Astra Concrete, a pioneer in introducing concrete spacers (cover blocks) in India, has been actively using digital technology to scale up its business. The Madkaim, Goa-based manufacturer and exporter of pre-cast concrete products has leveraged digital tools to reach more customers as well as improve organisational efficiency.
Astra, founded in 1996, has expanded into foreign markets such as New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Malta, Cyprus, Israel and Mauritius. The company says it has not only managed to stay afloat the digital wave but also bettered its own prospects by riding on it.
Founder Shrikant Parulekar (62), in an interaction with SMBStory, reveals more about Astra’s journey. Edited Excerpts:
SMBStory: How was the company visualised and started?
Shrikant Parulekar: After completing my graduation from Bombay University and getting a degree in civil engineering, I worked for over 30 years in the civil construction field in India. Here, I observed the gaping need for good quality and innovative products in the construction industry. This need was mainly substantiated with the rising demand for high performance structures in our rapidly growing country.
The construction of these structures could also no longer rely on traditional products available in the market. I was thus inspired to upgrade the offering of building materials to the ever evolving construction industry in India. This led me to launch Astra in 1996.
SMBS: How did the company diversify into new categories?
SP: We do R&D on a regular basis based on the needs of the market, customer feedback and international trends. We also introduced our products in the export market back in 2008, and set up an additional manufacturing facility in Bhiwandi in 2015.
Looking at the future need of the industry, we decided to adopt and introduce new technologies to stay competitive and relevant. Further, my son Sushant Parulekar, who helps me in the business, has infused new ideas and helped adopt new technologies, initiatives and culture in the firm.
SMBS: How did you raise investment for Astra?
SP: We approached the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Government of Goa, who we found to be very helpful in supporting SME businesses with business-friendly financial offerings. EDC also helped us secure the right funding at the right cost.
SMBS: How is Astra using technology to scale its business and acquire new customers?
SP: Digital technology has helped SMEs like us immensely to scale up our business. Digital tools like Gmail, Whatsapp and Google cloud have been very helpful for operational coordination with employees and customers. Google ads and websites with listings optimised by SEO greatly increase our reach and credibility to potential customers across borders.
We are using Google adwords, easily navigable websites with SEO, and doing marketing and awareness building through LinkedIn. For us, having the required information as well the means of communication to reach and interact with customers is crucial. Digital also allows us to complete customer acquisition and retain customers through follow up services.
SMBS: What are your challenges in terms of sustaining and growing the business?
SP: We have introduced high quality concrete spacers in line with international standards in India despite facing challenges. The major challenges we face here are unavailability of compatible manpower and a logistical sector which is inefficient compared to global standards. However, our work has helped improve the durability of concrete structures being built in today’s world.
We manage critical aspects of the business by putting in place proper systems and hiring the right talent, and will continue to innovate. We believe our efforts will be rewarded by commensurate growth and scalability.