Sustainability practice in corporates has created business growth for Soma Specialities

  • Interviews
  • Jan 22,24
Soma Specialities has been the pioneer in introducing mechanised floor cleaning and floor maintenance systems indigenously manufactured in India. Samir Sabu, Director, Soma Specialities, in this interview, lines down the growth and changes of the cleaning industry in India. The company is also the largest manufacturers of single brush floor cleaning machines in India.
Sustainability practice in corporates has created business growth for Soma Specialities

Kindly brief us about your company.
Our company started manufacturing floor cleaning machines back in 1992 but our journey in the cleaning industry 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 Mr Om Sabu found an opportunity and developed the first single disc floor scrubber CYCLON FM-240 in India in 1992. From thereon 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 specialized 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. What we mean to say is that there is no place which can do without mechanised cleaning systems in present times. 

Since our foray into manufacturing in 1992, our current production unit based on the outskirts of Mumbai is the 4th manufacturing plant where we moved in 2009. Our turnaround came in 2007 when a leading manufacturer in cleaning machines from Germany called Karcher approached us to design, develop and manufacture a specific floor cleaning machine for them. Having found us capable to helm such a prestigious project for them was a huge validation for us but they also wanted us to increase our production capacity to meet their volume requirements. So we moved to our present manufacturing plant in 2009 and added state of the art manufacturing and testing equipment to increase our production capacity with additional assembly lines. Thanks to our good reputation, today our core customers include six multinational manufacturers of cleaning machines out of which five are from Europe for whom we do OEM manufacturing. Apart from this, our own brand CYCLON also sells well in the market, especially the industrial sector and we are also exporting our products to international markets in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and South America. We feel a great sense of pride to say that we are the largest manufacturers of single brush floor cleaning machines in India. The best thing to have happened to us since the pandemic has been the increased acceptance of indigenous products. Customers preferences have changed from not just boycotting Chinese products but preferring Indian products over imported goods, be it from Asia or Europe or USA. Due to this, our Y-o-Y growth has been a solid 25-30 per cent every year since the restrictions were lifted. We were always a favourite among the industrial customers for our indigenous roots but now we are widely preferred in the hospitality industries also where there was a higher affinity towards imported products. We have built our reputation as a company that developed all these machines indigenously without any foreign support. 

How is your company contributing to the growth of the Indian manufacturing sector?
When we started at a very small level, we did not have the volumes like the developed countries. Without larger volumes, big companies were not willing to make customised parts for us. So we had to develop small scale entrepreneurs for whom we were the only customers. Today, with our growth, their business has also grown substantially and they are all able to employ more manpower. Some of them who were more like a single person factory have been able to employ dozens of labourers and grown organically with us. This was one way of contributing to the Indian manufacturing sector's growth story. Till date, some of them are only producing parts for our company and do not have another customer as their entire capacity is utilised for our needs. On our part, we supported them with transferring technology and sometimes financing for increasing production capacity or infrastructure so that they could continue to supply us uninterrupted. 

In other terms also, cleaner workplaces lead to increased productivity from the labour force and better employee retention, low risk of injuries. When factories deploy cleaning machines to keep their plants clean, they automatically enhance a favourable response from the workforce to do better work. On the other hand, there are many factories which do not have good hygiene and visitors/clients do not like to visit such factories. Such factories do not give a good impression about their products or quality to the customers and will eventually not get good business. Therefore, keeping the premises clean will definitely help in growing the manufacturing sector and also help them to bag big orders, not only from domestic but also international markets. 

What kinds of emerging trends are you observing in the industry today?
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 manpower to do this job, now they ask for a machine with as many cleaning capabilities as possible to keep 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 and more in a few years from now. As of today, the 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.

Companies across industries are emphasising on sustainability. How is your company (with your products, technologies, solutions, services, etc) helping its customers to meet their sustainability goals?
The practice of sustainability in today’s corporate world is clearly a big contributor for our business growth as corporates 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. Cleaner floors and walls improve the ambient lighting in the premises thereby reducing the requirement of lights and reducing consumption of electricity. By reducing the consumption of water, cleaning machines help in sustainable environmental conservation. When production waste is not allowed to mix with the atmosphere through usage of vacuum cleaners, floor cleaning machines and sweeping machines, it helps in preventing pollution. A vacuum cleaner can be used to clean the walls and ceilings and keep it free from dust and cobwebs, collect production waste from the machines and eliminate waste, a sweeping machine can be used to collect dust from inside the plant or even to sweep the internal roads of the plant, a floor cleaning machine can keep the floors of the plant sparkling clean, a high pressure jet cleaner can clean the machineries and utensils in mint condition by not letting dirt accumulate on it. 

All these operations can either save water, electricity, or prevent pollution. For a country where water scarcity is a serious issue in many regions, maintaining cleanliness while saving water with our machines is our way of giving back to the community.  Thus with proper use of cleaning machines, companies can conserve electricity, water and eliminate pollution and thereby do their bit for a cleaner and sustainable environment.

Could you please highlight on some of the “Green Engineering” solutions offered by you to your customers in the industrial sectors?
Our Floor Cleaning machines regulate the usage and consumption of water for floor cleaning, thereby saving a valuable natural resource. Some of our machines use only 10 per cent of water compared to manual mopping. With the reduction of water also comes the reduction of expensive and harmful cleaning chemicals that are used for floor cleaning. Even then, the cleaning quality is far better in addition to reduction in manpower as 1 machine with 1 operator can do the job of 5 people atleast. While savings in water and chemicals, it also keeps the floors clean thereby enhancing the appearance of the floors, improving the reflectivity and ambient lighting in the building which can in return reduce power consumption of the premises. 

Are your customers (especially big companies/MNCs) demanding more eco-friendly/sustainable products and solutions nowadays?
Corporates have understood that a healthy and clean environment will surely bring about a workforce with enhanced well-being. This will decrease the average number of leaves per worker in business and help in employee retention thereby enhancing productivity. A tidy workplace is also a wonderful tool for promotion in relation to customers, selling the building, or rental area. Clean and neat workplaces are less vulnerable to employee injuries and injuries because of falls and slides. A cleaner workplace is safe for workers and so meets the global security standards. A fresh and healthy environment reduces stress and offers a positive outlook about the working atmosphere. Corporates have become more educated and before buying, seek information about power and water consumption, emissions from the machines if any, safety and security hazards to the premises etc. Once we inform them that all these concerns will be reduced with cleaning machines, they are more confident in procuring the machines.

What measures are you taking to reduce your carbon footprint across your manufacturing value chain?
We believe that sustainability does not mean sacrificing profits or putting success on the backburner. 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. By investing heavily into moulds and dies, we are able to produce many parts in plastics or casts which are recyclable unlike use of fibre reinforced plastics which cannot be recycled. As our volumes have also increased, it only makes sense for us to use more plastics and our use of FRP has come down to zero. Besides this, there is no chemicals involved in manufacturing of machines so it does not create pollution.
How do you plan to scale up your business in the near future? 

In the next 1-2 years, we intend to launch more cleaning machines with a well-defined marketing plan and additional manufacturing lines for them, of course in addition to expanding our sales network in India and overseas by leveraging our vast experience and knowledge in this industry. We also plan to create more strategic tie-ups with international manufacturers for parts as well as for machineries to market their products in India which are not available in India to expand our range of products. We are always looking for newer products and solutions that address problems faced by customers and likewise launch them in India. We plan to add more machineries 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. As our range of products increases, it will be easier for overseas buyers to select more products from us and this should expand our presence in the international markets. 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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