This Kerala entrepreneur started from scratch to build a Rs 13.95 Cr turnover rubber products business
TC Joseph grew up in Kottayam, Kerala, also known as the 'land of latex'. The local rubber industry in the area has been robust ever since the British introduced the commercial cultivation of rubber in 1902 in India.
Joseph had seen rubber being cultivated and processed for many years, and understood the value chain that began from natural rubber plantations and ended with a wide range of dry rubber and latex-based products.
He was inspired to start a rubber company as soon as he completed his studies. In 1995, he launched Dolphin Rubber Industries and began making high quality rubber products from pure latex, sourced from local plantations.
TC Joseph, Founder, Dolphin Rubber Industries
Joseph and the company started to specialise in making eco-friendly rubber floor mats, rubberised polypropylene mats and rubber runners, and also made hollow, roll, stair, cotton, coir and jute mats and rugs. Dolphin also made rubber products for commercial use in restaurants.
"Over the years, I invested Rs 2.59 crore in the business. Our success in an unpredictable marketplace has more to do with winning mentality and determination than tricks or hacks to gain a temporary edge," the 50-year-old says.
Today, Dolphin has a turnover of Rs 13.95 crore, he claims.
Focus on exports
Being based in Kerala and Kottayam has its advantages. Kerala and neighbouring state Tamil Nadu alone account for 81 percent of rubber production in India. Further, Joseph's business always operated in a well-established rubber production sector in Kerala and sold to a fast-growing rubber products consuming sector.
Currently, India is the sixth largest producer of natural rubber and has a production capacity of around 900,000 tonnes, of which 75 percent is tapped, according to National Rubber Policy 2019 data.
Joseph started exporting his products even though natural rubber was not a traditional export-oriented commodity due to local deficits in production.
However, the potential for exports has always been large. The rubber policy indicates that export from rubber products was worth Rs 20,915 crores in 2017-18 alone.
The Dolphin Rubber Industries team
"We adhere to quality standards, allowing us to export our products. Our products are widely distributed to stores such as Metro Cash and Carry, Auchan, Leroy Merlin, etc and we are still finding new markets all over the world," Joseph says.
Dolphin's rubber products pass through quality testing at multiple step of the production process, starting from selection of raw materials and mixing of rubber compounds to completion of the final product.
The company focusses its exports to the Middle East, European countries and the USA. It also has some operations in South America.
"For exports, we emphasise on innovation to constantly undertake research and update our product profiles to meet the needs of the global consumer," Joseph says, adding, "We have been assessed for performance and credit ratings, approved by the Government of India, Ministry of Small Scale Industries (SSI), and we are certified with ‘high performance capability and high financial strength."
The ups and downs of business
Dolphin and Joseph have won numerous awards, and it took until 2003 for the first one, when the company won The Kerala State Small Industries Association award for best SSI unit.
A Dolphin rubber ramp runner/roll
"We won it again in 2007. We also won the Indian Jaycees Business Excellence Award in 2004 and 2005, and the Kamal Patra Award in 2004. In 2007, we won the Business Ratna Award from the Industrial Development Foundation. Building on this momentum, we started our first export in 2008," Joseph says.
Despite being an industry veteran, Joseph faces challenges caused by price fluctuations. He says the prices of materials and the economics of the market are always shifting. He finds it tricky to grow the business in the midst of these unpredictable circumstances.
"With the right mentality, determination and perseverance, rather than a temporary fix, the challenges can be overcome. To make a huge difference, it is important to be inspirational, constantly seek advice, and stay in the loop about the upcoming technologies in the sector. When this happens, and the person has taken his/her time to think something over and is now ready, they need to act fast in order to succeed," he says.
To be on the safe side, Joseph keeps multiple suppliers at hand for each raw material, and says he pays vendors on time and as per the contract.
A Dolphin rubber mat
"To get new customers and retain existing ones, we do a lot of marketing, launch new products based on public demand, and try for references from existing clients. By building a larger customer base, my dream is to develop a global brand name for Dolphin, with innovative products," he says.
His strategy is to focus on addressing the customers’ need and conduct continuous research for new products to make the consumer’s experience diverse and richer.
He expects government support in providing innovative testing labs for highly technical products, good infrastructure facilities in industrial areas such as roads, lights etc., and highly standardised platforms to showcase Dolphin's products and attract international customers.
(Edited by: Palak Agarwal)
(This story is published in partnership with the MSME Ministry to showcase success stories of SMEs)