08 January 2019 09:16:46 IST

Malathy Sriram writes poems and short stories for children and adults, as well as book reviews and articles of general interest. She is a post-graduate in English Literature from Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Her work has been published in Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Mirror and Femina. She has edited website content and is the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children with articles on history, science, arts and culture, sports, technology, companies and brands, mythology and short stories. Reading, teaching English, listening to music (all genres) and singing complete her oeuvre.

Nilkamal: Remodelling furniture ideas since 1930s

In fact, the Indian company is the world’s largest manufacturer in the plastic chairs segment

The name ‘Nilkamal’ has always conjured for me the image of the ‘Jumbo Act’ print advertisement, in which an elephant is shown balancing precariously, all four feet firmly ensconced on the seat of a Nilkamal plastic chair, as trapeze artistes frolic around. The ad hit the reader right between the eyes with its message — durability, load-bearing capacity, stability and style — all in one stroke.

Birth of Nilkamal

Nilkamal is a name that has become synonymous with durable and attractive virgin-grade, plastic moulded products such as chairs and crates. The company that manufactures the brand, Nilkamal Ltd, was founded by brothers Vaman and Sharad Parekh. However, the foundation was laid in 1934, when their father Vrajlal Parekh began to manufature metal buttons in a one-machine factory shed. He diversified into the business of processing in 1950, and later named his company as ‘National Plastics’, which he ran along with his sons.

By 1964, the company had entered the household items market and by 1970, a huge factory at Powai, in Mumbai, was taken over to manufacture the same. In the years that followed, as the company prospered, Vrajlal Parekh divided the business amicably among his sons. The two continued to manufacture plastics at the Powai factory, but to differentiate their company, one of them named his company ‘Nilkamal’. The company was incorporated as ‘Creamer Plastic’ in 1985, became ‘Nilkamal Plastic’ in 1990 and went public in 1991. In 2006, it changed its name, again, to ‘Nilkamal Ltd.’

Diversify and conquer

Starting with crates for handling food products of all types in 1984, Nilkamal practically pioneered the use of plastic crates as against wooden and corrugated ones. Eventually the brothers went on to manufacture larger household products. It was when they outsourced their facility to manufacture chairs for VIP that they realised the products’ business potential. The year 1990 saw them enter the moulded plastic furniture business and in the consecutive year, they opened one more plant at Sinnar, Maharashtra.

The manufacturing part was easier than getting people to accept plastic chairs, as they were not ready for such a revolutionary concept. Wedding halls were approached with offers to just place the chairs at the venue and give feedback on peoples’ reactions. Since the chairs were light-weight, stackable, durable and easy-to-maintain, business orders started to come in from wedding planners. People who used the chairs were impressed by their sturdiness and as more designs, colours and finishes were added, the products’ popularity soared. In fact, Nilkamal is the patent-holder for the process of manufacturing plastic furniture in dual colors and natural wood/granite finishes. The material handling section grew simultaneously and by mid-1990s, the company won a contract from Coca Cola to manufacture crates for them.

More manufacturing plants came up and a joint venture was signed with an overseas subsidiary in Sri Lanka (Nilkamal Eswaran Plastics Pvt Ltd) in 1999. Nilkamal also got the ISO 9001: 2000 certification by TUV Germany for all its plants in 2001. The next year, it signed another JV in Bangladesh (Nilkamal Padma Plastics Pvt Ltd).

A complete furniture solutions provider

Today, Nilkamal’s business falls under five categories — plastic furniture, material handling (including storage), furniture retail (home and lifestyle), mattresses and pillows (Nilkamal Matrezzz), and Nilkamal BubbleGUARD panels.

The company is now one of India’s leading brand of moulded plastic furniture, manufacturing over 1.4 million chairs every month. It is also the world’s largest manufacturer in the plastic chairs segment. The material handling segment offers more than 300 designs in bins, crates, pallets, shelves, racks and more. for movement and safety in transit & storage, whether it is at the warehousing, distribution or disposal stage. Nilkamal has over 400 registered designs for moulded plastic furniture and material handling products.

It was also one of the first in India to introduce the concept of stores catering to home décor with its retail wing for ready-made furniture ‘@home’. With its 3D imaging software and mock rooms that offer instant solutions, it challenged the Indian consumer’s traditional approaches to furniture buying and making. It offers about 450 ready-made products and is poised to lead the market as a ‘complete furniture solutions provider’.

The sleep specialist

Nilkamal Mattrezzz, launched in 2012, has done painstaking research to earn the status of a ‘sleep specialist’ with customised mattresses and pillows for both the individual customer and the hospitality and healthcare sectors.

The BubbleGUARD panels are multi-layered polypropylene boards that are light-weight , waterproof and high impact-resistant. They can be used in various fields such as construction, furniture, steelworks and logistics, for packaging, paneling, printing, and more. Apart from these five businesses, Nilkamal also has several JVs, including for warehousing racking systems (Nilkamal Bito Storage Systems) and products for the hospitality industry (Cambro Nilkamal). The company offers customised solutions even in industries where they do not yet have a presence.

The company has eight manufacturing facilities across India that are ISO 9001: 2008, ISO 14001and ISO 18001 certified, and fall under the BIFMA (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association) and Green Guard UK standards. The products that roll out of these plants reach consumers via an extensive distribution network (1,100 distributors and 18,000 retail dealers). The company has enabled an online purchase option too.

Nilkamal’s turnover in 2018 was about ₹2,108 crores and it exports products to more than 30 countries around the world. It has won the ‘Top Furniture Exporter of the Year’ award from the Plastics Export Promotion Council in 2009.

On the product front, it has won the India Manufacturing Excellence Award (IMEA) six times (2010-15). @home has won the ‘Best Retail Design & Visual Merchandising’ award under the Home Improvement category and ‘Retailer of The Year’ award under the Home Product and Office Improvements category. The Asia Retail Congress awarded it the ‘Retailer of the Year - 2009’ award.

The brand is so popular that the company does not need to blazon its name across advertisement hoardings, but it does promote new launches and ventures. Promotions by the company include organising exhibitions to increase awareness of hygienic food storage containers (2012) and a pillow fight with Nilkamal pillows — on Nilkamal mattresses — in 2017 in Bengaluru. In sports, it was the co-sponsor of Mohun Bagan AC (2017-18).

Socially responsible is the way to go

Nilkamal believes in environmental sustainability and all its operations are conducted likewise, with efforts focussed on reducing its carbon footprint and energy conservation. The company has been awarded the ISO 50001:2011 EnMS certification from TUV– SUD Germany, for this. It is the winner of the National Energy Conservation Award (Gold) from the Ministry of Power (Govt of India) in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and the National Award For Excellence in Energy Management from CII in 2016 and 2017. Frost and Sullivan, in collaboration with Business Standard , awarded it the Green Manufacturing Excellence Award (GMEA) 2015.

From doing something as simple as providing free chairs for people who stood in long ATM queues during the demonetisation drive to promoting Swachch Bharat Abhiyan with a cleanliness drive near its corporate office, Nilkamal has taken its CSR work quite seriously. It also focusses on providing education and basic necessities such as safe drinking water, animal welfare schemes and health care activities like setting up X-Ray facilities where needed, distribution of hearing aids, eye care initiatives and general relief schemes.

The company’s latest collaboration with Wello, a social venture, is another step in the right direction. The ‘Wello-Nilkamal Water Wheel’, a 45-litre rolling water container, is a product designed to take the load off women who have to carry water on pots on their heads for long distances.