Innovations and Possibilities in Furniture Hardware During the COVID Era

Hardware Industry Innovations Post COVID

Surfaces Reporter and Ply Reporter magazines have jointly organized an exclusive webinar where industry experts discussed, “Innovations and Possibilities in Furniture Hardware during the COVID Era. Accessing the impact of COVID-19 on the furniture hardware industry is very crucial since India is heavily dependent on China particularly for this industry and the closure of the latter’s market is a challenge as well as an opportunity for the Indian makers to become self- reliant. Read the article to know the view of market experts. Also share your inputs at Press@surfacesreporter.com

Architectural hardware solutions by SugatsuneArchitectural hardware solutions by Sugatsune

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll across all business verticals and the furniture hardware segment is no exception. However, with Unlockdown now in progress, the industry is gradually finding its feet. With markets opening, manufacturing units having started their operations, and projects working towards their completion, the hardware industry is gradually preparing itself for the life beyond COVID-19. Yet another issue that is finding acceptance in the industry is ‘Self-Reliance’. The industry is responding positively to the call of the nation, i.e., Aatmnirbhar Bharat. While the journey towards actually becoming self-reliant or Aatmnirbhar is a long one, the fact that industry veterans are vouching for it is nevertheless a great way to begin with innovations in terms of design as well as business strategies. Surfaces Reporter is presenting some of the strategies shared by the experts during the Webinar. 

JURGEN WOLF, Managing Director, Hafele India Pvt Ltd

JURGEN WOLF

"Companies are seeking opportunities to manufacture in India. But for manufacturing you need partners who are professional, understand the quality, and can work to scale that’s been a big problem. We’ve been actively looking to manufacture in India to enhance its presence in the market."- JURGEN WOLF, Managing Director, Hafele India Pvt Ltd

PRESERVE THE CASH

The metro cities are the worst sufferers of the situation. The challenge is that despite the unlockdown, the customers aren’t really rushing back to the retail stores. Architects and end-users both have become cautious of visiting the market. Sharing his experiences, Jurgen Wolf, MD, Hafele India, remarked that the pace of customers getting back to the physical store is still very slow. “The footfalls are relatively low compared to what it was previously. And it will be same for all the markets. It will take time or at least a year to come to normalcy. The situation can drag to next year; cash is the king, so preserve your cash. Do your business very prudently; markets will not become normal overnight. The situation isn’t getting normal in 2-3 months, it will take time.” 

Raman Koul, MD, South Asia, Assa Abloy, says he’s doesn’t have a definitive answer as to how long will the crisis prevail. As for customers hitting the street, he remarked that there is definite need of increasing the sanitaization practices in the stores to make the customers feel safer. “It’s not much to do with government initiatives such as unlocking; it’s basically that the consumer needs to get the confidence. Shoppers need the confidence that they are safe now; that will generate the difference.”

 Bharat Kawedia, MD, Modulinea Modular Systems, is of a different opinion. He believes that recovery is in place and shared that there are enquiries coming in the market. “Architects and interior designers have started working. Furniture industry will not take a back seat. Recovery is there. Those who need something will definitely spend money,” he said. 

RAMAN KOUL, Managing Director South Asia, ASSA ABLOY Group 

RAMAN KOUL, Managing Director South Asia, ASSA ABLOY Group 

"I think there is a great opportunity for the entire eco-system to move up the value chain based on collaboration between OEMS, hardware manufacturers, dealers, etc; they can collaborate and introduce many more innovative products in the market."- RAMAN KOUL, Managing Director South Asia, ASSA ABLOY Group 

IT’S TIME TO GO VIRTUAL

What has stood out in this crisis time is health, both for individuals as well as businesses. Individuals with good health are out in the market doing their best for the businesses and business houses who have worked on how to manage their fiscal health are getting back to work. “Health has now become an important business tool,” shared Alok Aggarwal, MD, Ozone Overseas, and he couldn’t be more apt. Taking the lead, he shared that his company apart from strategizing on how to do good business in the ‘new normal’, has come up with a health initiative for his employees so that they stay healthy and contribute to the growth story of Ozone.

Dorset

Rajesh Bansal, MD, Dorset, while advising the fraternity to stay calm, is of the opinion that the industry needs to understand each other, work collectively and deal with the crisis as a family. “I have one piece of advice for my fellow partners - do not overleverage your business and work on the shorter cycles; for purchasers - buy on cash demand credit, and for suppliers - ensure customers pay before delivery,” he said. We have to see how we cater to our customers in the coming time. There is a need of virtual showrooms where customers can have a full experience of the product,” Mr. Bansal shared. Over the last two months, Dorset, he said, has learnt a few lessons and is working on new business strategies. Besides the physical showrooms, the company is focusing on virtual showrooms, creating demand, reaching out to customers and then connecting them with relevant dealers and channel partners. 

Titra By King Slide

Ar Amit Murao, Ashray Design Consultants too thinks along the same lines. “Virtual showrooms are the future. There is a need to do customization and deliver it to the client. This trend will catch up,” he said. Ozone, on its part, has set up a new display center in Gurgaon where it is displaying its new and innovative launches. “The experience center is not online because there are a lot of high technology items. But we have all the video installations, marketing collateral on our website and on the Ozone app,” shared Mr. Aggarwal. Customers will work online and research online for products that they have been looking for, argued Wolf. “Companies should show their products line online so that people can reach them. Online is here to stay and customers will look online in the market before physically visiting to the shop,” said Mr. Wolf. RAJESH BANSAL  Founder Chairman & Managing Director, Dorset Group

RAJESH BANSAL 
Founder Chairman & Managing Director, Dorset Group

"India is fully geared up to become a manufacturing hub as it is clearly the way forward. It is the responsibility of all of us to manufacture in India. We can produce products that are cost effective as well as qualitative as compared to any Chinese or European products."

 

THE NEED FOR CONTINUOUS TRAINING 

Mr. Bansal felt that if 90% of dealers don’t know about the product then it is the responsibility of the manufacturer or supplier to educate them in terms of value addition and pricing. He shared that his company focuses on training the frontline members in terms of product knowledge, uniqueness and technology. Mr. Aggarwal shared that sales people play musical chairs with each other and that there is no focus on knowledge. “Those sales people, who have knowledge, will always survive,” he said. “They are willing to learn but there is the duty of BD and all to tell them, added Aggarwal. “Our customers have become so incredibly informed when they come to us they know what they want, they have researched product online and ask very pointed question and we are on the same level to them. So learning is perpetual. We focus on teaching our people. It is a minimum requirement now. A dealer who does not know will lose that informed customer,” said Hafele’s Mr. Wolf. He said that having a well-trained team is a matter of survival. Bansal agrees as he says that training must be made an ongoing activity. “Train the sales people, dealers and other channel partners, educate your customers; all these must go hand in hand,”he said, adding, “We all need to change our old style of working.” 

VIVEK DESHPANDE, Co-Founder, Spacewood Furnishers Pvt LtdVIVEK DESHPANDE, Co-Founder, Spacewood Furnishers Pvt Ltd

"Demands were definitely down in the month of May and we received only 20% of the normal inquiries. Even in the lockdown, we did 10-15% of the business. So I think in next 6 months the business will gradually come back to normal."

ALOK AGGARWAL, Managing Director, Ozone Overseas Ltd

 ALOK AGGARWAL, Managing Director, Ozone Overseas Ltd

"sales people play musical chairs with each other and there is no focus on knowledge. As an industry , we must invest on training the frontline members in terms of product knowledge, uniqueness and technology."- ALOK AGGARWAL, Managing Director, Ozone Overseas Ltd

TOUCHLESS INNOVATIONS NEED OF HOUR

TAREK UTTURKAR, Grass-India Sales Head. Utturkars Wood Culture, Partner

TAREK UTTURKAR, Grass-India Sales Head. Utturkars Wood Culture, Partner

"There is less focus on functionality. People talk more about prices and least about functionality. Our main focus has always been on functionality and the value-addition that our products can give."--TAREK UTTURKAR, Grass-India Sales Head. Utturkars Wood Culture, Partner

Given the times that we are living in, hardware companies have come up with innovative product range with hygiene as prime feature for both commercial as well as residential purpose. “We have many products that meet today’s need. Products that we did not focus on earlier have suddenly come to notice; eg electronic locks, electronic openings where you don’t have to touch where you can record or use your finger to open up doors, automatic sliding doors, etc, are becoming popular today,”shared Mr Wolf. Most of the product range is for residential purpose, he added. Touch-sensitive products are more in demand and companies are working towards it. 

Modular fittings by HettichModular fittings by Hettich

Dorset too has come up with innovative products to meet the demand from its customer base. “We always endeavor to give new products and technology. Our safe touch products - which are antibacterial products, were launched two years back. We have been selling these products to various hospitality industries; now with COVID coming in, we are now available with anti-bacterial coating products for our customer. We have also launched unique touch-free devices, like Dorset tap, to allow for pushing or pulling the doors without touching it. The products are affordable,” shared Bansal. 

UNIBOX miscelatore con deviatore by Graff

UNIBOX miscelatore con deviatore by Graff

With work from home becoming more of a norm, hardware for home- automated bed fittings where bed can be converted into a wall thus making work easier and comfortable for lot of employees, will definitely be in demand. Ozone has come up with hardware that is space friendly. “We have launched automatic bed; have integrated facial recognition based access control system that is not only cost effective but can be integrate with given tools that can detect temperature , record attendance of the person and can check whether the person has put on a mask or not,” shared Mr. Aggarwal. Besides this, he said, Ozone is developing furniture hardware for home apart from kitchen and wardrobe and furniture spaces. “There are innovative fittings coming in,” he added. Mr. Deshpande expressed the need for such innovative products in the commercial space for both office and public space solution needs. 

MAKE IN INDIA 

BHARAT KAWEDIA, Modulinea Modular Systems, Mumbai 

BHARAT KAWEDIA, Modulinea Modular Systems, Mumbai 

"It all depends upon the market you choose; architects and interior designers have started their work. The furniture industry will not take a back seat. Recovery is there; those in need are surely going to spend the money."

It’s been a while now that there have been ample deliberations over the importance of setting up manufacturing base in India. It is one of the pet projects of the Government of India and gradually things are falling in place, albeit at a low pace. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions in the supply chain and brought to the fore our dependence on import, more so from China. The more recent skirmishes at the border have further fuelled a boycott of sort of Chinese goods and services. This further paves the way for Make in India. “India is fully geared up; manufacturing is clearly the way forward. It is the responsibility of all of us to manufacture in India. We can produce products that are cost effective as well as qualitative as compared to any Chinese or European products,”remarked Mr. Bansal of Dorset.

Pedal Works Hands-Free Faucet ControllerPedal Works Hands-Free Faucet Controller

“Companies are seeking opportunities to manufacture in India. But for manufacturing you need partners who are professional, understand quality and can work to scale and that has been really the big problem - there is no scale, apart from a handful of them. We’ve been actively looking to manufacture in India to particpate more in the market,” said Mr. Wolf. Understandably, the need is of manufacturers who can produce good quality products, focus on collaborations, investments and more importantly come together to adopt the industry’s best practices. 

AR AMIT MURAO, Ashray Design Consultants

Architects AMIT MURAO, Ashray Design Consultants

"There will be a paradigm shift in end-users and clients’ mentality; there will be certain reluctance in going to the shops. Virtual Showrooms are the Future. Going forward the demand for customization and delivery to the client will grow." -AR AMIT MURAO, Ashray Design Consultants

SHANTILAL DUNGERSHI NISHAR, Nisar Hardware, Mumbai (Retail)

SHANTILAL DUNGERSHI NISHAR, Nisar Hardware, Mumbai (Retail)

"Generally dealers lack product knowledge. They purchase just to sell the product in the market and do not focus much on the product details, its uniqueness or its functionalities."--SHANTILAL DUNGERSHI NISHAR, Nisar Hardware, Mumbai (Retail)

 

THE LAST WORD

 It’s a transition phase for the industry, those of who can adapt to the new norms and business realities will survive, and others are more likely to perish. The short-term to mid-term outlook is not so encouraging. The industry needs to promote quality and functionality, educate its sales team as well as channel partners, and come up with new innovative products that is functional & in tune with the changing times and evolved consumer preferences. Pricing must be left to be determined by the market forces. Not only the pandemic, but the ongoing geo-political situation is fast disrupting the global supply chain; the Indian hardware industry must shed its dependence on import and invest in becoming self-reliant. The manufacturing pie must grow bigger so as to truly become an industry; the presence of a few good indigenous manufacturers does not create the aura of an industry. 

*Architectural hardware solutions by Sugatsune

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