Mumbai: Devashish Bagchi, director of physical education and sports at Smt Parvatibai Chowgule College of Arts and Science in Margao, Goa, says the turf the college laid out on its football field three years ago is serving it well.
“It cost us Rs3 crore, but after that it’s maintenance-free for the next 20 years,” says Bagchi. Twenty years? The Chowgule College football field has artificial grass with the look and feel of real grass. Bagchi says he has had to “comb” (clean and straighten the fibres) just once since installation.
Welcome to the world of Suravaram Marketing Pvt. Ltd, a Hyderabad-based company that represents Montreal-based FieldTurf Tarkett in India and other South Asian nations as an exclusive licensee to import, market, sell and install artificial grass, which is manufactured in Dalton, Georgia in the US, and Auchel in France.
Combating nature: Suravaram Marketing’s Anil Kumar.
While 85% of Suravaram’s revenues come from the 15 varieties of grass it markets and installs, laying of synthetic athletic tracks and indoor sports flooring make up the rest. Founded in 2004, Suravaram claims at least 1,000 installations in India, across sports arenas, rooftops and balconies, educational institutions, clubs, children’s play areas and traffic islands, spanning an area of 580,000 sq. ft.
Owning a business was on Suravaram managing director Anil Kumar’s mind even before his graduation in engineering from Osmania University, Hyderabad.
“With some work experience and a move back to India in 2004 (he was in the US for seven years prior to this, working with Wipro Ltd and Ramco Systems), it seemed like the ideal time to take the plunge,” says Kumar. “Zeroing in on this opportunity took a lot of planning, analysis and footwork. I felt that with artificial grass, we were not only providing aesthetics, but also a product that had high utility value.”
A football moves on the surface at “natural speed”, says Chowgule College’s Bagchi. “Besides, it is porous and semipermeable which means there is no waterlogging.”
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But the challenge for Suravaram is that its product is 10-20 times more expensive than natural grass. “It’s ideal for climates where you cannot grow high-quality grass, but the challenge is whether in India, where people typically think short term, it can replace the low cost of natural grass and the mali (gardener),” says Sandeep Aneja, chief operating officer and managing director of Milestone Capital Advisors Pvt. Ltd, a real estate fund with about $600 million (Rs2,910 crore) under management.
Kumar admits that natural grass is the biggest competitor. “Initially, people were not willing to pay for this more expensive product which they were not familiar with. They also doubted its durability.” He tackled this by focusing on convincing the architect community. “Once they got convinced, it led to a few installations, and from there, we built up momentum,” he recalls.
Further, internationally, while FieldTurf (the artificial grass) is largely used in sports arenas, India’s relatively low focus on sports infrastructure, may mean a market that’s limited. “In India, given the relatively low focus and investment in sports infrastructure, we saw a far quicker and stronger acceptance in the landscaping market (homes, businesses, clubs, public parks),” says Kumar.
That said, while the number of sports arenas the company equips with FieldTurf may be low, the size of these projects means they derive maximum revenues out of these, as and when they happen. Suravaram had a turnover of Rs3.5 crore in the year ended March, and profits of Rs38 lakh, according to Kumar.
Almost 85% of this turnover was derived from land-scaping projects, with the remaining coming from laying of synthetic athletic tracks and indoor sports flooring. “If we get something as big as a football field, the top line (revenue) tends to shoot up,” said Kumar.
Prominent corporate clients include Infosys Technologies Ltd, Reliance Industries Ltd, Microsoft India Pvt. Ltd, and Coca-Cola India.
Suravaram Marketing Pvt. Ltd, Dharya Information Pvt. Ltd and MedSphere Technologies Pvt. Ltd are among the nominated companies at the Tata NEN Hottest Startups competition, of which Mint is the official print media partner. Details of the competition can also be accessed at www.livemint.com/hotteststartups