a pioneer in this technology. It is the finest with square spot dots, which is unique. Armed with this particular knowledge we initiated the talks with them and soon became their official channel partner. We joined hands with Kodak – and started promoting the distribution of thermal CTP plates. All we were doing was preparing ourselves for the future.

Initially, we had rented a few small warehouses and a small office stock storage space for Kodak plates. We then moved to our own bigger office building were we have specially built a dedicated floor for storing Kodak Plates and chemicals. We also increased our staff strength and transport capacity for delivery in and around Sivakasi till Madurai.

Today, we are Kodak’s brand ambassador in the Madurai-Sivakasi belt. Kodak supports us with transportation with a dedicated container of plates to maintain our qualitative and quantitative business with our customers.

We have 80% distribution ownership of thermal plates needed in the Sivakasi market with Kodak plates and chemicals. In order to simplify our operations, we have segregated our pressroom chemicals and consumables
in our parent company Sheela Enterprises and our exclusive Kodak’s plates and chemicals business under Sivalakshmi Enterprises.

It wasn’t easy initially as we had issues with transit of plates because we received the plates from Mumbai at that time. There were always some handling issues in the transport. Later, this was rectified by Kodak when they
set up its own transport hub at Chennai.

We are yet to go online because we strongly believe in a face-to-face relationship with our customers with frequent personal contacts and visits to their premises, which in turn allow us to have a personal relationship with our customers apart from the business.

We wanted our customers to experience this progression in technology from PS to thermal CTP. We would often get asked about the thermal vs UVTCP debate. Both are different concepts. The main difference is in price and quality. The quality of thermal plates is incomparable with any other plates in the industry.

Syed Mohamed, Regional Manager – South, Kodak India: Kodak and Sivalakshmi

In 2009, Sivalakshmi was working as a sub dealer for Kodak plates. Looking at their customer connect, hunger for growth and passion, Kodak appointed Sivalakshmi as an authorised distributor. Thus far they have achieved great success with Kodak thermal plates and CTP technology.

Kodak’s approach to ink a partnership is based on Kodak’s consistent quality of plates, reliable performance in line with specifications, customer confidence and assured availability of inventory has helped us to maintain the leadership in this market over the last few years.

15-20 years ago, the Sivakasi market was the hub of cinema poster printing, safety matches and fire crackers manufacturing. Over the last few years, cinema poster printing has almost vanished and even fire crackers manufacturing is under pressure due to environmental norms. Sivakasi customers are creative, innovative and they adapt to the changing situations very quickly. This could also be the reason why it is also called

“Mini/Little Japan”. Today Sivakasi has become the hub for publishing, stationery printing and packaging.

The past 12 months have been especially challenging for businesses. The whole of India has been affected by pandemic and so was the case with Sivakasi. We clearly see the market is picking up now since Q4 2020 and
Sivalakshmi is responding to this upswing.

Once Covid is out of the way, we are looking ahead for growth opportunities in this market.

Looking into the future
In Tamil Nadu, it does seem to me that there’s a massive growth opportunity in many centres for print. And yet, the markets have not grown. Maybe the local demand is not matching the capacity installed in other centres which automatically discourages the future investments and investors. The set-up and labour costs are getting tougher to achieve too.

Somehow anything that creates uncertainty in business is bad news for print. I personally suggest to curtail unhealthy credits and to encourage more cash business.
In 2015, my son Hari Harish, who completed his mechanical engineering joined the company. He is now playing a major role in the manufacturing of chemicals and checking the quality right till the end use. He is also involved in coordinating our plate business.

In addition, he is personally involved in marketing of Chemline products. We have been appointed as dealers by Chemline India for adhesives of all types especially in the post-press industry. Our effort currently is to achieve a bigger share in the Sivakasi market for Chemline India products.

Personally, I see a lot more things for my companies in the future which will unfold with passing time. I know this because I truly believe that doing the best in this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.

Ravichandran: At a  glance

S Ravichandran: started business as a trader of chemical and consumables for offset printing industry

  • One activity you love: Cycling
  • Favourite film: Bahubali
  • Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to? Masinangudi near Mudumalai National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary – which is a tiger reserve.
  • Favourite snack: Milk sweets
  • Favourite book: Sandilyan’s books. (Sandilya is an Indian writer known for his historical fiction novels in Tamil).
  • A city in Tamil Nadu which is a must see: Chidambaram
  • One thing about Sivakasi no one knows: Still trying to find out
  • One print factory in Sivakasi you love: All of them
  • Who is on your speed dial: My family
  • One phrase, you utter at least once a day: Swamiye saranam Ayyappa ( I seek refuge in you, Lord Ayyappa)


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