Sharad Malhotra, president (automotive refinishes and wood coatings), Nippon Paint IndiaWith Chennai Super Kings starting its IPL campaign on a winning note, Nippon Paint India—into the third year of its association with the IPL franchise—has taken a fresh look into its business post pandemic, rolling out a digital campaign titled ‘Nippon Podu, Whistle Podu.’ “Some signs of recovery have begun to emerge,” says Sharad Malhotra, president (automotive refinishes and wood coatings), Nippon Paint India. The relaxation in lockdown and rising rural demand, he adds, have contributed to higher demand over the last couple of weeks, and the lockdown has helped the company develop an alternative business approach. Nippon Paint recently inked a deal with ecommerce platform Snapdeal to make available its range of aerosol spray paint. “We aim to be masters in paint, polish and protect,” he says, adding that the company would be focusing on the various dimensions of the new strategy over the next 2-3 years. Functional coatings is the new focus area, he says. Excerpts from an interview with Forbes India: Q. What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the business? Has there been a rebound? Covid-19, along with weak economic activity, has been a double whammy and a disruption like none other. We have not only been forced to relook at our operations and become more lean and agile, but also adapt to new rules of the game in employee and customer management. We have also been relooking at the evolving customer requirements and developing solutions accordingly. Our business is now at up to 70%-80% of pre-Covid levels. For an organisation like ours, speed-to-market has always been very important and we have always been very good at it. But we have become more agile—whether it is about developing products or marketing them or creating a different strategy. In terms of sales process, we are now looking at virtual and digital sales, engaging with the customer without meeting them. Q. How have you realigned the business to cope with the pandemic? We have taken a fresh look at every aspect of our business, market and operations. We have recast ourselves as not just a paint company, but a company that provides a complete solution in terms of paint, polish and protection. Paint, of course, remains our core business. Protection is a new dimension to our business, for both cars and surfaces. It also includes protecting people in contact. It is a very different kind of platform we are developing. We are talking about a lot of protective coatings that can withstand extreme weather conditions. During the lockdown, we have launched a few brands which are in sync with our new strategy. We are now also focusing on distributed manufacturing, adding ancillary units that give us more capacity and flexibility and reduce risk. We have been able to reduce operating cost by about 20%. Q. What about your wood coatings business? What will be some of the drivers and restraints there, given the new scenario? We entered the wood coatings category in 2016. This business was thriving in the pre-Covid era. We have a strong contractor focus, enabled by digital touch. We will now be focusing more on digital trainings of painters and contractors and developing new relationships with furniture industries and others. Various measures to enhance the appeal of our digital wood initiatives are being planned. Q. The do-it-yourself car care segment is poised for growth in this period… Yes, we are expecting a surge in demand for our products and service offerings, especially the do-it-yourself car care segment. People have become more hygiene conscious and are investing in products that will keep their homes and cars germ-free. Many cab aggregation platforms have a mandatory car cleaning procedure in between two hires. Many people are ditching public transport, keeping in mind social distancing norms. Q. What about beefing up local sourcing? Our supply chain approach has become lot more innovative and local now. A lot of products that we were importing before, we are now looking at locally sourcing them. For example, a part of our aerosol paints came from China, and we are looking to now procure and make them locally. We are also looking to localise our car care range, Sparkle, which was earlier being procured from the US. We are investing less working capital in our raw material requirements.