Ajay Aggarwal
The Action Group is an established multi-diversified conglomerate with interests in areas as diverse as footwear (Action Shoes), computer peripherals & power inverters (Microtek), real estate (Microtek Infrastructures), healthcare (Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute), chemicals (API Chemicals & Plasticizers), and now, panel boards (Action TESA). The Group has remained committed to values such as integrity, quality, and innovation so much so that the brand 'Action' and its associated labels have become synonymous with excellence, value-for-money, and the consumers' unshakable trust. In the quest to delve into the company's surfaces business, Syed E. Hasan met with Mr. Ajay Aggarwal, Director at Balaji Action Group. He talks at length about the latest trends in flooring, the company's presence as the only local player, and the growth prospects of laminate flooring. Excerpts:

How do you see the trend of laminate flooring in domestic market?
India's flooring market comprising tiles, marbles, vinyl, linoleum, engineered wood, hard wood, carpet flooring, laminate flooring, etc., is estimated at Rs. 80,000 crore. Of this, laminate flooring, including imports, worth Rs. 1,200 crore accounts for 1.5% only. This is way behind the global average as internationally laminate flooring accounts for 25% of the total flooring market indicating a lot of scope for us in the country ahead.

Laminate flooring in the country is picking up very fast as every new homeowner, especially of an apartment is willing to have at least one room done with it. This is because walking over it brings a kind of soothing feeling to the occupants. Besides, various other attributes like sustainability, eco-friendliness, design element, etc. are helping it (laminate flooring) in gaining customers' attention. Also, the installation/replacement mantra in laminate flooring is – 'instant' yet cost-effective, without any fuss of digging the floor or using concrete which are a must in case of standard ceramic tiles in case there occurs any damage.

How has laminate flooring been evolved over the years?
From last five years, the way laminate flooring is growing is simply marvellous. Take any residential project pan India, each apartment starting from 2BHK is opting for laminate flooring at least in one of the bedrooms. This shows that demand for laminate flooring is on the up and is moving exponentially. We are getting more business from projects' side especially from the modern residential apartment system, which are comparatively more organised, well-informed, and are interested to lay laminate flooring. On an average, there are 500 flats in an apartment project within a society, and around 600 such societies are expected in Gurgaon alone in the NCR. Similar developments are going on across India hinting exponential growth for laminate flooring.

Laminates Flooring

Laminate flooring is also getting good attention in the hospitality sector, while the commercial sector is still showing reluctance. How do you see this shift?
No doubt that laminate flooring is the way forward in the hospitality industry given the fact that the interiors there are renovated every five or seven years. Also, replacement of damaged pieces is a lot faster and economical in comparison to ceramic and other conventional flooring options. It is non-emitting and is also a healthy flooring solution vis-a-vis carpets and tiles. What's more, cleaning and maintaining laminate flooring is much easier and economical too. Also, since it absorbs sound, it helps maintain the privacy of the occupant. But when it comes to commercial segment, the acceptance level is still very low but we are sure it will change.

We have learnt that coastal areas are not suitable for wood-based flooring. How do you see this perception at Action TESA?
In India, there are a lot of myths about wood-based flooring especially about laminate flooring. For instance, it is prone to termite, can hardly resist water, and can easily get deteriorated in a very short span of time thereby ruining the aesthetics of the interiors. But, from last couple of years, a lot has changed. The fact of the matter is that the long lasting laminate flooring installed in the country way back in the year 2000 by foreign players including Pergo, Egger, and Armstrong has brought in some faith in the minds of the consumers. The only need is to maintain high-quality standard, which we, at Action TESA, guarantee. Believe me; major contribution in the company's revenue is coming from coastal areas like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, etc. Action TESA, while manufacturing HDF laminated flooring seals all the four edges of the plank with Wax thereby minimising the contraction & expansion of the same, resulting to zero complaint in the product.

wood Based Flooring

We understand that Indian market is flooded with imported stuff when it comes to laminate flooring. How tough is the fight for a local player like Action TESA?
Despite being a late entrant in the already import-flooded segment, we are currently the largest manufacturer of laminate flooring in the country. Being a local manufacturer, we can take the customers' call faster than any other import-based supplier in the country. What we are offering is the decade long warranty against any damage including the look and the installation that no other importer at our level is currently coming up with. Apart from that we have a dedicated team trained by us to keep away the flaws at the time of installation as age of the substance depends a lot on how it has been installed. For most of the low quality cheap imports, the installers are local boys who are not really trained in that fashion, leaving some defect or discrepancy leading to deterioration of the floors in a very short span of time. Apart from that being a local player, we score high over importers. We already have done a few installations during last four years and have not been reported any damage till date. Instead, the customers are happy and we are getting a lot of repeat orders.

Meanwhile, it is also a fact that India is still a price-sensitive market and so are quite a few builders here. Accordingly, to serve the purpose, they (builders) are pushing the market for low quality cheap imports. However, for us to match that price is not possible as we can't compromise on quality, and hence, we are unable to feed a market segment, which is really showing exponential scope for laminate flooring.

How to differentiate the quality product?
For this, our technical team carries a handy machine onsite to test the attributes like abrasion, water-resistance, stain-resistance, etc., to demonstrate the quality before the customers. Notably, there are many other testing parameters. And in case, they are not satisfied with our technique, they can even approach for lab-testing.

Typically, laminate flooring manufacturers outsource basic raw materials like MDF and HDF. The advantage with us is that we have the backward integration for all these as we manufacture MDF and HDF in-house. Accordingly, unlike other players in the country's laminate flooring segment, quality control for final product is not an issue because whatsoever improvisation is to be done, it is done in the basic material i.e., MDF and HDF.

Action Tesa Flooring

What is the kind of emphasis laid on the design element before launching new products?
Action TESA before launching a product first analyses the application of the product world over and its relevance in the Indian context. Apart from this, it also compares what is available in the Indian market from imports. The customer preference is assessed in terms of utility/functionality, preferences for décor and cost. Using these inputs, a product is designed. Easy installation plus design element and the feel that it brings under users' feet is unexplainable.

How do you approach specifiers like architects and interior designers? What is their role in developing new products?
For specifiers including architects and interior designers, we have a project team who keeps visiting them; introduces them with our various products along with the latest ones, talks of various attributes to let them know why they should opt for this flooring over any other materials. Besides, we do have other ways to come in contact with them. For instance, we had recently organised a competition for architects who are recommending laminate flooring in their projects. We asked them about their experience, new experiment, and design element that they created with the help of our laminate flooring. We also distributed awards on the occasion. It was a good experience for us as around 300 architects responded, and offered us their valuable suggestions on design development.

Which are the other ways, the company gets engaged with specifiers?
Apart from this, we regularly participate in tradeshows like IndiaWood, DelhiWood, Index, etc. These shows are specifiers– specific, wherein they walk-in to know the latest in the industry and share their experiences from their respective clients. In between, we keep organising architects meet to be in touch with them and to make them feel that we value them. Laminate flooring in India is limited only up to AC3/AC4. But we are the only one in the country to have introduced 20 designs in AC3, 9 designs in AC4, 4 designs in Synchronized Flooring & 10 design in Herringbone Flooring. We also have come up with 12mm thickness laminated flooring in market to provide as many options to our customers as possible. None of the players have yet come with as many variants in this segment. This could all be possible with the help of specifiers' suggestions. First, we develop new product/design, and then we take it to the architects to have their feedback on furthering the manufacturing process. Whichever they pass, we continue with that.