T SUDHAKAR PAI – Chairman & Managing Director KURLON ENTERPRISE LTD
Please describe your business and your role as a CEO?
My business is a great brand, a superbrand, called “Kurl-on”, which is a 55 yr old company. I took over the company in 2002, when there were 2 factories and the turnover was Rs 130 cr. In March 2017, we have crossed Rs 1000 cr with 9 factories, 72 area offices and 8000 dealers.
It has been a great journey in the last 15 yrs. As the CEO, I am trying to build a great team within the company. I am trying to encourage youngsters to come and build Kurlon into a great organization. I believe that the best way to do that is to empower people at the grassroot level. I want to bring a culture where people, right upto the lowest level, are empowered and held accountable, so that they are committed to the company, and ensure that big opportunities are harnessed.
Our brand recall is over 90% without any help and with help, it goes beyond 98%. Mattresses have become synonymous to Kurlon and our dream is to upgrade ourselves from a mattress company to a home comfort company. In home comfort, we want to get into sofas, furniture and other allied areas. For the last 3 years we have been experimenting with that and we have recently got a big breakthrough, manufacturing world-class sofas for an iconic European furniture retailer.
We think India is a growing market and plan to go all out into the retail market. We have got 260 franchise stores under “Kurlon Mattress Express” and plan to put up 70 company- owned-company-operated stores called “Kurlon Home Comforts”. These showrooms will come up in 2017-18 and we feel this will give impetus to the brand and all our products. We are also trying to stitch our furniture and other home requirements into this and are keen to integrate textile products like curtains, upholstery, bath towels, bed linen, bed tops and other home requirements into the same.
What is the big idea behind your business/What are the inherent challenges in your sectors?
The biggest challenge in the business is the price at which the customer wants to buy the product. The biggest number of mattresses that are sold in the country are still cotton mattress, which start at a price of Rs 800-900. Of course there are cotton mattresses selling at Rs 10000 also, but at the grassroot level, it is very difficult to give a mattress at Rs 800-900. We still believe that as the economy is growing and people are increasingly becoming capable of affording investing in their new houses. For them, a Mattress will become one of the important products because one-third of their lifetim
e they are lying on a mattress. So we will have to give them the best mattress for the best price – and we are working towards that goal.
It’s often said that leaders these days must operate in an environment of extreme volatility. Do you agree? How does that affect the way you lead?
Today’s world is so volatile because of technology & the internet and you see so many businesses – like Travel agencies – have lost their relevance. They need to reinvent themselves in many ways. Take the example of share-broking. There was a time when licences were sold at more than Rs 1 crore. Today licenses are available just across the table. People can trade on the internet. So margins even to the dealers have come down.
As far as our product is concerned, it has also gone into a lot of maturity over a period of time. The technology was brought by our Founder, Mr Ramesh Pai, from Germany & Austria because they used to make seats for the cars in Europe. We used it to make carpet underlay, cushions, seats and mattresses and used to say, “Stand on, Sit on, Sleep on, Kurl-on”! That was our first slogan. So we built the company with great technology from Europe and perfected the technology to such an extent today that our productivity on our machines are much higher than what the Austrians had given when we bought the machines originally.
A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. What is your prime focus for retaining customers and acquiring new ones?
We always believe that the customer is the only person who can make our company survive. We also learnt from Gandhiji, that the customer is God and he feeds us every day. We make sure that our customer is happy and we definitely look after the dealer customer, who, in turn looks after the final customer. We try to bring out programmes, both, for the dealers, as well as the final customers. When the customer takes a Kurlon mattress, he goes happy that he got a good mattress for a good price. Towards this, we have got many schemes, including free gifts, not only during season time, but also during off-season. As a company, we believe that if a dealer and customer, both are aligned to us, we will be building a great brand.
Do you have a formal mechanism for making sure you stay in touch with employees and customers on the organization’s front line?
My mobile number is available with all our dealers. We have a very strong CRM team and I take at least a few CRM calls every month. We have an exciting programme for them and get in touch with them on a frequent basis.
We have exciting plans for our dealers, if they achieve certain targets. The best dealer of Kurlon gets a free Mercedes Benz from the company as an incentive. I am not sure if other companies give these kind of gifts. We try to keep everybody in the loop and happy. Our goal is to see that if a customer thinks of buying a Kurlon mattress, the same night he has to get a Kurlon mattress. My belief is that he should not lose a single day of his sleep without a Kurlon. That’s our goal and that’s what we have been trying to achieve and we have done this many times in our company – we want to make this into a culture.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever heard?
The best business advice that I have ever heard of, is to make the company such an enjoyable place that people never go on a holiday. If they start enjoying their work, they will give their best to the organization. And their family also will enjoy growing along with the organization because they are also a part of it. People are talking of work-life balance but I believe that work-life balance happens when all balances work too well. But work is in areas where people can only perform. I believe that you have to get the other part of your family as part of your work so that work-work balance will become more enjoyable than work-life balance.
What are the values you espouse in/as a Leader?
Honesty, integrity and dedication are fundamental requirements in an organization and I believe that if these fundamental things are taken care of, if a man enjoys the work, he will take his job to such an extent that he will do a superb delivery for the customer. Ramakrishna Paramahansa had told Swami Vivekananda, “Activity gets you busy, but Productivity gets you free”.
I believe that when the going seems to get tough, we should look at how far we have gone and count our blessings instead of focusing on what is missing – this would give us renewed confidence to perform better. I live and espouse the words of Ramakrishna dev – “Face your past without regret; handle your present with confidence; prepare for the future without fear”.
As an organization, I want to make sure that we bring in a culture of working with a lot of happiness. Unfortunately, happiness cannot be bought for a price, so, happiness has to be created and happiness challenges have to be given and people have to enjoy the fruits of those challenges. That is my belief to make this company a great company to work in.
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