With Rs 3 lakh, how a Kerala engineer built Duroflex into a Rs 500 Cr mattress brand
Started in 1963 in Alleppey by the late PC Mathew, Duroflex is now a leading mattress brand in India. Headquartered in Bengaluru, the business has over 500 employees and owns three manufacturing facilities in South India.
During his visit to Germany in the 1960s, the late PC Mathew studied the application of rubberised coir in car seats. Impressed by its high durability and cushioning properties, the engineer in industrial chemistry toyed with the idea of using rubberised coir to make mattresses.
Mathew ran a small mattress manufacturing business along a quiet canal at Alleppey, Kerala. The business, Duroflex, was started by him with Rs 3 lakh initial investment in 1963.
While coir held promise, it would be new to the Indian market, and Mathew was not sure if it would be accepted. Taking a leap of faith, he began importing coir mattress manufacturing machines from Austria into his factory at Alleppey.
However, the 60s were a difficult time to be an entrepreneur. India was a developing country and access to technology and knowledge was limited. There were restrictions placed on importing machinery, and this posed a problem for Mathew.
“He decided to import a few of the bigger components of the machinery, and based on what he saw in Germany, he reengineered the machines locally. The machinery and components were brought in through cargo boats through the canals of Alleppey,” says Mathew George, a third generation entrepreneur who is now Director, Operations and New Product Development at Duroflex.
This Hyderabad-based mattress brand became a household name over the years, clocks Rs 210 cr turnover
The Government of India came in clutch for the founder when it gave Duroflex a big order for hospital beds, battle tank seats, and railway coaches. This helped the Kerala mattress brand gain acceptance for its coir mattresses.
What began as a modest mattress factory along a canal is now a leading enterprise in the sleep products category. Today, the family business Duroflex is a Rs 500 crore revenue company headquartered in Bengaluru, and has over 500 employees. It owns three manufacturing facilities in South India. In 2018, Duroflex raised $22 million in private equity from Lighthouse Fund.
Over the last few decades, the demand for high quality mattresses in India has grown due to rising income levels and increasing awareness of better products as well as the health benefits of getting good sleep.
Players in the unorganised mattress sector used cheap cotton to fill mattresses, and this segment dominated the market. However, the organised sector has grown at a CAGR of 17 percent in the last five years, according to ResearchAndMarkets data, and Duroflex has emerged as a dominant player in this segment.
“We have many USPs as a brand. Our signature range, Duropedic, is India’s only certified orthopaedic mattress range. This range features the exclusive 5-zoned orthopaedic support layer, which is tested and recommended by the experts at the National Health Academy. We have three other innovative ranges of mattresses: our eco-friendly Natural Living Range, Energise Range for active individuals, and Essential Range for superior comfort,” says George Mathew.
The mattresses are manufactured at Duroflex’s backward-integrated factories in Hosur and Karimangalam. It also has two satellite units in Hyderabad and Bhiwandi.
The manufacturing facilities make mattresses not only from coir but also from spring and foam. George says Duroflex’s diversification into spring and foam was a challenge but became part of its growth into an all-round sleep products company. It also began making a wide range of pillows, such as memory foam pillows and cool gel pillows, and mattress protectors.
Venturing into spring and foam was crucial to preserving Duroflex’s dominance in the organised mattress industry. Spring and foam mattresses overtook coir as they were cheaper and offered better benefits. Once Duroflex started with foam, it also began supplying it to domestic and international brands.
George, however, looks at the concept of the input material differently. He says, “Although mattresses continue to be our core business, our portfolio is based on consumer benefits and not the input material of the mattresses. We believe in putting the consumer’s needs first, and have thus launched four ranges focussing on meeting their unique needs.”
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Duroflex retails its mattresses through its physical seller network and online channels. It has set up stores and experiential centres in major cities, and also showcases its products at multi-brand outlets.
Its online sales, which occur through its website, Amazon, Flipkart, Pepperfry, etc have grown during the lockdown period, George claims.
“Like most businesses, our FY21 Q1 numbers were quite affected. We stayed resilient and nimble, and quickly shifted our focus to our online platforms for sales and customer engagement. We set up a virtual selling model where consumers can talk to experts to help pick a product, which is then delivered to their homes. We saw a surge in our online purchases and optimised our platforms to support this demand,” he says.
As mattresses are essential to hospitals and quarantine centres during the COVID-19 crisis, Duroflex donated 1,273 mattresses to CMC Vellore, a teaching hospital in Tamil Nadu. The company also provided 300 mattresses to the quarantine centre at Tata Housing Project and 600 mattresses to the District Industrial Centre (DIC), Krishnagiri.
The way forward
In the near future, Duroflex will focus on further integrating technology into its business processes and boosting its online business.
“We are utilising the entire digital ecosystem to connect with our consumers and also bring our retail network together. We have used digital platform to empower our dealers and help them get ready for a digital-led future. We have adapted many retail tech solutions to bring in seamless integration between online and offline. This will be key for us as consumers will start to look for fluidity of purchase between brick-and-mortar stores and online platforms,” he says.
With large players such as Kurlon, Peps, Springwell, Coirfoam etc and emerging startups such as Wakefit and Housefull, the branded mattress market is a fast-growing category. George recognises the competition from these businesses, but adds that sleep disrupting technology such as content streaming and OTT platforms pose a challenge for Duroflex.
“Our competition will always remain categories that deter sleep. But we are staying ahead of this by creating awareness on the importance of sleep and constantly innovating our sleep solutions,” he says.
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)
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