We are better prepared than the first wave: Milan Thakkar, Walplast

In an insightful interaction TheSMEIndia, Milan Thakkar CEO Walplast Products P Ltd, manufacture of construction inputs like wall putty, texture and other materials talks about the export prospects and demand within the country. He also touches upon the domestic market requirements, impact of second wave on overall industry with linkages and what support the Government can come forward with.

Edited Excerpts:

Q How’s the impact of the second wave panning out?

The second wave is disturbing; we were caught off guard by the first wave, and expected to cover up the business by March’20 as we prepared ourselves for a better year. Now we are better equipped for this because we know how to handle it. Our internal and external suppliers have improved their preparedness. We made some progress last year, and upbeat of the demand. We were looking at creating efficiency today, looking at tailoring our products, and have improved the way we do business by revisiting the whole supply chain.

As an MSME, I am more diligent, have better inventory, and have built a few technology interventions as we have used this to improve ourselves during this downtime to our advantage.

The state-wide lockdown is having an impact on us. However, since we have projected this year as a nine-month cycle, this has no bearing on our planning. As a result, lockdown states and no lockdown states have no impact on our business. We had no business in April and May of last year, but we were able to cover 80 percent of the business and demand during the remaining ten months. We anticipate a similar pattern this year, with a lull in the first quarter and anticipate a revival of demand in the next nine months (Q2-Q4).

We were unprepared last year and were unable to handle an existing site, and the construction staff now with approval available for in situ construction, but this year we know how to proceed with the work despite the potential supply chain continuing to be a little lagging. However, we are prepared to finish our tasks on time. We are careful about how we schedule our labours; maintaining their welfare is of the utmost importance to us, and we make certain that we take care of their families, payments. We also increased their health plans and provided employee benefits. Ensure that they return home safely to their families. They are the true backbone of our business. We are improving their quality of life. We understand that they, too, need to feed their families, and we are assisting them.

Q Where’s the demand coming in from? To what extent your products are exported?

We have been the largest exporters over the last three years, and we are creating demand for exporters by travelling to continents such as Africa and the Middle East and educating them on the commodity side about how our goods can benefit them. The world is increasingly searching for affordable housing, and this is particularly true in countries such as Africa and a segment of the Middle East. These two continents have a high demand for our products. We are still looking at a few developed countries.

Q How’s your business primarily dependent on retail or large construction?

We are a hybrid model; we have our own B2B clients and exports, we have a rather skewed model. We are attempting to concentrate on exports because there is a demand. Through manufacturing and selling my goods, we will ensure the internal supply chain is maximised. Demand comes from B2B, B2C, and exports. We are currently developing both retail and B2B for both my consumer and companies, which requires a delicate balancing act. Retail accounts for 30% of total revenue, while construction accounts for 70%.

Q. How do you leverage technology on the product side?

We are embracing a lot of automation technology, and last year at the same time we began to reexamine everything from our supply chain to ERP. Today, we’re discussing IoT, the Business Intelligence report card, CRM, customer App, and an integrated end-to-end model, for which we have begun to take baby steps toward technology. The plan is to integrate all of these.

Q How was the impact of the first wave and how’re you planning for the coming months ahead?

The effect of phased lockdown in states has an impact to some degree, but our preparation side is a little stronger because we prepare 6-8 months in advance, our road map is being prepared right from the pandemic period, and we are able to supply the requirement to the consumer by better backward planning, technology interference, and our customers are served on time. The productivity is about 85 percent, which is significantly higher than the current situation.

Tomorrow, we hope and pray that we will get out of this situation; today, everyone from the bottom of the pyramid to the upper echelons of society is affected; we want to eliminate fear from the people’s minds. It is a lofty target, and we anticipate another year of challenges both externally and internally. Tailor-made goods, backward integration, visionary thought, and better use of technology are all ways to plan for the future.

Expansion plans have been deferred, and we hope to put them into action when the storm passes. We intend to eventually move all of our goods to the commodity space, where we intend to charge customers the lowest possible price while also decentralising our own capital and serving customers in East, West, North, and South India.

Q Any specific asks/recommendations from the government?

Today, with the Union Government’s shift in concept of MSME, the budget amount of Rs 15,700 crores allocated to MSME/SME must be percolated to the Micro and small entrepreneur. After the sops are declared, the implementation must be worked out in the same way that Aadhar was worked out in India. With the shift in concept, the 6.3 crore SMEs in India will only grow, so we need to consider how a business owner with a turnover of about 5 crores will do. Huge budgets must be deployed, along with incentives that will lead to the creation of more jobs in the future. The MSME sector accounts for 40% of all job creation in India, and it is critical that this sector be empowered.