03 May 2019 12:38:20 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.

Redefining comfort, the Kurl-on way

The mattress maker has a reputation for rewarding its dealers; the best dealer gets a Mercedes Benz

Indians have never bothered much about the quality of sleep. With us, it was always waking up at the right time that mattered. Questions like ‘Did you sleep well last night?’ or ‘Do you feel rested?’ would be deemed ridiculous here. You don’t fall asleep — you have to sleep of necessity at night to face the next day. And you go to sleep anywhere there is space — on charpoys, on bare wooden cots, on bedsheets or mats or even newspapers spread on the floor, in the kitchen near the stove or on the terrace.

It was into this non-existent market that Kurl-on took tentative first steps, initially selling the concept of a good night’s sleep, and then creating an entire industry to cater to this market.

The brand, which today enjoys an enviable 80 per cent top-of-the-mind recall, is part of the Manipal Group of companies. Kurl-on owes its existence to a serendipitous discovery: when Ramesh Pai of the Manipal group was on a visit to Germany, he observed that high-end motor car seats were made of rubberised coconut coir fibre sourced from Sri Lanka. This led to the idea of creatively utilising the coir husk available in India, one of the world’s largest coconut producers.

Starting off with coir

Till then, coir in the country was used only to manufacture retted (softened by soaking in water) fabric, a cottage industry activity. Ramesh Pai started considering various ways to use coconut coir and set up Karnataka Coir Products Ltd in 1962. (It later became Karnataka Consumer Products Ltd in 1980.)

The company started by manufacturing cushion seats and bare blocks. But as the Indian automobile industry was still in a nascent stage, with very few cars manufactured, it became imperative to look at other avenues for use of the coir. After many trials and experiments, Pai hit upon the idea of manufacturing rubberised coir mattresses. The brand name ‘Kurl-on’ was introduced in 1965.

Traditionally, in India, cotton mattresses had always been in use. The rubberised coir mattress offered by Kurl-on — consisting of fibres and latex compressed to form a springy coir block — was a revolution of sorts. It allowed free circulation of air and prevented heat build-up between the mattress and the cot.

Kurl-on went the extra length to study the sleeping habits of people in order to offer targeted solutions. The difference in mattress density, strength, shape and the comfort it offered were explained to the customer, who had till then taken his sleep for granted. Once the concept of a good night’s sleep offering greater energy and better health gained ground, there was no stopping the brand.

By 1969, Kurl-on received its first railway order. The same year, it brought out a quilted mattress concept; it also became the first mattress brand to advertise in print and on TV. Continuing in its series of ‘firsts’, it pioneered the first moulded pillow in India in 1972, the same year that saw it supplying car seats to Hindustan Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra.

It continued to supply material to industrial buyers but by 1987, it had stopped production of bare blocks; the very next year, it began in-house production of polyurethane foam. The early 1990s saw it widen its product range to include towels, doormats, pillows and cushion seats.

Huge dealer network

The company was renamed ‘Kurl-on Limited’ in 1995. The early 2000s saw the brand’s first retail attempt ‘Kurl-on Nest’ take off. More manufacturing facilities were established and other products were added to the portfolio — like sofas and imported toughened glass. An exclusive franchise outlet ‘Kurl-on Mattress Express’ was introduced in 2010.

The brand faced some problems with duplicate products towards the end of the 20th century. The issue persisted into the 2000s and was resolved only when the dealer network was strengthened and increased.

Today, Kurl-on has one of the most widespread and loyal dealer networks in the industry, comprising 10,000 dealers and about 70 branch and stock points. The company has developed a reputation for treating its dealers extremely well, with the best dealer getting a Mercedes Benz!

India’s largest-selling mattress company has about nine strategically located manufacturing facilities: three for rubberised coir at Yashwantpur (Bengaluru), Gwalior and Bhubaneswar ; three for polyurethane foam at Dabaspet (Karnataka), Jhagadia (Gujarat) and Roorkee (Uttarakhand); and three spring manufacturing units at Bhubaneswar, Peenya (Bengaluru) and Jhagadia (Gujarat). Four of these have roof-mounted solar power systems. The company is planning to set up three more mattress manufacturing plants in Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

It has more than 700 exclusive franchise outlets, 7,000 multi-brand outlets and about 14 ‘Home Komforts’ stores (company owned and operated outlets) across India.

Products available from Kurl-on at these places today are a staggering 126 varieties of mattresses (regular use and orthopedic), pillows, bolsters, bedsheets, curtains, carpets, doormats and underlays. It claims to be the sole producer of hospital-approved mattresses.

Attention to detail

A study of customer buying patterns revealed that there are four types of buyers – those who go by the cost, those who look for comfort, value-seekers and people with back problems. Kurl-on has products for all four categories of customers. One of its brands — Aspire, uses the unique ‘memory foam’ which is said to sense body temperature and adjust to the spinal contours of the user. Kurl-on’s therapeutic range is said to ease the user’s body aches and pains during sleep.

Mattresses enjoy a year-long demand, with sales spiking during festivals and the marriage season. Growth in the housing sector and increasing awareness about personal comfort have also led to an upswing in mattress sales. It is a well-known fact that the Indian mattress market — said to be worth about ₹9,000 crore — is dominated by the unorganised sector, mainly because of the cost factor. The organised market accounts for only one-third of this; Kurl-on is said to have a 40 per cent market share in this segment.

Its products are also exported to the UK, Europe, South-Eastern, East-Asian countries, and West Asian countries, such as the UAE, Qatar and Oman and all SAARC countries.

The company reported a turnover of about ₹ 1,100 crore in 2017-18. (It is aiming ₹1,350 crore in 2018-19.) Kurl-on sells its products online as well, through sites like Snapdeal, Amazon, Pepperfry, FabMart and FabFurnish and its own e-commerce site kurlon.com . These reportedly account for 2-3 per cent of its total sales.

Though the consumer awareness of mattresses has increased to a great extent, mainly due to the choices available today, it remains a low-involvement category for many people. Kurl-on plans to have more interactions with customers with a view to educate them about the importance of good sleeping habits and help them make informed choices.

In 2019, Kurl-on acquired the luxury mattress brand ‘Spring Air’ for ₹70 crore.

Advertising, CSR

Kurl-on has always paid great attention to advertising. The first slogan ‘Stand on, Sit on, Sleep on: Kurl-on’ caught the imagination of the public. ‘A third of your life is spent in sleep — so sleep on Kurl-on’ emphasised the earlier positioning, and ‘Sleep like you stand’ rounded it off nicely. The TV commercials focussed on the necessity for ‘restful’ sleep by showing people yawning during the day in different situations. The brand has also gone in for several promotional ventures by offering deals and rewards during the festival season.

Kurl-on’s CSR activities cover women’s empowerment and rehabilitation; and social welfare, education and development of underprivileged people.

The ISO 9001:2008 certified ‘Superbrand’ company has received the Coir Board of India's awards for Outstanding Performance in Export of Rubberised Coir Products, Development of the Domestic Market for Rubberised Coir, Best Export Performance at the State Level and the award for being the Largest Domestic Trader of Coir and Coir Products more than 15 times. It has received the National Safety Council of India (NSCI)’s ‘Shreshtha Suraksha Puraskar’ in recognition for developing and implementing highly effective management systems, and procedures, and achieving outstanding performance in occupational health and safety.