Growing the Market Through Education and Innovation

Twiga’s new philosophy
Twiga has been equated with glasswool for a long time in India, but there’s a lot more excitement in the pipeline. Mukta Naik and Varsha Trehan from MGS Architecture reveal Twiga’s new philosophy, in conversation with Bejul P Somaia, Joint Managing Director, UP Twiga Fiberglass.

Twiga has been around for a long time. However, recently we’ve noticed a change in image and a more aggressive approach. Tell us about the thinking behind that.
Twiga is an established brand built over the last 25 years and is synonymous with experience, quality and credibility. That said, over this long period, there has been a relatively limited amount of product innovation. Now, we are seeking to drive a visible change in the market–place primarily through developing new products that better meet our customer’s needs as well as educating our customers about world-wide standards. We are also moving beyond marketing glasswool as a basic product and developing some value-added products.

Our main emphasis is in working with architects and consultants to educate customers and create awareness about what the right products are for a particular application. We are taking an information-led approach, with a view to bring in best practices in India. We find that customers today want to know what happens in the rest of the world—in Europe and the US—and we try to share those best practices and experiences.

We have also restructured our sales and marketing team and put in place specialists that operate within a particular product segment. This person develops a deep understanding of the customer’s business and the intended application, answers technical queries and makes product recommendations.

What are the areas in which the customer needs hand holding, in your experience? Are customers open to being educated? What is their reaction to the information you provide?
Customers typically need support in two main areas – product selection and handling/installation. We have in-house technical experts to recommend the appropriate product depending on the specific application and requirements. We also provide detailed guidelines for handling and installation, once again depending on the intended use, e.g., under-deck insulation vs. duct insulation.

As you know, we have tied up with Isover Saint Gobain (ISG) for production of glasswool at our new Ambernath facility. ISG is a French MNC and the largest manufacturer of insulation material in the world. As a result of this partnership, we have access to a large bank of knowledge as they have always taken on an educative role and had a research-oriented approach. We have conducted a number of technical seminars with large customers over the past 6 months and the reception has been very positive.

We are also working with various Government agencies to introduce and improve building codes relating to fire, energy, insulation etc. For example, we were a member of the panel that worked with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) to introduce ECBC (Energy Conservation Building Code) guidelines to help reduce power consumption in large buildings. It is heartening to note that such efforts are bearing fruit.

In general, we have a fact-based approach to educate our customers because there is a lot of misinterpretation and misrepresentation in various markets, especially the HVAC market. We stick to the facts and help customers ensure that they do not compromise system performance. For example we would tell a customer that the recommended R value for duct installation is X in Europe, and that the BEE recommendations are Y and explain to them how the R value concept works. Then let them take a decision as to which product best meets their requirements. Often, we get a “I didn’t know that” kind of reaction!

But you also have your own R&D set up, I believe. What does that do really?
Yes, we do. We have an R&D set-up at both facilities (UP and Maharashtra) where we constantly look at various aspects of the material like glass formulation and quality control. We develop specialized applications if a client wants something for a specific application. We also do testing of various input materials to ensure they meet our stringent specifications. And we now draw on the immense R&D set-up that Saint Gobain has. For instance, our partnership with Saint Gobain has helped us reduce the fiber thickness considerably, which results in much better thermal insulating properties.

What is your distribution and supply situation today? Will a customer in a remote part of India be able to access Twiga products easily?
We’ve always been a pan-India company. We have dealer representation throughout the country and so customers can always access our products through the distribution channel. We also have regional offices all over the country, which provide technical, pre-sales and after sales support. These have been in place for years and so there hasn’t really been an access issue.

As far as supply is concerned, with the opening of our new facility in December, we have tripled our capacity from 5,000 tonnes to 15,000 tonnes so product availability and lead times have improved significantly.

We have selected our factory locations to improve logistics and reduce delivery times to customers. Our Sikandrabad (UP) plant caters primarily to the North and East, while the new plant at Ambernath (MH) supplies to the West and South. The Ambernath facility is also strategically located to cater to the export market, which is also substantial.

What about support for installation and maintenance?
We provide customers and contractors with installation guidelines, but ours is not a stand-alone product. It is used by a contractor to line a duct or insulate a roof, so the performance of the system is dependent on the competence of the installer, to some extent. We are looking at ways to improve the quality of installation so that it does not impact performance of our product.

As far as support is concerned, we have been fortunate to develop a 25–year reputation of quality and reliability because our product performs well. We stand behind our products and guarantee product performance, so that it should never be a problem. Our regional teams and segment specialists are typically the point of contact for the customer in case of an after-sales problem.

You spoke about some new value-added product— What kind of products are these?
Our new products and product development initiatives are primarily driven by customers who are asking for two things. First they want products that help to reduce the installation time on site. Second, they want to reduce total installed or system costs. As a result, we have developed various ‘ready-to-use’ value-added products over basic material. For example, we recently launched fiberglass pipe sections for easy ‘snap-on’ pipe insulation which reduces installation time and cost. Similarly, we provide special flanges on our PEB insulation product for easy stapling during installation. We have also developed a new high performance facing or vapor barrier for PEB insulation which is so strong that it eliminates the need for welded mesh, thus leading to a saving in time and money. We call it ‘high strength meshless facing.’

Products in development include prefabricated AC ducts (made out of high density fiberglass laminated with foil on both sides), which will eliminate the need for GI ducting that is prevalent today. Prefab ducts made of fiberglass are lighter, neater and easy and fast to install. Such ducts have been very popular in Europe—for example, they account for over 90% of ducts installed in Spain. We will have to work hard to introduce it, by demonstrating cost and productivity savings due to faster installation.

We have also introduced a new glass formulation called bio-soluble glass which is a formulation used by Saint Gobain in Europe. Even though fiberglass has been proved to be non-carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), bio-soluble glass is safer because it dissolves completely in case it is inhaled by humans. This is another example of the initiatives we are taking to improve on a continuous basis.

Speaking of prefab, is the Pre-Engineered Building market of interest to you?
That market is going up and up. Not so much for residential and commercial, but for industrial uses, the PEB market has soared. We have developed special insulation sheets to be used in PEBs, with a variety of factory laminated facings/vapour barriers so that they can be installed easily. We work with Tiger Steel, Tata Bluescope, Interarch, Zamil—in fact all the leading PEB players.

Your tie-up with Saint Gobain. How does it affect your brand equity?
While the Saint Gobain name is well—known globally, Twiga is well known in India and has built precious brand equity over the 25 years we have operated in the market. For example, HVAC contractors in India know the name Twiga, but may be unfamiliar with Saint Gobain. So we use the Saint Gobain brand more actively for exports.

So what’s the way ahead for Twiga?
We’re focusing on knowing our customers better, building better relationships and making unique products for specialized applications. You can say that in the past Twiga had a one-size-fits-all approach. Today, we are moving towards better meeting our customer’s unique needs with a variety of specialized products.
MGS Architecture August-September 2007
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