A family business that started with a capital of just Rs.6,000 in 1964 is today known globally for its prowess in helmet manufacturing and is considered a first-rate original equipment manufacturer. In an exclusive interaction with The Dollar Business, Rajeev Kapur, Managing Director, Steelbird Group, talks about the group’s journey so far and shares his vision for the future.
Interview by Ahmad Shariq Khan | February 2018 Issue | The Dollar Business
TDB: Please tell us about the journey of the Steelbird Group.
Rajeev Kapur (RK): It was my father, Subhash Kapur, who laid the foundation of Steelbird in 1964. At that time, it was a small auto component unit. Sensing a bigger business opportunity in the auto helmets segment, he later ventured into the manufacturing of helmets. I soon joined him. In less than two years, we managed to take the brand to several countries across the world. A company that was started with a capital of just Rs.6,000 is now a Rs.1,500-crore group!
TDB: What are Steelbird’s scale of operations and core competencies today?
RK: We have come a long way from our humble beginnings. We are now Asia’s largest helmet manufacturer, with a diverse clientele including Honda, Vespa and Royal Enfield. Today, buoyed by the strength of our six state-of-the-art plants, Steelbird is known globally as a first-rate, quality original equipment manufacturer (OEM), manufacturing motorcycle helmets, pannier boxes, helmet locking devices and auto accessories. We manufacture a wide variety of helmets to serve all customer segments. We also manufacture customised helmets with anti-scratch, anti-glare and anti-fog visors. Currently, we have four major brands – Steelbird, Ares, Steelbird Air and Ignyte.
TDB: The Steelbird Group has been focussing on diversification lately. What products or services are you planning to venture into or already have?
RK: Today, Steel bird is a truly diversified company with interests not just in helmets but in retail, automobile parts, entertainment, motoring sports, etc. Of late, the Steelbird Group has ventured into new businesses such as e-commerce and introduced Ignyte, a high-end brand for riding gears to tap the global market for biker’s suits, gloves, jackets, etc. Also, Steelbird Entertainment and Steelbird Motorsports have now started franchising exclusive Steelbird Rider shops. The company aims to have about 35 shops across Asia soon. We are also coming up with biking hubs called ‘Motoziel’, a first of its kind concept in India. These hubs would be spread over 19,000 square feet of area and will host top international biking accessories under one roof. The biggest brands of the world in this segment have already started partnering with us. So far, brands like Shark, Shad, Acerbis, SPIDI, Alpinestar, VR 46, etc., have all showcased their products in the store. There is another vertical to this business, Motoziel Edelweiss – our joint venture with Edelweiss, the world’s leading company for premium motorcycle and scooter tours. We have 18 premium motorcycles that are available on rent and for tours that we curate and conduct across the country. Going forward, many more such unique endeavours are in the offing and would be introduced. Steelbird Motorsports is also gearing up for its debut motor sporting event.
TDB: Could you tell us a bit about the company’s expansion plans?
RK: We already have three manufacturing plants, each in Baddi (Himachal Pradesh) and in Noida (UP). We are doubling the capacity of all our plants at Baddi for helmets and side boxes. Besides, the company has planned to set-up a plant in Rajasthan on a 16 lakh sq. ft. area with 8 lakh sq. ft. built-up area, with an investment of Rs.250 crore. We will also soon come up with a whole new range of helmets, biking gears and accessories. We believe, with the planned higher installed capacity, new machinery, new moulds and by launching new products in segments like Steelbird Air, Ares as well as high-end segments Ignyte and Kukka (a French brand of helmet), we would be able to double the annual revenue of our helmets division to Rs.500 crore in CY2018.
TDB: The brand boasts of a focus on innovation and strategic global tie-ups. How do these tie-ups help you in the marketplace?
RK: At Steelbird, to ensure quality without compromise, there is a continuous upgradation of technology and processes. It is the fruits of our R&D endeavours that our company has successfully designed and developed India’s first carbon fibre helmet.
When it comes to collaborations, we pay great emphasis on joining hands with the best in the industry. This helps us immensely in gaining technical know-how and making us aware of the best industry practices available across the globe. We currently have technical collaboration with global giants like Composites, Bieffe, and AD Engineering, Italy. In fact, we have a marketing and R&D office in Italy and more than eight companies in Italy are conducting research and development for us. The benefit of R&D is that we are able to provide our Indian customers the latest technology products at the best value. Such collaborations are also helping us penetrate new and emerging markets. We export our products to nearly 50 countries across the globe. While currently, exports constitute just 10% of our total revenue, the future when it comes to exports looks to be very promising for the segment.
TDB: Are you happy with the export incentives provided to your sector?
RK: Currently, the export incentives are not sufficient because in the helmet business Indian manufacturers face very stiff competition from manufacturers in China, Vietnam, etc. Apart from regulatory bottlenecks, which remain an eyesore for the sector, the unavailability of skilled workforce is a big hindrance. It is time the government puts some serious efforts in changing the status quo. India has a population of 1.3 billion and our target now must be to become the biggest industrial and manufacturing hub in the world. But that would only be possible if the government starts providing all the necessary infrastructure to manufacturers, introduces labour reforms to bringing the hire and fire system, allows us to introduce incentive based payments linked to productivity for workers, etc. The government should also consider incentivising industrialists who set up factories in rural area. This can be linked to the government’s employment generation programme.