I almost missed the deadline for submitting this article because I was busy using the interactive Experience Camlin on the company’s website! It is addictive to say the least — anyone can create artwork using any medium.
Almost all of us have, at some point in time, used Camel, Exam, Flora or Scholar products from Camlin. The name evokes nostalgia. Memories of Camel geometry box — how many of us can reel off the names of the contents without stopping to think? — and Camel fountain pens, come flooding back when you recall its name.
How they started
The name that is today a household feature was started way back in 1931 by brothers GP Dandekar and DP Dandekar. While scouting for ideas for a start-up, they noticed that almost all quality stationery items were imported. Spotting an opportunity, they decided to enter the stationery line themselves with a quality desi brand.
A room at their house in Girgaum, Mumbai, and a small vat to prepare ink, marked the beginning of what was Dandekar & Co. It sold ink powder and tablets under the name, Horse Brand. Schools in the nearby areas were their first customers.
Over the next 10-15 years, other products were added to the portfolio. The two brothers decided to include fountain pens, and started thinking of a new name. They wanted one that would be easy to remember, read and write in any language.
The final name they settled on — Camel — is said to have been inspired by a carton of Camel cigarettes! They wished to show how long-lasting their fountain pen was: just as a camel could travel large distances without stopping for food or water, so could their ink fountain pens cover a similar amount of paper before drying up!
From Camel to ‘Camlin’
The name change was but a natural step — ‘Camel’ and ‘Ink’. Dandekar & Co was incorporated as a private company in 1946. As the product range expanded to include items like rubber stamp pads, adhesives, stationery products and even pain balm, the company put in place the foundation of its extensive distribution network.
By 1958, the office had shifted to Andheri (where it remains) and by the beginning of the next decade, Camlin had forayed into the art material market with colour paints of all varieties, crayons, paint brushes, canvases, drawing inks and geometry box sets.
Dandekar & Co became Camlin Ltd. in 1988, and was listed on the stock exchange. Camlin products are present in three segments — school and education, office, and fine arts. Today, it is a market leader in arts colour products and stationery material.
The company has three manufacturing facilities in Maharashtra (Tarapur, Toloja and Vasai) and one in Jammu. A new factory at Patalganga, Maharashtra is in the pipeline.
The Tarapur plant, that initially manufactured wooden pencils, now creates fine art and hobby products like artist colours (oil, acrylic, water, glass, fabric, powder and poster) and other painting and sketching paraphernalia.
Office products — predominantly markers of different types (white board, paint, CD and permanent, among others) — and other items like glue sticks, carbon paper, stamp pads and highlighters come from the Vasai plant.
The Jammu plant caters to the school and education category, manufacturing wooden pencils, sharpeners, math sets, fountain pens, ink, dissection boxes, notebooks, scales, erasers, and geometry boxes, to name a few. Art colour products like plastic and wax crayons, sketch pens and colour pencils for schools are also manufactured here.
Today, more than 2,100 products are sold across India through the company’s network of about 1,500 distributors and 300,000 retailers, and reach more than five crore households.
Initiatives and awards
Camlin takes pains to educate the public on how to get best results — by pointing out that everything depends on understanding the properties of these materials and applying them correctly. The company encourages feedback, and uses the inputs received from customers to improve quality and services.
It is this initiative, along with its school activation team dedicated to marketing its products, that helped it consolidate its position as the main supplier of school and education materials.
Its other initiative, the All India Camel Colour Contest for painting, that began in 1982, was and till today, remains a huge success. Through it, Camlin became the first firm to enter the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011, as more than 48 lakh students participated in it!
It was also the first company in India to adhere to the Art and Creative Materials Institute’s world standards in toxicity certifications. This means that all Camlin products are eco-friendly and non toxic. The fact is attested by the world’s standard certification — ASTM (American Society of Testing Material) and European Standard (EN 71).
Top notch advertising
Every advertisement of this brand has been eye-catching — especially those for permanent markers, the rudali commercial. In it, a man comes back from the dead because he applied his wife’s bindi with Camlin permanent marker, thus ensuring his long life. This was lauded by NTV Japan as the World’s Greatest Commercial. Watch it here.
Camlin’s take on Google’s new font in 2015 was memorable too. And most Indians would be astonished to learn that actress Aishwarya Rai’s first commercial appearance, when she was in Standard IX, was for Camlin pencils.
Other initiatives from Camlin include the Camel Art Foundation (CAF), which aims to bring talented artists — students, amateurs and professionals — to the forefront by providing them a platform to showcase their talents. Hobby Art Training is another activity that helps discover and encourage promising talent. Apart from this, it has also started art teacher workshops, craft competitions, and the Camlin module pre-schools, the first of which was set up in 2009 as ‘Alphakids’.
Ahead of the game
In a heart-warming move that also spelt business-savvy, Camlin raised money for the drought-affected regions of Vidarbha in Maharashtra by bringing together well-known artists in a ‘Draws for drought’ activity. It then auctioned their works. Its CSR activities cover education, healthcare and sanitation, and provision of safe drinking water, among others.
In 2012, Camlin was renamed Kokuyo Camlin Limited, after Japan’s Kokuyo Company Ltd. acquired a majority stake in it.
The company’s turnover in 2015-16 crossed ₹600 crore. Camlin keeps itself at the forefront of the competition by participating in prestigious international trade fairs such as Paperworld at Frankfurt, and by being active on the internet — Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and Twitter. Indeed, as their print ad claims, for a stationery brand, it has been anything but stationary!