Sidhartha Bhushan Khurana, managing director, Studds Accessories Ltd talks to us about the future of the helmet industry in India along with Studds’ plans
Q: What measures did the brand undertake to cope up with the impact of the pandemic?
A: “This has been a challenging time, not only for us, but the entire automotive industry which was already witnessing a slowdown since the previous fiscal. As a responsible corporate, we decided to halt all operations amongst our manufacturing facilities but this pandemic helped us to innovate and we started manufacturing face shields, protective goggles and face masks. Our manufacturing plants were closed only for eight days. We have been practicing social distancing at all our plants and regular employee screenings. We are also striving to educate our workforce on how to stay safe from this virus.”
Q: The new manufacturing facility was to be operational by March-end, is there a new timeline now for the plant to be fully running?
A: “The plans for the inauguration of our newest plants were surely delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, we have currently begun operations at this plant. We are looking at slowly increasing production over the course of the next few months. With these two new plants, we have doubled the production capacity of the company from seven million helmet units to 14 million helmet units per annum.”
Q: Is the new plant a part of the government’s make-in-India initiative?
A: “This new plant was created in line with the vision of the government for supporting local manufacturers under the Make in India scheme, which is set to drive sales and bring in more demand from the markets. With the Vocal for Local initiative, we will see more customers opting for home grown brands over foreign manufacturers and with this plant, we would be servicing to their demands, going forward.”
Q: What kind of investments have been made for the new plant?
A: “We have made an initial investment close to Rs 200 Crore in expanding operations. Out of this investment, Rs 160 Crore was made to our newest facility and Rs 40 Crore was made to another smaller facility that was started few months ago. This facility is geared towards the production of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), which is a crushable foam used in helmet production and is the most important safety feature in the helmet. Incidentally, it is the only manufacturing facility in India with an EPS production line.”
Q: Are there any significant revisions being made to the scale of production considering the fluctuating demand?
A: “As stated earlier, we have recently began production in our newest facility and are planning to slowly ramp up production- so I wouldn’t say there have been any cutbacks in the productions due to the COVID-led lockdown. While there were muted demands for a prolonged period, we have however, seen a swift return in the market sentiment as the situation has progressively become better. We are studying the consumer habits and are scaling up production accordingly.”
Q: The company was working on introducing newer technologies in line with the current trends for connectivity on the go. What can we expect on this front?
A: “We are the pioneers in helmet manufacturing and to that credit, we have constantly been striving to introduce better products to our stakeholders. We have always adhered to our mantra of innovating continuously & never settle for anything but the best. Our range of high-quality helmets & motorcycle accessories are a reflection of our commitment to this philosophy.”
Q: Could you explain the bone conduction technology? How far until buyers actually get to experience this solution?
A: “It has been stated by us that we are focusing on a new version of the helmet which also comes with an incorporated camera and bone-conduction technologies. In this technology, music may be heard by bone-conduction without the aid of microphones. Bone-conduction sound systems create sensations which are conveyed across the bones to the senses. The helmets will be available for domestic as well as international markets. We are in the initial stage of production of the helmet and it is a little difficult at the moment to give a timeline to the product’s introduction.”
Q: With geopolitical tensions with China, what has the impact been on imports and the overall supply-chain?
A: “The geopolitical tensions with China have low to none impact on our operations as we have had very limited imports from that country. With the current sentiment going around, we can expect the sales of domestic brands to rise and we may as well see India climb up in the export market. Considering factors like India an economical market for manufactures especially helmets, Studds has been exporting helmets to more than 40 countries across the globe.”
Q: The BIS just removed the 1.2kg weight cap on helmets. What is your take on this move?
A: “Removal of weight restriction will not only benefit manufacturer but this will have huge impact in terms of choices for the commuters. Earlier we were not able to sell many models which were internationally accredited but weight restriction was not allowing us to sell them in India. These helmets would not only be safer for commuters but will also be technologically advanced. This will also open the door for many global players to look towards India as a potential market.”
Q: Internationally manufactured helmets generally weigh in the range of 1300-1500gm. President of Two Wheeler Helmet Manufacturers Association recently said: “The members of Two-Wheeler Helmet Manufacturers Association are already making lighter helmets starting from about 700gm.” Would chasing lightness in helmets compromise safety? Would it not be better to create a helmet that not only meets, but exceeds current standards set by Indian regulatory bodies and meet those of international standards?
A: “According to the last restrictions, we could not sell to sell Department of Transportation (US standard DOT) or ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) certified helmets in India. We were exporting 1,400-1,500gm helmets to countries like Korea, Philippines etc but could not sell the in our country. Now with new norms, we can sell heavier helmets in India which would obviously be more technologically advanced that will offer better choice for riders and high-end motor sport consumers. However, our entire range of helmets goes thorough stringent safety tests.”
Q: Is Studds coming with a range of bicycle helmets?
A: “We at Studds, have been working towards bringing new range of bicycle helmets in India which will be manufactured in our new manufacturing facilities. With this step, Studds will become the only manufacturer in India to produce bicycle helmets in the country.”
Q: Is the SMK range contributing to higher sales now as Indian bikers move to premium motorcycles?
A: “SMK has been doing exceptionally well in the domestic markets as well, with more riders opting for a premium headgear for their safety and comfort. We are already amongst the segment leaders in the premium space, despite SMK being a fairly new brand. The market demand for these products has reached more than what we used to supply. With the new plant in place, we have been ramping up our production to cater to these demands.”
Q: What does the future look like for Studds?
A: “The future outlook for our brand is positive. We are currently the market leader and the biggest helmet manufacturer in the world, in terms of numbers. In the next few quarters, our efforts would be channelled towards extending our leadership in the domestic market. In the global landscape, we would like to increase in the volumes and have more customer confidence in SMK - which is only a 4-year-old brand. We are already on track towards achieving our goals and are looking at a strong Year-on-Year growth by the end of the current fiscal.”