Interview

Mr. Uttam Malani, Executive Director of Centuary Fibre Plates Pvt Ltd &
Mr. Siddharth Malani, Managing Director and Founder member of Shree Malani Foams

Next generation leaders are taking over Centuary Mattress and bringing new thoughts, processes and plans to grow the company. Young leaders Mr. Uttam Malani and Mr. Siddharth Malani spoke to Comfort Times at length on Company’s future, marketing strategies, digitization efforts and operations. Here’s a glimpse into the enriching conversation

Q New generation leaders are taking over Centuary Mattress. What learnings of seniors will be brought forward by the next gen leaders and what changes are expected?

Firstly we believe in stability. It is evident in the relationship we share with our suppliers and customers, many of whom have been associated with us for a large part of our 35+ years long journey. This core value of the company is bound to be carried into the future.

Second thing, we are in no rush. We consider ourselves more of a long-distance marathon runner rather than a short sprinter. Our compounded annual growth over the last 35 years has been 18-19 percent annually, well in tune with our vision and we intend to grow ceaselessly in the near future as well.

We’ve always put our faith in product leadership, meaning we undertake in-house manufacturing of all our products and all the major components. This not only gives us a very firm grip on the product costing but quality too.

With the new generation, we obviously expect a surge of new ideas and vision. The main role is always to future proof the company. I found the company in a good shape when I joined in 2007 and I have worked hard to ensure that I pass it on to the future generation even more robust and healthy than before.

Another important aspect is keeping up with the changes. With the speedy technological advancement, it is only necessary. Pandemic too helped lay stress upon the fact that ‘change is constant, not just in life but business too.’

Q What lessons did the pandemic teach the Indian mattress industry?

The resilience of the supply chain was tested at length. Everyday supply chain was disrupted because of the global as well as local lockdown. As a result, stress has come to be laid upon building a lean and agile supply chain which is equipped to deal with such shocks.

Second thing to note is that the Indian mattress industry never really had much global recognition. However, postpandemic, the export market has opened for us. The resilience of the Indian industry put it in a better position to capitalise in the post pandemic global market.

Third point of course is the elevated consumer interaction through online methods. The obvious cause was that staying at home meant more time on the internet. Many brands have reported an increase of as much as three times the previous numbers.

Another important realisation that didn’t even surface with full force during the first lockdown was that employers who took care of their workforce during the lockdowns came forth in a position to capitalise on the rebounded demand. While those who undertook layoffs and salary cuts turned out to be myopic. The lesson: changes as unfortunate as lockdowns might come and go but one must always value and support their biggest asset, the workforce.

Q You launched an exclusive mattress for babies. How is it doing in the market and what percentage of revenue is being contributed by it?

We entered this segment with the intention of carving out a new category itself. We also readily understood the difficulty posed by the social norms, like parents making the baby sleep with them. Of the 3 years, the initial two were mostly about investing in educating the parents. According to the American Paediatric Association and the research conducted by us through third party institutes, it is evident that sleeping on a specialised surface made of natural materials is essential for a baby as their physical and psychological needs are different from adults.

It has been an enriching experience. It has helped elevate our brand image and in future, we hope to see sustained interest from many players. People want good options in baby mattresses but are not aware of where to find them. Perpetual awareness ought to help with the same.

Q Mattresses are being sold through LFS, D2C, omni channels etc, besides the retail stores. Do you think they can all co-exist in the future?

I am 100 percent sure of their coexistence. Even during the pandemic, we doubted offline retail’s survival. But as time has proven, offline channels have only shown upgradation and willingness to innovate, keeping in line with the speedy growth of online channels. Many have invested in curating better ambience and experience at the store.

A consumer, besides accessibility to the products, needs at least 2-3 touch points for interacting with the brand before making the final purchase. Hence different channels could cater to various roles. We’re also in an exciting stage where omnichannel is still evolving. So in my view, all the channels will surely remain but the dynamic in which they work together in a harmony is still an evolving discussion.

Q The unorganised sector commands 60 percent of the share in the market. What are the marketing challenges in such a scenario for the brands?

Yes it is a typical challenge in the Indian market, and not just to the mattress industry. The unorganised sector is quite robust. Firstly, I believe it is the lack of standardisation that is hurting the industry. Let’s elaborate. In western world there are five standard sizes- twin, queen, king, Cal king or full. However in India we have 18 standard sizes across varying thickness besides the thousands of non-standard options brands are expected to cater to. Local players can easily cut the mattress to fulfil the order in no time, posing a challenge to the organised sector players.

Materials lack standardisation as well. While worldwide, certain materials are accepted as fit for foam and other parts. In India, something as inapt as EPE expanded polyethylene is used even by big market players. Thus the standard is very low for market entry. Anyone, with their low quality products can be a hyper local provider. Just one of the reasons for the unorganised sector’s dominance. Yet this is also where the answer lies. We need firm standards for materials, sizes, quality checks etc. This ensures that a certain quality of infrastructure and material is used to make a standard good quality mattress.

Q What product innovations are expected from Centuary in the next 2 years?

We are working on few product innovations for the next couple of years. To start with for the e-commerce or online offering, we are planning to introduce Pocket spring mattress in roll pack format and working on to convert spring mattress into bed in a box format. These are mainly for e-commerce channel. We are also planning to launch few innovative products for the retail market(offline) like copper infused mattress with antimicrobial and cooling effect mattresses. We feel these new set of innovative products are needed for Indian market.

Q Pandemic has changed the way consumers do the business. How did Centuary mattress adopted to this change into its products?

Pandemic has raised the consciousness of all aspects of health to people. This has also given raise to digital awareness for all kinds of people. These are big changes. We have introduced products with cost effective manner to address these two requirements of the market. For example, all our products from entry level to high end products they have antimicrobial properties. So, we have taken a conscious call to offer such products to all. Also our products are easily available online.

Q How is Make in India initiative is helping Indian mattress industry?

Make in India is a very good initiative which helps all industry sectors. This initiative will be going to help entire industry. It has created grid for Indian global business and Indian industry and world is looking at India as a serious player as a manufacturing Hub. Earlier China was seen as a Hub in South-East Asia, which has added India now. Specific to mattress industry we have noticed in the last few years that every international company is floating enquires in India. It is also helping in exports. Few years back two or three mattress companies from India were exporting and these exports was mainly to Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Now, more than eight to ten mattress companies from India are exporting even to European countries. This is a big change.

Q How Centuary is adapting digitization in its business process?

We have started digitization journey six or seven years back. We are one of the leading company in digitization and automation in manufacturing process. We have lot of Industry 4.O concepts like IOT and automation are implemented in our factories and we have real time visibility of all our processes. Probably we are one of the highest automated companies in India.

ISPF is an industry body which promotes importance of sleep and role of mattress for a Indian consumers. ISPF plays very important role in connecting Indian bedding industry ecosystem. ISPF also acts as bridge between India and international players.