How These Legacy Stationary Brands are Penning an Everlasting Chronicle This market, which is a close to INR 20,000 crore industry and growing at a CAGR of 15 per cent plus, is highly competitive in nature and dominated by a few leading players

By Sugandh Bahl

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Have a thought in mind, pen it down. Want to achieve something, map it out. Want to fill in colours, craft it out. This is how the pencils, colours, sharpeners and erasers have been utilized for all these years.

But when was the last time you used a pencil, pen or an eraser? Moreover, in the present scenario of digitization, need for a pen to pen down something has lessened? For legacy stationary brands, such as Camlin, Solo Files, Navneet and Hindustan pencils, launching innovative products is a continuous process that begins with an in-depth understanding of consumer needs and changes in the market-place. Earlier, the student's category dominated the stationery industry but, these companies are now adding new products to their previous range, which include premium gifting and office stationery. This market, which is a close to INR 20,000 crore industry and growing at a CAGR of 15 per cent plus, is highly competitive in nature and dominated by a few leading players.

Banking on Nostalgia

During school days, it is a matter of pride to own a set of colorful and fashionable stationery. Moreover, kids are prone to buying and losing stationery on a daily basis. So, school stationery has always grabbed more attention and has been more widely accessible amongst the lot.

According to Sardul Khan, Partner, Ernest & Young (India), churns out 20 to 25 crore students every year, therefore the student stationery segment is bound to show a boost and grow stronger in years to come.

Echoing similar views, Saumitra Prasad, Chief Marketing Officer, Kokuyo Camlin says, "We have all grown up using Camlin Flora Pencil in our school days and those carry oodles of nostalgia for each one of us."

The legacy stationery brand, Camlin, which have entered into a joint venture with Japanese Stationery giant, Kokuyo, has recently re-launched Camlin Flora Classic in the original design to ignite such emotions. Also, Indians do not generally adapt to any newer innovations in the first go. Stationery is one sector where people are still happy with conventional designs and price point. At the same time, earlier when there were few players, one could foray into multiple segments so that anything one would launch, they would have immediate buyers.

But today, with multiple players, stationeries are being launched from a customer's point of view. Amit Gupta, Managing Director, SOLO, says, "In addition to our present range, we have been playing a lot on colour schemes to keep the buyers attracted towards our products."

The brand, launched in 1958, has always focused on manufacturing affordable and good quality school and office stationery for all age group.

As a strategy Camlin, which dominated the market for ages, is trying to introduce product which will make learning fun for children. "We have been continuously innovating to develop products which meet the unmet needs of today's school children. To illustrate it, we developed a product called brush pen which has four components in one single product," says Prasad.

Pointing out another aspect of the business, the experts opine that Indian buyers are price sensitive but are ready to spend more if dependable products are offered. "Instead of going wide, they have to go deep. Therefore, the traditional players need to see what they specialize in and should go deep into it. Their supply chains, products, manufacturing, etc. needs to revolve around their specializations only, rather than going widespread," Khan adds.

Though competition drives the market crazy for new products, it has its positive side too, as this way the consumer can get the best product he wishes for, in different price ranges. Navneet Publications, which is a major leader in West India, has introduced a range for professionals and college students that includes highlighters, whiteboard markers and permanent markers. Navneet's pillar is its quality products, excellent distribution channel, innovative cover design, product information transparency and availability.

Mapping The Future

The writing instruments segment in India is a very lucrative market for various brands worldwide simply because of its sheer size. Camlin, brand has been synonymous with innovative products for the price sensitive Indian market for over six decades and have had a rich legacy of introducing many first in the market products – from Artist Acrylic Colours to Mechanical Pencils and High Polymer Lead to Brush Pens.

Their upcoming launch of washable crayons can now help kids express their creativity on any surface including walls. "We've used Chhota Bheem branding on some of our products such as pencils and crayons for three years in a row now, and we've found sales in these categories growing by 15- 20 per cent, against the industry average of 9 per cent," says Prasad.

On the other hand, SOLO Files is crafting Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiative of Swachh Bharat by planning to foray into the cleanliness segment. "We are on the verge of introducing our very own handy cleanliness products in the market which in turn would help create widespread awareness. The products would be manufactured on international grounds with no compromise on quality," says Shailendra Gala, Director, Navneet. The company's entire portfolio has undergone a sea-change in terms of design, quality and aesthetics. "We have undertaken a very ambitious growth plan. We would like to become the most loved stationery brand in the country today and we have aggressive plans to achieve that," Gala adds.

Legacy Brands a Challenge for Startups

It is a risky job for start-ups to mess up with reputed brands. According to Khan, start-ups like "Letternote" are spreading their wings the omni way, rather than competing with the retail giants as they are well aware of their strong footprint already. These online brands might attack their core customer base but can't play around with their core competencies.

Therefore, the only way they can disrupt the market is if they begin buying things with a planned perspective rather than instant buying. Stationery retailing is no longer about stores with dusty shelves filled with notebooks, a few writing instruments, glue and staplers. It is creating product which are innovative and durable like pens that last, highlighters that do not dry up, durable file folders, etc. And in the digital era, they have to make sure that holding a pen is still interesting.

Sugandh Bahl

Former Feature Writer, Entrepreneur India Magazine

Journalism has been in my roots since my school days. Beginning with a content specialist at CRY organisation to landing up being a Feature writer/correspondent at The Entrepreneur Magazine, life has experienced ups and downs fairly well. A foodie by nature and pet over at heart, currently I am thoroughly enjoying my tenure at The Entrepreneur!

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