We’re getting ready to realize our export ambitions

Fueling our growth with business knowledge

When I joined the business in 2008, we wanted to extend our distribution network. So I began seeking out retailers within a few hundred kilometers of our Panipat factory. It was a struggle to find stores to stock our products. We then decided to take a more systematic approach and explore government tenders and tie-ups with corporates and retailers.

The business really took off after we became a supplier to Walmart India’s Best Price Stores (now a part of Flipkart Wholesale) in 2017. You can now find Arch Fab bedsheets, mattress covers, cushions, chair pads, box cushions, and other items in Best Price stores right across India—giving us a presence in a host of new states. The association with Best Price has another benefit, too: it helped me keep ahead of market trends and understand how market dynamics work. I also became more aware of the value of complying with industry standards, and this led to great improvements in our business management and culture.

Maybe it’s because I have an engineering degree, but I’m a great believer in hands-on learning and a great admirer of technology. Acquiring new skills demands your time, focus and patience. Blending your hard-won knowledge and experience with the latest technology helps you develop new things for a better tomorrow.

The Vriddhi program brings you valuable knowledge and the chance to exchange ideas with your fellow MSMEs. Thanks to the program, we’ve learnt more about the importance of an efficient value-chain system in our business and gained new understanding around business management and new product development. We’ve also been guided to adopt relevant best practice and digital technologies to help us improve our business operations.

Coming through the crisis stronger than ever

This was all brought into sharp focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. Like many companies, Arch Fab found it difficult to fulfil our pending purchase orders due to the lockdown. I was feeling pretty stressed. Then the Vriddhi team reached out to me. They shared knowledge of markets and value chains, and this guidance proved invaluable during the crisis. They even organized webinars that offered advice on the financial schemes and government programs that could support us.

With the support of Vriddhi and a desire to help India’s anti-pandemic efforts, Arch Fab began to manufacture health and sanitation essentials such as disposable shoe covers, face masks and gloves during the lockdown.

The clarity of purpose and the guidance that we received from Vriddhi at this crucial time benefited our internal operations as well as sales. It helped us set an example for others. We have aligned our systems with Walmart’s, and we can now focus on innovation.

The pandemic encouraged us to accelerate our digitization journey and explore the e-commerce channel for sustained growth and business continuity. With the help of the Walmart Vriddhi team, we will now strengthen our marketing on Flipkart. We will also expand our product portfolio and focus strongly on exports.

A bold leap helped my team survive the pandemic

Our company Sagar Asia specialises in aluminum ladders, aluminum extrusions, wind tower internals and aluminum aircraft docking and helicopter maintenance. My father set up the enterprise in 1977. Thanks to his able leadership, today we are one of the leading manufacturers of aluminum extrusions both in India and abroad.

As global economies plunged, it was time to change the course

With a healthy annual turnover of over Rs 100 crore, everything was going well for us. But the unfortunate outbreak of the COVID-19 turned the course of events for our business. Like several other industries, we also took a severe hit. Since our product mix caters to very specific demand for height access, most of our regular customers are from the retail sector and original equipment manufacturers in wind and aviation sectors, there was a sudden plunge in demand as retail was closed and airlines were not allowed to operate for a long time.

The pandemic is by far the sharpest turning point that our business has ever faced. Apart from operating costs, I was more worried about the well-being of our employees. Giving up was not an option. So, I decided to take some bold steps.

I was quick to realise that there was huge demand for sanitization products in hospitals and offices. I thought that our expertise in aluminum products could help us build products that would be needed during the pandemic. Our research and development team is very strong and quickly sprung into action.

With more contemporary solutions, we tapped into new markets

Within a few days, we decided to begin manufacturing aluminum disinfection tunnels and contactless disinfection stands. These can be easily set up outside factories and offices, and employees can walk through these sanitization tunnels to enter the workplace while sanitising their attire.

We also quickly developed another aluminum product — contactless COVID-19 testing booths. We have provided these booths to the state governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to help them ramp up their testing capacity. This product is ensuring the safety of medical workers who are working at hospitals and collection centers in various parts of the states.

Our long standing association with Walmart has helped us expand our business pan-India. For instance, through Walmart we were able to receive orders from places which would have otherwise been difficult for us to reach. Their HoReCa channel has also helped to reach the right customers in a short period.

Now that we see the economy reopening gradually, we have also added products like contactless hand sanitizer stands and touch-free aluminum door openers to our catalogue. Our R&D team is working tirelessly to build products that are the need of the hour.

Entrepreneurs never stop. They take one challenge head on, tackle it and get ready to face the next. That is Sagar Asia’s story.

Our special heroes are corona warriors too

I am the founder of Society for Child Development (SfCD). Our employees are specially-abled individuals, who create unique products such as organic Holi colours from temple flowers which are supplied under the brand name Avacayam. They also create beautifully designed pouches and pencil cases from leftover cloth procured from fashion houses and textile companies.

The business model is simple– what is waste for another company is a resource for us.

Before I started SfCD, in the early 90s, I was working closely with the parents of differently-abled children at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences as a clinical psychologist in the genetics unit. There I realised that we needed to equip these persons with better economic opportunities. So I set up SfCD to empower them with the right skills and opportunities.

Walmart Best Price is our biggest buyer. Our longstanding association with the company has helped us grow as a business and scale up our capacity of production. And this association gave us the courage to tide over the pandemic too.

The pandemic posed unprecedented challenges for us

When the country went into lockdown, only essential items were allowed to be sold. And the demand for our regular products fell drastically. In fact, due to the travel restrictions, our employees couldn’t even come to the institute as they were dependent on public transport.

But I couldn’t give up on my family. I wanted them to stay engaged and keep working.

We made the best out of what we had

I realised that we had collected surplus cloth throughout the year through donations from fashion houses. I decided we could make masks out of the cloth.

Our members worked from their homes to make masks and we made sure that their livelihood wasn’t impacted by the crisis.

We also partnered with GiveIndia, an online donation platform, to supply essential PPE products to persons with disability. This is our small contribution during the pandemic. SfCD has also received orders for 35,000 masks from a few corporates.

We are working towards getting our digital supply chains ready. I am hopeful this will help SfCD attain new heights and open new skies for our specially-abled heroes.

Innovation was essential for my business

I joined my family business Shree Shakti Enterprises after completing my MBA from Amity University a decade ago. We have been bulk traders of steel utensils since 1956 and have also been supplying kitchenware to Walmart Best Price for the last nine years.

Every ending paves the way for a new beginning

Over these years, my father has been my biggest mentor. He too has overcome several challenges, but nothing like the impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on our business.

As India went into a nationwide lockdown in March, four of our manufacturing units in Sonipat, Haryana had to be shut down. With demand for our kitchenware falling drastically, I got very worried about my workforce and how I would support them in this challenging time.

I remembered I had seen a hand wash station that doctors use in hospitals and I thought we could tweak the model to make it work through a foot pedal instead of our hands. Convincing my father wasn’t an easy task – he discouraged from going to the factory due to the COVID-19 scare. But I still went to my factory and stayed there for a few days and built the first prototype which was set up near our residential colony.

With constant innovation, my business started gaining traction

As people started giving good feedback, my father came on board. There has been no looking back since then!

I also sent a prototype to Walmart India. With the help of their feedback on technical feasibility and commercial viability, I was able to fine tune the product. Thanks to their suggestion, I have also built a sensor based sanitizer dispenser. In fact, I have built an automatic foot sanitizer too.

For the hand wash station, I have crossed 1,100 orders and these have been set up in various government offices as well and also several private sector companies in the automobile sector. This has led to up to Rs 1.5 crore in sales during the lockdown. I also have orders worth another Rs 2.5 crore.

I am also on board the Walmart Vriddhi supplier development program and I feel this will help my business achieve even greater heights. It will be helpful to learn the best business practices to scale the MSME ecosystem and spread our wings.

A stitch in time saved my business

I realised Scraft was in a position to redirect its trajectory to satisfy the increased demand for hand sanitizers and disinfectants in the country after noting that a demand shift had occurred in the early days of the viral pandemic.

I feel blessed to have been able to fulfill my dream. But my journey as a businesswoman has not been an easy one. What bothered me the most was no one ever took me seriously. People would often ask to speak with someone “senior” during meetings or when they wanted to strike a deal. But one needs to take such things in their stride in the business world. So, I disregarded the stereotypes and am proud to have made tremendous progress over the years. I am happy to have reached a turnover of Rs 50 crore last year.

However, just as I was getting to enjoy this latest milestone, the COVID-19 pandemic hit India. With a strict nationwide lockdown in place, orders for my usual range of products dropped drastically in March. My factory in Sonipat, Haryana which was operating to full capacity up until then, had to abruptly stop production

To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for this kind of a sudden uncertainty, especially since I had a good run last year. At that moment, I was worried about safeguarding the livelihoods of my hardworking employees. On a personal front, I didn’t want to let this affect me, as I was expecting my first child at the time.

It was time to take a critical and quick decision

Keeping all worries aside, I decided to give the business one more shot, before calling it quits by the end of the lockdown.

Noting that a demand transition had begun in the early days of the virus outbreak, I realised Scraft was in a position to redirect its course to meet the growing demand for hand sanitizers and disinfectants in the country. Thankfully, just a day before the first lockdown was announced, I had managed to get the samples ready for hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes as per COVID-19 product specifications

Without further ado, I started reaching out to corporates and retailers with my new products. We are currently operating with 50 workers with demand picking up slowly and a steady pace of orders in the last two months. Having observed the scale of global demand, I am planning to soon export our products to some of the US markets as well.

The transition was aided by a lot of guidance

Expert guidance is important during uncertain times. Especially when there are challenges while securing raw materials, work passes, licenses and a disruption in supply chain.

Walmart’s Vriddhi program has been that guiding light for many MSME owners like me. As a wholesale supplier for the company, I had the good fortune of signing up with the program, which was launched late last year, to train and prepare us to participate in the domestic and global supply chains.

During this difficult time, Walmart has stayed close to its suppliers through the program and helped us navigate through the impact and resume businesses by sharing useful information and guidance. Walmart has given us the access to a network of peers and mentors where we are able to share insights and reach out for help in real time.

Walmart’s platform support coupled with the fact that I am able to support in the supply of essentials during a crisis and provide livelihoods to my workers, are the two things that didn’t let me give up on my dream.

The pandemic can’t crush my spirit

I had to suddenly halt manufacturing at my factory in Sonipat, Haryana, something I was never prepared for. For three days, I was very depressed. But on the fourth day, I got up and decided that this crisis cannot stop me or my spirit.

In the times of adversity, I looked for an opportunity

While the sudden turn of events saw demand drop from customers, and this did hit business and supply chains of MSMEs like mine, I thought that this would also be an opportunity to create new products that the country needs in this challenging time.

I did some research and spoke to a few Walmart officials and decided that I will begin production of face masks and personal protective equipment (PPEs) to tap into the growing demand.

So, after the government’s directive to restart businesses, I resumed operations at my factory in Sonipat to manufacture cotton reusable masks at an affordable price.

Walmart, through the Vriddhi programme, has helped me understand what all possible options can be explored during this crisis. It is important for a supplier like me to not stop or give up, even during a pandemic, and Vriddhi has helped me push the pedal here. Even mentorship and advice on financial schemes, and government programs, has helped me navigate through the impact of COVID-19.

I have a personal story to share. When I was falling short of elastic, an important raw material needed in the production of face masks, thanks to the Walmart Vriddhi network, I was immediately able to connect with one of my peers on the platform and secure a bulk consignment of elastics. This is the program’s uniqueness, it provides MSMEs like mine an access to a network and ecosystem of peers and mentors in the local communities, where we can connect with each other to share knowledge in real time.

Before long, things turned around

I am on the moon because my efforts have been rewarded, and as a supplier with Walmart Best Price, I recently secured my first order of 80,000 masks from the company. I am also planning to export coordinated printed cotton masks to markets like Italy and the UK, where these are very popular and in demand.

I was introduced to the Vriddhi program when it was launched in December 2019 for training MSMEs to become part of domestic and global supply chains. The program is simple, easy to understand, and interactive, and is currently helping MSMEs to operate in the new realities.

I believe that a business must contribute to society in every way possible. I have decided to begin work on a travel safety kit called ‘Surakshitam’ which will have the basic safety and hygiene products like masks, napkins, sanitizer, soap, etc.

I also want to share my learnings with other MSMEs and I am very excited to become one of the MSME mentors in the Vriddhi programme. Sharing my experience and connecting with my peers and other small businesses will help the ecosystem grow during these challenging times.

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