Soma Specialities is looking to double its revenues in 2-3 years

  • Interviews
  • Feb 16,23
Soma Specialities, a pioneer in introducing mechanised floor cleaning and floor maintenance systems in India, has been into the business for more than four decades. In this interview, Samir Sabu, Director, Soma Specialities, shares USPs of the products and the company's strategy to grow 25-30 per cent annually.
Soma Specialities is looking to double its revenues in 2-3 years

Kindly brief us about your company.
Our company started manufacturing floor cleaning machines back in 1992 but our journey started way back in the 1970s when we started taking housekeeping contracts in factories. Since there was no machine available for cleaning in those days, our technocrat Founder and Managing Director, Om Sabu found an opportunity and developed the first single disc floor scrubber CYCLON FM-240 in India in 1992. From there on began our journey of backward integration and since then we have developed the largest range of floor cleaning machines in India for every application indigenously.

We have our own range of floor cleaning machines such as single disc scrubbers, floor scrubber dryers, industrial vacuum cleaners and mopping machines and we also have acquired dealerships of internationally reputed manufacturers for their range of specialised cleaning machines such as road sweeping machines, high-pressure jet cleaners, concrete floor grinding machines etc. which allows us to provide a complete range of cleaning machines and solutions to our customers for their various cleaning applications. Our customers are as diversified as can be as they come from varied industries such as manufacturing industries, warehousing and logistics industries, pharmaceutical industry, educational institutions, hotels, banquet halls, hospitals, airports, railway stations, public sector units, shopping malls, commercial offices and complexes, residential complexes etc.

Our turnaround came in 2007 when a leading manufacturer of cleaning machines from Germany called Karcher approached us to design, develop and manufacture a specific floor cleaning machine for them. But to increase our production capacity and meet their volume requirements, we moved to our present manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Mumbai in 2009 and added state-of-the-art manufacturing and testing equipment to increase our production capacity with additional assembly lines. Today our core customers include five multinational manufacturers of cleaning machines out of which four are from Europe and for whom we do OEM manufacturing. Apart from this, our own brand Cyclon also sells well in the market and we are also exporting our products to international markets in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and South America.

What are the USPs of your company? How do you contribute to the growth of the Indian manufacturing sector?
Our biggest USP is that our machines are 100 per cent made in India. Our machines are designed and produced keeping the Indian conditions and users in mind as we ourselves were users of cleaning machines at one time. For example, sometimes the floors can be a bit uneven or the power supply might face fluctuations, in which case, our machines are designed to handle such situations. Our machines are made of high-quality materials so that they are more durable and robust enough to be operated in rugged Indian conditions.

Generally, the operators using cleaning machines are not formally trained or skilled operators. So we keep in mind to not use sophisticated systems and keep the machines as simple as possible for the operator. This also helps us keep costs down and reduce dependency on expensive spare parts. Easy availability of spares at economical prices gives us an added advantage as all the spares are always available in our factory ready for immediate despatch.

What is the contribution of exports to your business? How do you intend to expand your exports?
We have a good footprint in the Middle East with dealers who are selling these machines under our own brand name ‘Cyclon’. The sales for our machines have picked up. We are also having dealers in West African countries, South America and South Asia and are looking forward to appointing more such dealerships in unrepresented areas as the demand for Indian products is increasing. Besides, a lot of merchant exporters provide turnkey solutions for projects and offer Indian-engineered goods buy from us for export purposes as their customers specifically ask for Indian products.

Could you please share with us information about your new innovations or products/solutions that you have launched in 2022?
In 2022, we tied up with a leading global manufacturer for the ride on scrubber dryers that we launched and have been receiving very good reviews and repeat orders for the same. During the pandemic when production had slowed down due to market demand, we utilised our time well in developmental activities which saw us develop seven new variants of floor cleaning machines from single disc scrubbers to scrubber dryers, floor mopping machines and orbital polishers. Out of these, we launched our walk-behind scrubber dryer in September 2021 and sales for this machine also picked up very well and we had to scale up to keep up with the customer demand and that kept us busy for a major part of this year. Due to this, other product launches did take a back seat for a while but we have already started more production for the remaining six new machines launching them in 2023. We had also launched some new variants of our industrial vacuum cleaners for special applications such as cleaning the walls and ceilings of warehouses and factories as high as 50 to 100 ft above the ground level. We are able to customise the vacuum machines as per our customer’s requirements for any application in industries such as metallurgical, flameproof, textile, food, automobiles, service centres etc.

How important is branding for your products? What are your marketing plans for 2023?
Branding is a very effective and important tool as it allows us to build a connection with the customers. When we tell our customers that our brand Cyclon is in the market since 1992, it builds trust as the brand is well known in the industry In fact, sometimes people recollect us faster from our brand name Cyclon rather company’s name.

Having such a reputed brand as ours can help us in getting orders in the face of competition, especially from cheaper Chinese products from traders who essentially want to get orders only on the basis of the lowest price. But when the customers recognise our brand and trust us, it becomes easier for us to get the orders.

For 2023, with so many new products to be launched, we have made some elaborate plans for marketing such as organising new product launch events in metro cities as well as participation in more trade shows in India and internationally. Besides, digital marketing is a very effective tool which can work for us as well although not from the social media angle but search engine optimisation and LinkedIn are effective tools for us to reach out to a larger audience.

What are emerging trends in your industry?
As compared to the market, say 15-20 years ago when customers used to tell us that they don’t need cleaning machines since they already have the manpower to do this job, now they ask for a machine with as many cleaning capabilities as possible to eliminate manpower to the bare minimum, say not more than one at times. Customers are looking for an alternative to reduce their dependence on manual labour to do the cleaning. So, automation will be trending more in a few years from now. As of today, western countries and China have started toying with robotic cleaning machines but it is in a very nascent stage and they are all testing the performances in their own regions before going global to sell these machines. For the Indian customers, their primary goal is to reduce the dependence on manpower for cleaning and deploy bigger and faster machines that can do cleaning faster and better so as to allow them to focus more on their core business activities.

Sustainability is gaining traction in the industry. How is your company gearing up for sustainability?
We believe that sustainability doesn’t mean sacrificing profits or putting success on the back burner. Being environmentally friendly is a cause very dear to us, so we chose not to work with some vendors that might be closer to us or cheaper but operating beyond their respective zones and creating polluting activities. Also, as we are situated closer to rural areas, we are employing a lot of local labour to create jobs for the local youth. But the practice of sustainability in today’s corporate world is clearly a big contributor to our business growth as corporate understand their responsibility towards the environment so in order to eliminate waste, they have to deploy cleaning machines. Also, to ensure that products produced in their factories say in food or pharma, hygienic conditions demand mechanised cleaning using machines.

It is said that to improve competitiveness, it is important to adopt modern manufacturing technologies (like automation, robots/cobots, digital tools, AI, Industry 4.0, 3D printing, etc). What is your take on this?
Technologies keep evolving and in order to survive and grow, everyone needs to adopt the latest manufacturing technologies. Even though our production is mainly assembly-line oriented, we have not only invested in modern manufacturing technologies to automate the assembly lines with the latest tools but also incorporated the newest technologies for faster and better packaging.

SMEs are the backbone of India's manufacturing sector. What are your suggestions to the Government to make SMEs stronger?
SMEs contribute greatly to employment generation, exports, innovation and inclusive growth of the economy. It has made up almost 45 per cent of industrial production, 40 per cent of total exports and makes a significant contribution to India’s total GDP. India has the second-largest number of SMEs in the world, lesser only to China.

The Government is taking a lot of proactive steps such as Make in India, Skill India, and Digital India but there is always room for more improvements. Land and infrastructure should be made easily affordable for an entrepreneur who wants to start a new venture. Credit funding should be easily accessible to SMEs by leveraging digital technologies for a seamless lending process and for assessing the credit risk of potential borrowers. Government should also work on promoting digital literacy for SMEs as many entrepreneurs are uneducated. GST on hygienic and environmental products can be reduced to improve its sales, and licenses and compliance regulations can be eased further. Since the abolition of excise duties, imported goods became cheaper as import duties in itself are not too high in keeping with global practices. The government should undertake measures to safeguard local manufacturers’ interests by reducing taxes for them and making their prices more competitive against Chinese goods.

The government is aiming to make India a $5 trillion economy. What is your vision for the Indian manufacturing sector for 2025?
India has the potential to become a global manufacturing hub and achieving this target calls for a multipronged growth strategy for India’s manufacturing sectors—increasing their share of global exports and growing the capability to actively substitute imports with local production while continuing to cater to rising domestic consumption. Due to the recent turn of events, several industry houses prefer the services sector for investment over the manufacturing sector. A concerted effort is required both from the industry and the government. On one hand, the industry needs to step up its game by leveraging technology and driving productivity and, on the other hand, the government needs to enable competitiveness by reducing the cost of doing business and providing policy support till the necessary scale is achieved.

Other than the engineering goods and metals industry which are already contributing to the country’s GDP, rapid growth can be achieved by the electronics industry and consumer appliances industries. PLI scheme for auto industry and the emerging electric vehicles industry including their batteries will also prove to contribute well to India’s economy. Minimising India’s import dependence, bridging the technology gap, reducing the cost of doing business, providing policy support to industry, upskilling human resources, improvements in power quality, strengthening road infrastructure, reducing freight expenses, the inclusion of waterways for transport, reducing the export documentation processes leading to shipment delays, will all lead to a boost in the manufacturing sector’s role in achieving this target.

What is your mantra for success and how are you planning your long-term goals in future?
We prefer to keep it simple. Firstly, we make sure that our products are suitable for the marketplace in terms of their application, durability and price. One size never fits all, so having the right kind of cleaning machine for every customer from every industry as per their application is important to provide the right cleaning solution for their needs. Another thing is after-sales service, which is very important to win the loyalty of our customers. Our after-sales service is known to be one of the best in the industry as we monitor our service records to understand causes to cut down on lead times. In order to reach a wider customer base, it is important to have dealerships not just in states but every major city for faster delivery times. Marketing is important to educate the customers about your products and their applications pertaining to their requirements and it should not be overlooked.

In the coming years, we intend to launch more cleaning machines with a well-defined marketing plan and additional manufacturing lines for them. We also plan to create more strategic tie-ups with international manufacturers for parts as well as for machinery. We plan to add more machinery and processes in-house for faster production, reduced costs and better quality control. We have added new dealers in overseas markets and intend to add more in unrepresented areas. Until now, our international dealers have come to us through word-of-mouth publicity but as Indian-made products are gaining more preference despite not being the cheapest, we would also like to make our marketing efforts more aggressive. Our growth has been steady over the years and this year we will be seeing a growth of almost 25-30 per cent compared to last year and looking at our new launches and new avenues in terms of customers in India and overseas, we are looking at doubling our revenues within 2-3 years from now.

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