By 2018, laminates brand Formica’s owners Fletcher Building Ltd had decided to wind up operations in India, following years of indifferent financial performance globally. But in 2019 Broadview Holding B V acquired the Formica business from Fletcher and decided to revive the iconic laminates brand, including in India. Managing director of India operations Ajay Khurana talks about how Formica is making a comeback in India.
Formica, which is said to have invented the laminate, first entered India in 1963. It was the first laminate company in the country. However, it left in 1977 along with several other multinationals, due to unfavourable FDI policies at that time. The brand continued to be marketed by its business partners Bombay Burma, who went on to establish their own homegrown brand Sunmica. In 2010 when Formica returned, it found that the domestic laminates industry had established itself quite well and a first mover advantage was no longer available.
Post the global acquisition in 2019, Broadview Holdings had three mandates for the Formica India leadership – rebuild the organisation, recoup lost position in the laminates market, and capture a leadership position in the uber-luxury segment. And the task fell on Ajay Khurana, the quintessential marathon man of the Indian building products and home improvement industry. He had spent over 22 years at the helm of edge band and furniture components major Rehau India.
Khurana believes that it is the right time for Formica to ‘return’ to India. “The furniture industry is growing at double digits, domestic consumption is on the rise, and new investments are pouring into the economy. We are witnessing all-round growth in the home improvement and décor sectors, following the revival of residential real estate. I believe that all this augurs well for furniture and the related industries.”
Over the past two and a half years, Khurana has virtually rebuilt Formica India from scratch. He has put together a new leadership team, crafted an energetic work culture, revived several old partnerships in the market and signed up new ones, and built a product mix that is in tune with an aspirational India.
The laminates plant at Kalol in Gujarat, which was down to 10 days of operations in a month till 2019, now operates all 30 days. Besides producing for the domestic market, Formica is making in India for its markets in other countries.
Investments are ongoing to induct eco-friendly technologies for the production and operation of the facility. The employees undergo continuous training in areas of marketing, installation, and maintenance of the new-age materials. There is heightened engagement with architects and interior designers, the key influencers in this trade, including their visits to the company’s plants in Italy and sponsoring of awards.
The most interesting thing about Formica’s return is that it is bringing with it its group brands Fenix from Arpa, and Decometal from Homapal, which offer engineered and maintenance-free surface materials in soft, matt, textured and brushed metal finishes.
The company has set up its flagship experience centre in South Extension, the poshest retail address in New Delhi. Here it showcases its solutions and their imaginative applications to various stakeholders such as channel partners, furniture manufacturers, design influencers, etc. Two more experience centres are planned in key cities in the next couple of years.
“Our product mix now comprises the legacy commodity laminates which Formica is known for, as well as the uber-luxury surface solutions from our group companies based in Italy and Germany. Our offerings are unmatched, and we can cater to the most ambitious design aspirations of interior professionals.”
Armed with a rich bouquet of solutions, the Formica India team has been aggressively traversing markets and making the brand’s presence felt at various industry fora. More importantly, says Khurana, the company is opening up the luxury surface solutions market with its unique products. “Fenix and Decometal are the most inspirational surface materials globally, and now we are setting that benchmark in India. We are the Ferrari of surface materials, and there is no match to what we offer.”
According to Khurana, Formica products require a new approach to display and selling. “We want our channel partners to be passionate about interior design. They should be able to show how our solutions add value to the interiors and furniture. Not only should their displays be exclusive, but they should also be able to help their customers innovate with the use of our vast library of materials, finishes and colours.”
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Being architectural products, solutions from the Formica stable need to be specified as per their application. “Therefore, we are selective about our channel partners and invest significantly in sharing our knowledge and training them.”
Likewise, with OEMs, the furniture manufacturers who are the company’s primary customers, Formica has a knowledge-sharing approach to help them move up the value chain. “Indian furniture manufacturers are quite evolved. They are well-informed and invest in the latest technologies and manufacturing processes. They are continuously innovating to create high-value applications for their discerning customers. We believe that our solutions can help them achieve such excellence. We have in place mechanisms to impart design and application knowledge, which our group companies Arpa and Homapal have acquired through their global leadership.”
It is interesting to see how Formica is trying to write a new chapter in the growth of the furniture and interior industry. In this 30-minute conversation, where Khurana talks about how Formica is making a comeback in India, he also hints at how the furniture industry, and consequently the laminates industry, is likely to transform in the coming years.