‘Precision and performance of global standard – That’s JAI’
A boldly rational vision of mechanising the woodworking industry – one most unorganised sectors in India speaks a lot about the strong founding principle of JAI Industries. Established in the pre-liberalisation era by Late Mr. Niranjan Shah, the company, now ably run by the second generation has created a niche for itself in the field of manufacturing solid woodwork and panel processing machines. From five installations to 5.5 lakh installations, JAI has witnessed the growth of Indian woodworking industry from the closest quarters. Mr. Nirav Shah, Managing Director, JAI Industries spoke to Modern Woodwork on the past, present and future of JAI and the industry.
Modern Woodwork: JAI Industries is no doubt the doyen of Indian woodworking machinery manufacturers. Please let our readers know how have you grown, along with the market, decade-by-decade over the past 54 years. What were the peculiarities of each decade and how has JAI succeeded in capturing the pulse of the customers and understanding their ever changing needs?
NS: Oh, that’s a long story encompassing many generational changes! My father, Late Mr. Niranjan Shah established JAI Industries in 1965. The first decade was of a bit slower growth, confined to our home state of Gujarat in western India. But JAI believed in giving value for money from the beginning. Quality, affordability and reliability was in our genes since day one. These values helped us grow in second decade and we gradually started expanding to other states. Over the next two decades JAI focussed on expanding the range of machines, models and dealer network for sales.
By 1990, JAI Industries had the largest range of solid woodwork machinery and the biggest sales network in India with 100+ dealers. Quality combined with value for money, wider selection of machines and models, fast availability of service and ready spare parts helped JAI become industry leader and retain leadership throughout its existence. At that point of time we were nearly 10 times ahead of our nearest competitor in terms of sales.
The new millennium, year 2000, brought new technologies, new industries, newer opportunities and JAI entered the ever-growing Panel Process Machinery market. The first two decades of the new millennium posed several challenges like making foothold, overcoming the image of a Desi (indigenous) company and establishing the brand in this specialized marketplace that was highly dominated by multinational companies. However, with the strong foundation of making customer-centric machines and our adaptability to new techniques to reach out to the target customers, we are now selling more machines than any of the international player in panel process machinery segment. Our recently launched premium range under new brand ‘Optimus’ is being accepted whole-heartedly by the Indian panel process industry and posing a tough challenge to leading European brands.
MW: The founder of JAI Industries, your father, Late Mr. Niranjan Shah, was truly a visionary. In 1965, much before the era of globalisation, he paved a way for Original Brand Manufacturing (OBM) and used to sell on an average 5 to 8 machines a month through a network of mere 2 to 3 dealers. What are these statistics upto in 2019?
NS: Myself and my brother Nikhil are proud of our father’s legacy of honesty, quality and cost controlling. He paved the way for us to build a company that is holding leadership position for over five decades. Niranjanbhai made JAI a trustworthy name with his commitment and hard work. Nikhil joined force in 1980s and built the brand JAI as we know it today. Little later, when I joined JAI Industries, together we proved to be a formidable, unbeatable force. And now the, third generation has already joined JAI Industries to take it to the next level. Nikhil’s son Neel and my son Aditya got themselves qualified in handling a business of such a magnitude. Over and above the core education, they dedicated a couple of years in learning the ropes and now contributing significantly in strategizing and heading various initiatives at our corporate office – proving our claim that JAI is here for now, forever.
From 5 to 8 machines a month in the beginning, today we manufacture 3,000 machines a month. Till now, we have sold over 5,50,000 machines through our network of 250+ dealers, including a few company showrooms at key locations.
MW: Please tell our readers more about your range of machines and how have you expanded this over the time. What kind of research is done before launching a new range and how do you protect your intellectual property rights?
NS: Those who have used, seen, checked or followed JAI catalogues and website know that how organized we are about our range of machines. Whether it is ‘WudPro’ range for solid wood or panel process ranges ‘Modula’ or ‘Optimus’, we have well defined options for almost all machines, based on quality, production capacity, technology, features and budgets. This helps our customers immensely. JAI has all the essential machinery for any panel processing unit. We have a dedicated team of engineers to study and research global developments in the woodworking sector in the Indian context. Our R&D works year-round and by and large, we launch 5 to 7 machines every year.
Besides new machine launches, we keep on improving and updating our existing ranges; so patenting all changes is not possible. But we meticulously attend to compelling communication and brand building, which gives JAI a high recall value and place of preference in customers’ mind. And of course we copyright all our names and brand identities. As you can see, this strategy has worked well.
Nirav Shah on:
- Aim for producing high-precision machines customised for indigenous requirements
- Roped in third generation to take the business to the next level
Indian woodworking industry:
- India has just begun the journey to affluence
- Next three decades hold a great future for wood and panel processing industry
- Need relaxation in wood import duty
- Need flexibility in environmental laws
- Environmental concerns and cost affecting development of non-wood-based materials
- Robotics furniture and shape-shifting materials are too radical for Indian market
MW: How do you distinguish JAI’s machines from the similar options available with European and Chinese brands?
NS: The most distinguishing feature of JAI machines as compared to any of the imported brand is, ‘Made in India, Made for India’. This means, JAI is a world class manufacturer making machines with specific needs of Indian industries. These include operational ease, realistic production capacities, affordable installation costs, ready availability of after sales service and spare parts etc. We, as a local company, work like a friendly, co-operative adviser, guide and solution provider.
However, this doesn’t mean that JAI machines come with a compromise on quality and functionalities. All our machines have precision and performance of European standard, best than any machines made in India and equivalent to any imported one.
MW: JAI Industries is now a familiar name not only in India, but across the developing continents like Africa. How do you look at the Indian market vis-à-vis other developing countries? Which are your key markets apart from India and how do you service your domestic and international clients?
NS: There definitely exists a huge market in these developing countries. Though it is one of our focus areas, we acknowledge that our strength lies in creating solutions that suits Indian context. Yet, we maintain a significant supply chain to African and Gulf countries alongwith a few countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh in the Indian Subcontinent. I must mention here that we never look at a market only from the sales perspective. We have a dedicated export division to develop clientele, understand their specific needs, work on country-specific changes in machineries and look after their sales and service requirements.
“When India will be ready to go robotic, JAI will go robotic, I can assure.”
– Mr. Nirav Shah, Managing Director, JAI Industries
MW: According to a report for HSBC, people from low to high-income group spend around 4.8 to 5.9 % of total household income for furnishing and household income per annum. India, as of now, falls in the bracket of population having low to lower-middle income group. However, by 2050, India is predicted to cross the average income strata and move to a upper middle income group. How do you look at the changing consumer habits and trends?
NS: Our needs are different than developed world and JAI Industries’ strength lies in identifying those needs, fulfilling them and simultaneously propel next stage of growth and trends. Our communication strategist define JAI as ‘the most happening place in its segment’, so the wood and panel process industry can rely on us to walk with them into 2050’s India. As you rightly mentioned, future holds great promise for the Indian furniture industry, as we have just begun our journey to affluence.
“Cracking the Panel Processing Machinery (PPM) market was the toughest strategic exercise in marketing, advertising and actual sales. Our dealers, customers are the biggest source of valuable feedback for us. We began with entry-level machinery, progressed to mid segment and now – with ‘Optimus’, we are in high-end segment as well.”
– Mr. Nirav Shah, Managing Director, JAI Industries
MW: On the sheer scale basis, how do you compare Indian furniture industry with the neighbouring Chinese furniture industry? What kind of policy measures do you suggest to give an impetus to the local furniture industry? Do we need to develop a special geographic zone like Foshan to grow exponentially?
NS: We are nowhere near China’s furniture industry. What they call their ‘medium sized industry’ is so huge and large scale, it fails our imagination! Imagine, how big could be their actual ‘large scale industry’? They are manufacturing (with complete automation) for the entire world, over and above their local requirements. This is the reason for their exponential growth. India, I think, will require (at least) a decade to reach somewhere near that kind of scale.
So, I don’t think we need to develop a special geographic zone, as you suggest. We have failed miserably in our experiments with establishing Special Economic Zones. What we need is firm policies and affirmative steps that can help manufacturers in realistic sense. Measures like wood import duty relaxation, flexibility in environment laws (maintaining sustainability of cities and forests), easing the finance availability etc. would help this industry grow exponentially in India.
MW: Over the past few years, Indian woodworking industry has shifted towards panel processing from solid wood. JAI Industries has had a right strategy of introducing panel processing machines during this transition. Please shed more light on this transition and on JAI’s approach.
NS: Wood, being a natural resource, is getting costlier. That made the solid wood working machinery a stagnant market. Yet, the growth is amazing with the kind of machine sales we witness every year! JAI still holds the lion’s share in the segment. Our ‘WudPro’ range started out with machines for carpenters, then machines for mid-level workshops were added; graduating to machines to suit saw mills and volume-based mass production units. Recently, we added a special range of machines for handicraft industry.
With decades of experience, we were able to spot the trend, movement of economy and gauge the pulse of the market, before 2000. We started studying the potential of panel process industry during late ‘90s. We will have to admit that there were initial hiccups in a machine we engineered; but that’s all. We never faced much problems in whatever we designed and manufactured in PPM range thereafter. We also collaborated with Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers for captive manufacturing of our designed machines. Our association with European companies like SCM and Turanlar also helped us understand the Euro-level technology, design and manufacturing practices. Cracking the PPM market was the toughest strategic exercise in marketing, advertising and actual sales. Our dealers, customers are the biggest source of valuable feedback and we always listen to them and learn a lot. We began with entry-level machinery, progressed to mid segment and now – with ‘Optimus’, we are in high-end segment as well.
If we make a documentary film on JAI’s growth, it will run concurrent to growth of Indian wood and panel industry as a whole and prove to be a worthy lesson for current and future players in the segment, I am sure!
MW: The world is moving towards green, sustainable and non-wood-based materials for furniture manufacturing. How are you looking at this possible transition and what kind of research and development are you doing on this front?
NS: Environment concerns, cost restrictions, changes in the needs and usage patterns are affecting this trend. These materials and machines need integration between different industries. In India, leading manufacturers who are developing such materials, ask for assistance in feedback, testing, operational inputs and experience-based guidance from JAI Industries.
We keep ourselves abreast of such new developments by our own study, research and experiments in tackling newer materials. We feel that if the non-wood material is economical, India would embrace it wholeheartedly.
MW: Do you see the robotics furniture, multipurpose furniture, and furniture with shape-shifting materials a reality few years from now?
NS: These are too radical ideas and require highly advanced technology. And such changes take place very slowly in India. So I don’t think this will happen in next few years. When India will be ready to go robotic, JAI will go robotic… that much I can assure.
MW: JAI Industries is predominantly working in the field of manufacturing machines that is hardware. Have you ever thought of venturing into the software part of the business? What are the possible challenges that are prohibiting you from entering this stream?
NS: Computerised machinery that uses such software inputs is at minimal level. Computerised ease of work and automisation is not as yet mainstream in India. There is hardly 10% clientele for such machinery. We need volume of business to enter and be effective, which is at present lacking. General industrial work environment is also not conducive for such sophisticated machinery. Otherwise, it is not prohibitively tough or costly proposition to enter this field. We will have to wait. But I am optimistic that if economy improves, the wait will be shorter.
MW: Your views on Industry 4.0. Have you been able to implement it in your manufacturing plant and are you working on it to make most or all your machines compatible with Industry 4.0?
NS: I think, I have partly covered this in my answer to the previous question. I would like to add that JAI Industries is aware of this need for Industry 4.0 level of automisation and gradually moving towards that. Our manufacturing practices are of high calibre, we follow stringent systems to achieve precision manufacturing and it shows in our newly launched ‘Optimus’ range of machineries. In India, the installation cost still matters to buyers before the precision and performance of the machine. Quality consciousness and appreciation for features, functionality and finishing is increasing rapidly with increasing competition and JAI will be in a leading position on these aspects too, soon.
MW: Where do you see JAI in next 10 years?
NS: In today’s parlance, a generation changes in 10 years. Particularly at JAI Industries too, we look forward to generational changes, figuratively and literally. We think, as India is already a consumer hub for international players, in next 10 years it will evolve as the manufacturing hub as well, for world markets. JAI is adequately prepared to tap in to this opportunity. Blueprints are being prepared to diversify in to various fields related with this industry. We will create different verticals that can strengthen and benefit our present core field of competence. This, with a view to take our Indian customers to the next level.
We cannot divulge specifics at this juncture, but those who know JAI knows we will be on forefront in the solid wood and panel process machinery industry always. The young generation at JAI has got national leadership status in their hands as passing of baton, they are eager to push it forward to be in the international big league. Hopefully, we will see it getting materialized in the next decade.
With inputs from: