13 Jul 2018 19:55 IST

Knock on wood: How Kitply became a household name

Constant innovation have allowed the company to dominate the market

 

There was a time when plywood meant Kitply to all Indians. Such was the strength of the brand — the name became almost generic. Though it faded from the general public consciousness in the middle, Kitply remained a sought-after brand , becoming a benchmark for quality plywood products. Even today, it is among the only plywood companies that is listed in the Consumer Superbrands of India.

Innocuous beginning

Like any other trailblazing product, the arrival of Kitply was sparked by a very ordinary occurrence. Founder SP Goenka, a thriving entrepreneur who supplied packaging materials to tea companies in Assam, reportedly noticed that the plywood layer on his dining table was peeling and decided to create a product that could withstand the constant exposure to heat and water in the kitchen without showing wear and tear. After some meticulous research, he launched Kitply, an off-take from ‘kitchen plywood’.

The company was initially incorporated in Assam as Sudarshan Plywood Industries Private Limited in 1982. In 1985, it became a public limited company and the next year, commenced production of diverse grades of plywood at its Assam factory, marketed under the brand name ‘Swastik’. The company name changed to Kitply Industries Ltd in 1989.

In 1988, Kitply etched its name in the public consciousness with its fire-resistant plywood ‘Fireguard’. More innovations followed.

Plywood is used everywhere, both at home and in commercial locations. From producing tea chests to offering interiors, the Indian plywood industry has come a long way. The industry is reportedly worth about ₹28,000 crore today (shared equally between the commercial and the residential segments). The plywood industry, while highly fragmented, is dominated (80 per cent) by the unorganised market. In the organised sector, Kitply is the market leader with the largest customer base among wood product manufacturers.

But the growth did not come easily. When the Supreme Court passed orders against the harvesting of natural timber, it was a setback for the thriving industry, which had to depend either on imports or grow its own timber. Kitply overcame this by undertaking agroforestry projects (The Kitply Agro Forestry Project).

The company has grown both organically and through several acquisitions — starting with Himalayan Plywood Industries Pvt Ltd and Nuboard Manufacturing, going on to Asian Woods and Polymers, Assam Railway Timber Company, and the like. Today, its product range includes a diverse collection of ISI-certified items in plywood, block board, particle boards, tiles and laminates, doors, and a veneer collection.

Continuously innovating

Most of these products are at the top in their respective markets, mainly because of the innovations incorporated in them. Kitply has made a name for itself by introducing innovations in plywood such as skid boards, fire retardant plywood, bullet-proof plywood for high security areas, termite resistant plywood, boiling water proof plywood and biodegradation resistant plywood, to name a few.

Since this is an industry where duplication is inevitable, Kitply came up with an ingenious idea to distinguish its products from fakes and duplicates: the Kit Stripes, flitched/integrated into the plywood (as opposed to stickers which might peel off). These guarantee that the product is original.

Kitply changed the market perception of plywood from that of a commodity to that of a product through its new approach to positioning and advertising. Its first-of-a-kind ‘boiling water proof’ quality of plywood was highlighted in all advertisements and promotions, and ensured instant brand recall. Repeated reinforcements enabled the brand to remain in public memory — there was once a time when ‘water-proof plywood’ meant ‘Kitply’ in India!

From promoting its ‘boiling water proof’ USP, to updating its logo with the words ‘Ply mane Kitply’ (Ply, meaning Kitply) and enticing customers with the slogan ‘Homes are a reflection of your personal style’, the brand has kept pace with consumer expectations and even created new markets.

Kitply’s advertising and marketing strategy involved using cricket, something that had been unheard of in the industry. The Kitply Super sixes campaign, the Kitply Trination Cup (between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and the association with super heroes like Sachin Tendulkar made the brand a household name in a cricket-crazy India.

The company has five modern factories and 12 sales offices. It has a strong network of over 300 dealers and distributions that covers major cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Kochi, to name a few.

Kitply has been used in the Indian Naval shipyards and the famous Palace on Wheels luxury tourist train in Rajasthan. It has been used innovatively as ‘skid boards’ for dropping relief material during flood relief operations and its bamboo-based products have been utilised for constructing houses in tsunami-affected areas of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Modernising

Kitply recently became the world’s first plywood brand to introduce a QR code enabled app to distinguish genuine products from counterfeits. A specialised QR program-based hologram is placed on the piece of ply that has to be checked. The customer has to download the company’s app on their mobile phone and scan the QR code to verify the ply’s authenticity.

Don’t plywood factories — or any industry dealing with wood, for that matter — destroy the environment by removing forest cover? Kitply has caused a re-think in this matter through its commitment to conserve the environment. The chemicals used in the factory to render the plywood fungus-, borer- and termite-resistant are eco-friendly. To preserve and improve its bio-resource base, Kitply has undertaken tree-plantation drives and agroforestry in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other areas. Not only have barren tracts of land been converted into lush green forests but the regions have also shown remarkable improvement on the socio-economic front.

While there is a particular type of hardwood used for the manufacture of plywood, Kitply also uses alternate raw materials such as bamboo to develop ply products. The fast-growing timber ‘Kadam’ has been selected for plantation in cycles of 10 and 12 years. As early as 1990, about three lakh Kadam saplings were planted in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The proposal is to plant five lakh each year, and include Nagaland and Meghalaya in the afforestation drive.

By 1997, Kitply had collaborated with IIT Kharagpur to set up an institute for land restoration and agroforestry. The company has won the Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra award for its contribution to afforestation and waste land development.

The company’s CSR activities focus on community welfare programmes that improve the condition of people living near its factories. It also runs a charity hospital and a naturopathy clinic.

Kitply’s products are exported to the West Asia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In fact, it has received the Top Export Awards from Capexil for 1991-92 and then for three years continuously, from 1993 to 1996.

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