Mumbai-based Classic Stripes' customised decals are popular with most OEs. With the recent acquisition of a US company, it has set its sights high. Kedar Jaidev reports.
What’s the first thing you notice when a carmaker launches a limited edition variant? It comes with a host of additional features and, most importantly, a new set of decals or stickers. Limited edition models such as the Maruti A-star Aktiv, launched last week, Nissan Micra Primo, or even the new Yamaha FZ-S bike, all of them come with specific livery emblazoned across their bodies.
A decal is traditionally a plastic, cloth or ceramic substrate that has a printed pattern or image that can be moved to another surface upon contact, usually with the assistance of heat or water. So have you ever stopped and wondered where the automotive industry gets its decals from? Autocar Professional did, so we went to find out.
Classic Stripes is the largest supplier of automotive decals in the Indian market, and functions under the Astarc Group. Established in 1987, Classic Stripes Pvt Ltd (CSPL) is currently one of the largest manufacturers of automotive graphics in the world, with a production capacity of 20 million automotive graphic sets per annum. Today, CSPL has roughly 75 percent of the market share in the Indian automotive OEM printing industry.
The company, which has its design studio in the Mumbai suburb of Andheri, has three plants – two in Vasai, on the outskirts of Mumbai, and one at Haridwar, in Uttaranchal. Some of the many automakers that CSPL caters to include Hero MotoCorp, Bajaj Auto, Suzuki, Yamaha, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Toyota, Renault and Nissan.
“We supply to almost every OEM you can think of in India. Automotive decals is the major process we handle but we also do badging, and plating, like the plates that you see in the XUV500’s door.” Additionally, the company also makes POP products for brands like Microsoft and Cadbury. Another recent printing venture that CSPL is undertaking is circuit board printing, which requires extremely fine and careful levels of printing application.
A part of the company’s portfolio is the manufacturing of membrane switches, much like the ones you see on washing machines and microwaves. It is also looking at offering a metcal badging solution to carmakers; since most metallic badges end up getting stolen quite often in India, this will be a much more affordable option.
Sticking to quality
The company’s beginnings were quite humble. According to Salil Musale, director, Astarc Group, “My father first started by making labels for cycles, and he established that company on 15 August 1947. He started by supplying to the Hero Group, working out of a plant in Andheri, Mumbai. In fact, the design studio and head office are situated exactly where the plant used to be.”
“In 1983, he realised that the use of decals was a growing trend, and foresaw an opportunity waiting there. But his Achilles’ heel at the time was that he knew little about the manufacturing process. In fact, he flew back and forth from Japan for quite some time to learn screen printing and, at the time, no one was ready to tie-up with anyone from India. In the first year of operation, he made 7,000 samples before Honda finally approved sample No. 7,001! That’s how detailed they are. But after this stage, the Astarc Group continued to grow and Hero MotoCorp (ertswhile Hero Honda) is still our biggest customer to date.”
Riding the decal demand curve
With the Indian automotive industry growing at a good clip for the last 15 years, demand for automotive decals has grown in tandem. Classic Stripes has been notching 20 percent growth annually since 1995, indicative of the demand that has come its way.
The company now handles both design and manufacturing operations. Musale adds, “Earlier, companies gave us their design and we used to convert that. Now we create the design and we work with them on their new models. From 1987 to 1995, we were only into manufacturing but then we bought a design studio, and now we handle both. We’re offering more of a value proposition this way. In fact, we’re known the world over for our manufacturing facilities. Our checking process is so precise that even if there’s a speck of dust, the job is rejected. Our clients even go so far as to say they’ve never seen a plant like ours before. We are a single source, and that makes it easier for OEMs. In some cases, we work right from the design all the way to the application. There are certain case studies that show that our design has actually helped improve the identity and sales of the product.”
CSPL currently has an on-time delivery (OTD) performance rate of 100 percent for OEMs, which is monitored on a daily basis. The plants are running at 80 percent of their capacity, as CSPL believes there is scope for so much more growth. The company can produce 20 million sets of graphics per annum. It has just celebrated its silver jubilee and is focusing now more on increasing its global footprint.
“Recently, we have acquired a company in the US called Modagrafics. We are also setting up a plant in Indonesia and one in South America,” says Amit Dakshini, CEO, Classic Stripes. Through this collaboration with Modagrafics, which is a leading graphic printer for vehicle fleets, OEMs and retail stores, the company now caters to brands like McDonald’s, Nestle, Hewlett Packard, Con-way and Caterpillar. CSPL is also looking to acquire a few more overseas companies that handle graphics to further drive its global business.
As far as the decal business is concerned, Astarc which focussed on a B2B (business-to-business) strategy launched Autographix 10 years ago to cater more to a B2C (business-to-commerce) clientele. Now, in order to have a better connect and get a larger share of the market, it is looking to reposition Autographix with a new look by mid-2013. It doesn’t however make custom decals yet, and the reason is that the company wants to focus more on mass printing over specific.
The company also claims that its decals it uses don’t fade for 10 years, and the kind of adhesive used doesn’t leave marks or harm the paint on a vehicle.
One of CPSL’s major decal success stories, for which it won many awards, is the mHawk design that’s used on the Mahindra Scorpio. “It’s really what the decal is doing. It’s lending an identity to the product.”
Classic Stripes is also looking to offer its services to high-end carmakers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, and has already made a sales pitch to them. So if things work out, then it would have left its stamp on a much more elite scale.