SR FrontRunner: A Step Towards The ‘New World’ with Mr Abhishek Somany

Mr Abhishek Somany

As soon as the devastating pandemic struck the world, one thing was made clear- Things won’t ever be the same again. This means that we would be entering a new era. The ‘new’ post-pandemic world would have its demands, challenges as well as implications for everyone including changes in the field of architecture and decor. Mr Abhishek Somany is a third-generation entrepreneur and the visionary MD of the cherished Indian brand- ‘Somany Tiles and Ceramics’. Under his able leadership, the brand has grown to be one of the most sought-after tile and allied products brands in India thereby bagging most of the global awards and recognitions in the field.It is also known for the ability to achieve customer delight through business innovation and cost-effectiveness while pursuing the latest fashion trends in the market. Therefore, he and his brand have been recognized in the ILC Power Brand Hall of Fame in 2011 and 2012.Here’s a very motivation and information-laden chunk from SURFACES REPORTER (SR)Tête-à-tête with Mr Somany on his journey, his brand, the ‘new world’ incoming: -

Also Read: Somany Ceramics Launches New Designs in French Collection

somany tiles

What are some of the most defining moments of your life?

From a business perspective, there have been various moments that mean a lot to me. One that I remember very vividly was back in 2000 where we had a situation where the ‘Bhurelal committee’ had moved all our natural gas to power the Pragati Power CNG buses and autorickshaws.

So, we were left with virtually no gas which means that a being a small company (170-180 crores in 2000) and the gas bill had gone up by about 80 crore rupees annually which is a large blow to any company of that size. We had to pull up our socks and work around that issue, we were in the expansion mode at that time so we were leveraged- on one hand, we had a VRS happening and on the other, we had this gas issue that came up out of thin air.

So, that was a defining moment of how we got through that deep end without any moratorium or mismatch on our finances. It taught us a lot including how to remain prepared to survive in India because here, this is all a part of the game. If you want to do business in India, these surprises can pop up anytime and at any stage. The second defining moment has got to be when my grandfather Mr H.L Somany passed on the baton of ‘Somany Tiles and Ceramics’ to me in 2004 and 2005. We were just getting out of that gas crisis and he said, ‘Do what you want- you want to run this company or you want to sell this company, it’s up to you!’

somany tiles

The later wasn’t an option so we pulled our socks again and tried to look forward to seeing what the future holds. We had very little finances left due to the cash flow mismatch with the gas issue which we had to face. But we made it and here we are. These two moments shaped Somany Tiles and Ceramics as well as my career as a whole.

Talking about the pandemic situation right now, what are some lessons that you have acquired through the pandemic?

First of all, I don’t think anyone could’ve ever imagined the scenario that we are going through today. We saw it only in movies and we’re living it today. The biggest lesson to be learned exactly how much time we spend with our families- it starts from there and it has been a joy to be spending time with our families and working from home.

Although we have started going back to the offices from the last couple of months being at home for a couple of moths just showed us an entirely different light of life. It of course, not only has made us healthier but has also made us realize how little time we spend at home and, how we tend to take the same for granted.

From a business point of view, it has been extremely positive for which, I would like to compliment our team, they came together ahead of the curve on 14th of April which was another defining moment- We were facing two big challenges- We didn’t know how long the pandemic would last and how long the lockdown would go for.

But we managed to regroup ourselves and look at our finances because in any given company, without production and sales, it is proper mayhem as far as the receivables and cash flow are concerned. It is because of the team that without any moratorium, we waited through these waters by doing a lot of cost reductions including the areas of travel and advertising which was fairly easy. The team worked hard to protect every employee and their salaries and not to penalize them through these harsh times- it was a job well done!

We’re a 49-year-old company and so, there are a lot of legacy costs which you don’t look into while expanding and those were finally looked into and the reductions will be there with us, for a long time now. It has just made us sharper and has made us realize that the most unimaginable things can happen and I think we have come out stronger, sharper and more agile as a result of the pandemic both, from a business and a personal point of view.

Also Read: Design your space with Somany Tile Visualizer

Due to the pandemic, the market had come to a halt and hence, we’d love to know how that worked out for you through the months of the pandemic?

I think everyone and everything including the market had in their mind, three things- The first couple of months, the priority was to ‘respond’, the next couple of months, it was to ‘recover’ and the last few months, the focus has been to ‘recognize’-We must realize that the situation is here to stay and if it does pass, something else might happen, a couple of years down the line. So, we looked at the ‘now, the ‘next’ and the ‘beyond’.

So, the market has responded very positively for a couple of reasons- the larger brands were more consistent with their productions and deliveries, Morbi being caught up with the exporters- the dealers were very comfortable giving money to the larger companies and making sure that they get the material. Their main agenda post-June has been to serve the customer and protect them so they make a purchase don’t shop around from other shops thereby, protecting them from COVID.

The dealers, therefore, channelized more money to us and rightly so, because we had the production and stocks to deliver on time. So, the delivery time took priority over the pricing. Even the consumer has realized that buying a brand during these times is even more important than being sorry in the long run, just to save a few rupees. This is here to stay; I think the larger brands are going to share a bigger market share in India.

somany tiles

What kind of steps has Somany Tiles and Ceramics taken for the market to present the products with a different look and a positive air?

There are two parts of this- The products and what we have done for the market. So, initially what we did was to give a lot of comfort and reassurance to the dealers, I touched base with every single dealer back in April- May, they were informed that we’re an old brand, our finances are in place and nothing will go wrong so, you don’t need to worry about that. The second thing we did was to prepare them about the fact that cash is king- we need to get the money firsthand to pay our employees, labour and to start the productions. So, we were ahead of the curve, we gave a lot of deals and discounts to make the products more affordable and it helped them pay their employees and get their house in order.  

Secondly, we also did a lot of production rejig to make sure that the dealer does not go empty-handed for the products that he wanted as per the customer demands. Next, we brought in a lot of discipline. We told the dealers- no money means no delivery. So, please start preparing yourselves because we also are going through a major churn of production schedules and please, give us orders in advance- kudos to them for complying well! We also took all necessary precautions, sanitizing the material- our factories were cleaned and sanitized and we were testing a 150 each, twice a week along with giving a lot of videos, POS and POP materials like hand sanitisers, gloves, masks etc. to the workers to ensure the safety of everyone involved- The labour, the dealers as well as the customers.

We also did not stop advertising; we increased our footprints at the airports as soon as the airports opened as well as our ads on television. We also continued to make dealer showrooms, we are signing up more and more showrooms as we go. We also brought new products, we have been doing softer launches and E-launches of products. We are also looking forward to various large scale advertising campaigns which will make the brand presence even stronger.

Also Read: In Conversation with Mukesh Savlani, President and CEO, Welspun Flooring

Once the vaccines show up and everything goes back to normal, do you think the customers will go back to their idea of visiting the showrooms and the ‘touch and feel’ techniques to shop there?

Well, I think there will a hybrid model. A lot of customers will return to the showrooms to make the purchases but they will spend the time required for research online. So, the two hours spent deciding on products the store will now be divided into an hour online and an hour in the showrooms with the ‘touch and feel’ because you cannot get the colours and the feeling until you’re there. Also, the way we communicate with architect would now change as they won’t mind getting on a zoom call which is seamless and taking a decision or maybe only a single person is there and, we will send out samples in advance so they have a sample- they are happy because there is no human there and the products are sanitized. So, it would probably make serving an architect in say, Bangalore even easier because I don’t have to wait for the next visit, it could just happen virtually-tomorrow morning. A lot of time, energy and money will be saved in this. So, it will all change for the better with time.

We would like to know about the germ-shield tile and its benefits in the current scenario?

Well, a lot of companies have shifted to these technologies to meet the sanitation needs of the scenario. It is often observed that even if we clean our floors to the max, a lot of germs settle on the tiles and once we mop it, even the mop gets dirty thereby, making it harder to maintain cleanliness.

These particular germ shield tiles don’t let the germs settle on the tiles and it is definitely much better than the normal tiles but in a country like India, there is just so much more in the atmosphere so, one needs to be careful- You still require to clean the tiles and keep your homes neat and tidy. A great idea would probably be to put these tiles in the kitchen for sure and for the wall tiles, we have come up with a hydrophobic tile which doesn’t let the water settle thereby avoiding germs. To put it simply, is it COVID free? No, it’s not. Is it germ-free? Yes, it is! So, it is better than the normal ones.

What is the future for tiles industry in terms of export from India?

I urge you to take a look at Chinese and Japanese products which were once viewed with a question mark and now, look where they have gone. To put simply, the quality of tile produced in our country is superb and hence, the world has to change their outlook towards India. There are bad apples in every country but the outlook is changing, slowly and steadily and it will change further, now that countries like America have banned China- they have no other options than the Latin American and Indian companies. Export as going to be up, we had about the export of about 10% a few years ago. Now, this will increase to 30-35% in the next 4-5 years which is a large number it is bound to take the industries to new heights.

What is your message for architects and designers in the market?

First of all, let’s not over-engineer the products because getting the job done is of the essence right now. We have a great set of products on the market. If you have a specific requirement, that’s a separate thing but most products don’t have these. The second would be, to keep it simple. We are in unprecedented times where we have to test our employees daily and certain departments are getting quarantined and I don’t think this will change anytime soon. Finally. Please make sure that you buy from brands like us that are far more consistent, have many more factories so, one line is off, the other line is always on. Our last mile qualities are always superior and that’s what matters. Our dealers swear by our quality, having said that- we made 1 lakh 80 thousand square meters per day but there is always the face of Somany which is me and we will ensure you superiority and quality.

What is your message for dealers across India?

There are two messages- first, we are growing and we are hungry for growth so the dealer needs to match up to this standard. Second, we would never make a mess out of dealer just for making more touchpoints. We make sure to make dealer in areas where there are gaps and Somany is not represented. We do not want to cannibalize the market to increase the number of dealers and we stand by this; we have stood by this for the past 49 years, it’s like my grandfather used to say, “Make a dealer who’s hungry and make sure that you work first for the dealer and then, for anybody else.

Also Read: Shailesh Puranik, MD, Puranik Builders Ltd| A heart-to-heart conversation with Vertica Dvivedi | Surfaces Reporter Realty Dialogue

What is your message for us at Surfaces Reporter?

I think again, it would be hybrid. We won’t be getting away from the ‘touch and feel’ of reading a magazine but online has become far more recognized. So, this is a whole new world and I’m sure there is a whole new set of ideas that you would have to engage the customer. The big thing about online is that you can be far more targeted and focused as to who you want to reach. So, a lot of trash will go out and you will be reaching the people who matter. So, I’m sure you guys are going to do a super job. Congratulations to you for being ahead of the curve and for making your format online and I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with in the future. We hope that this conversation with Mr Somany left you as informed and motivated as it left us. It is indeed true that the ‘new world’ is upon us and, we cannot stay cooped up and keep hiding. It is time to take steps to move on and walk along with it. Are you prepared? 

Keep reading SURFACES REPORTER for more such informative andinteresting interviews with the industry experts, architects and designers.

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