Universal Group rolls out global expansion plans

Ranjit More
In the fast changing scenario in the global construction and infrastructure sectors, Universal Group has now transitioned from a small scale equipment making unit to a renowned concrete equipment and heavy machinery manufacturing major of the country. It currently commands a fleet of over 50 innovative and hi-tech equipment and allied products. Over a period of time, it has emerged as the undisputed leader in a wide variety of product range like batching plants and drum mixers. With 10 percent of its products going to the global markets, it is currently focusing on Middle East, African, Asia Pacific and European countries to push exports to newer highs, says, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Mr. Ranjit More, in an exclusive interview with S.A.Faridi.

How do you view the scenario in the country's road sector in the next three years, given the transport ministry's ambitious 40 km per day road building target? In addition, the Central government has also announced allied infrastructure projects covering power, port, aviation and Smart City programs?
Indian road and highway sector is doing excellently well as there is a noticeable surge in activities in the segment. This government took over at a time when both PPP and BOT models were in disarray and it started from 2 km per day and has successfully achieved 22 km per day target. In an encouraging development, it has set a 40 km per day road building target on its radar, and they will get it. It is really a commendable performance at a time when there was a severe scarcity of funds but now the sector has sufficient funding flow.

As a matter of fact, credit goes to the positive, visionary, innovative and decisive mind set of transport minister Nitin Gadkari. In fact, he had the past record of superlative performance to support his credentials of building road projects below the actual cost, much before the stipulated timelines as the PWD minister of Maharashtra. Moreover, the implementation of the hybrid model was a master stroke on his part as the model is not just evoking more and more interest from contractors but also attracting a new tribe of contractors into the business.

Even the road builders have also started bidding enthusiastically for projects on offer even under the EPC and BOT models. In the near future, the road sector is going to witness many more positive, visionary and business oriented development as it is poised to offer newer future business avenues for equipment makers, contractors and builders alike. In view of this, we are quite confident of the leadership and expect that the current speed of project delivery and implementation will get added momentum in the coming days.

Universal Batching Plant

How do you plan to exploit business avenues in the north-eastern region and in the Himalayan belt, and also in the neighboring countries?
We see enormous opportunities in the north-eastern region and in the entire Himalayan belt. But at the same time it requires a lot of thinking about the usage of the right type of machines and their sizes. In the Himalayan region, we have -0 to +55 degree temperature, but there would be no problem on this score, as the company has a big basket of such machines and equipment. The company has already stretched its wings in states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Srinagar, and currently commands a strong dealership network to cater to the emerging equipment requirements in these areas. In its entirety, the company is also keeping in mind to offer the right type of machinery and equipment suitable in the prevailing geographical and harsh climatic condition so that our valued customers are not put to any operational hardships.

As far as the neighboring countries are concerned, we already have a presence in Nepal where our batching plants are working wonders for the past two years. In fact, Nepal is our focus market currently where a lot of reconstruction and rebuilding work is going on. Global multilateral financing agencies like ADB and World Bank are funding projects in Nepal to restore the infrastructure damaged during the ravaging earthquake in the country. Universal also has a presence in Bangladesh.

What's the secret behind your success in the local market where global giants have made a strong mark?
The Universal Group has an added advantage of a home-grown company, and being a domestic player it knows the mindset of Indian customers and their buying behavior. As far as multinationals are concerned, those who come to India on a long-term investment plan, manage to cement their position in the local market, and in this regard, Japanese and German companies are apt examples. Similarly, those who enter India on a short-term business gain in mind, usually fail to make a mark in the Indian market. That's why many of them have already shut their shops or are ready to bid adieu to the local market.

Apart from the newest and hi-tech batching plants, what else are you planning for the road and highway sector?
As a matter of fact, the company is expanding its packaged offerings and entering equipment and allied product trading market in a big way, under Constore, an arm of Universal. On this score, it is currently providing a package comprising earthmovers, backhoe loaders, computerized paving machines, concreting laying equipment and ancillary materials including, helmet, painting and other items normally being used by contractors, builders and construction workers. To take on trading business aggressively, which is the newest and perhaps the first of its kind in the country, it is forming tie-ups with financial institutions to ensure sufficient flow of funds to its packaged offerings, largely catering to the emerging requirement of its customers. This is so because in the fast changing scenario in the construction segment, the new tribe of contractors and builders are increasingly entering the segment. They have a lot of energy and enthusiasm but lack knowledge and expertise in machinery and equipment handling, maintenance, and working cost while executing the infra projects. The company is targeting this segment of equipment users on a priority basis.

Universal Transit Mixer

Please share your future expansion plans.
The Universal Group is currently aiming to excel in the construction equipment manufacturing segment. With over 50 products in its basket, it is not just concentrating on innovativeness and on product quality, but also adhering to the delivery timelines. It has the passion to offer the entire range of products and integrating solutions that exactly match the day to day requirements of its customers. As a matter of fact, rather than consolidating, we're expanding our offerings through one of its kind 'Universal Constore.' We have tied up with scores of domestic players to roll out innovative and quality equipment with integrated solution offerings. We are expanding our product basket to make the company a one-stop solution shop covering the entire range of equipment. To further increase its product offerings, Universal is concentrating on manufacturing, which is its core and focused area.

Universal Group has prepared a detailed blueprint for a phased expansion whereby in the first phase it has planned the newest and most innovative engineering-based equipment for the construction sector. In the second phase, it will target agriculture-based equipment like paddy thrashing, sugar extracting and manufacturing machinery and other commodities for the agrarian segment. Over a period of time it will cover the entire gamut of products used in the agriculture sector across regions in the form of a store house. In fact, this will be a major shift in our scheme of things in the global market.

In view of the increasingly popular online marketing channel, Universal is in the process of creating a unified online platform to bring the entire range of offerings and products, including building materials, accessories, hand tools, contractors and builders, among others on a single platform.

What are your plans for the global markets?
Universal Group is setting up its base in Dubai to cover the African and Middle East markets. We also have tie-ups with distributors in different countries to penetrate further in the regions. In view of the huge infra deficit in African and Middle East countries, the situation offers huge business vistas for Construction Equipment makers. As a matter of fact, Dubai and surrounding countries will be our export hubs. Currently, the company is carrying out brisk business in these areas via a tie-up with African store houses and other equipment contractors of the region. In the near future, the Universal Group will form more such tie-ups to tap the available business avenues in these areas. To achieve its targets, it is upgrading its products by incorporating the latest innovative technology into its product range.

To match international quality standards, how the company is upgrading its research and development wing in order to achieve its ambitious targets in international arena?
I have noticed in the international equipment trade shows that we are at par and not far behind and even better placed as compared to our peers in the developed countries. We are currently offering digital and computerized machines and engines matching global standards and this company is further going ahead on this score. Moreover, in view of the emerging business avenues in the next five years, the top five global machines and construction equipment engine makers will have their base in India. This in turn will motivate domestic players to upgrade their product offerings to remain afloat in the highly competitive equipment market.

NBM&CW December 2016