With willow from UK, this 22-year-old from Lucknow is batting for premium handcrafted cricket bats

With willow from UK, this 22-year-old from Lucknow is batting for premium handcrafted cricket bats

Tuesday January 01, 2019,

7 min Read

Cricket is a religion for almost every other boy in India. Arindam Aggarwal, 22, was no different. But the mechanical engineer from University of Bristol decided that cricket could also be his career, and started A2 Cricket Pvt Ltd in 2016, at the age of 20.

His vision was clear: to make his city, Lucknow, the hub of premium handcrafted cricket bat manufacturing. Till then, premium cricket bats in India were synonymous with Meerut, Jalandhar, and Srinagar.

Arindam, who hails from a reputed business family in Lucknow, was backed by his family, which invested around Rs 20-30 lakh in his venture. The youngster, with no background in sports manufacturing, converted his passion for cricket and six years of research into a profit-making business despite the huge competition in India’s bat manufacturing sector.

In an interaction with SMBStory, Arindam Aggarwal, Founder of A2 Cricket, says, “We expect to reach break even in the next few years. As of now, A2 Cricket has an annual turnover of approximately Rs 50 lakh. We expect this to grow 2-4 times in the coming years with new deals and collaborations.”

Getting to this point wasn’t easy for this David who faced off against the many Goliaths in the sector. But Arindam was relentless in his pursuit; he invested all returns back into his company, keen to grow it into one of India’s best known cricket equipment brands.

A focus on quality and premium products has helped A2 Cricket create a niche in the market.

Arindam says: “Only a handful of people in India claim to import English willow directly from the UK; we are one of them. A2 became the first and the only Indian cricket bat manufacturing brand to be advertised on the television by various players, within the first 6 months of inception.”

Excerpts from the conversation:

SMBStory: How did you come up with the idea of starting up this business?

Arindam Aggarwal: As a young boy, I was into sports, especially cricket. I played up to county level at college in the UK. I was intrigued by cricket bats, especially its crafting. I used to be the one who helped people buy bats by telling them about the specifications. I even memorised the entire information in catalogues of various Indian cricket bat brands at a very young age, and used to devote all my free time to researching cricket bats. After six-seven years of research and learning the intricacies involved in the production of bats, I finally decided to start my own manufacturing company. I use my engineering skills to produce bats that provide consistency and enhance performance.

SMBS: What are the products you specialise in? How do they provide value?

AA: A2 Cricket aims to provide cricket bats manufactured from the purest A-Grade English willow and crafted into contemporary bat profiles. We also supply batting gloves that offer supreme comfort and robust protection, helping players to dominate the game. These ultra-light gloves offer international-level protection and are used by all the players we sponsor. The A2 Batting Leg Guards provide test-level protection and maximum mobility. We provide free packaging on all orders and use eco-friendly materials for packaging.

SMBS: How does A2 differ from other cricket manufacturing brands?

AA: At A2, customers can also design their own bats from the finest English willows. They can choose from a variety of options from the Integrated Custom Bat-Making Engine. A2 is the first Indian cricket brand to market bat refurbishments, making it a sustainable revenue generator and making us India's top bat repair company. In fact, there is no other bat repairing brand in the entire state of Uttar Pradesh. At A2, customers can get their bats repaired by certified professionals.

Arindam with former Autralian cricketer Allan Border

Arindam with former Autralian cricketer Allan Border

SMBS: Which players does your brand sponsor currently?

AA : We have the following players under contract for sponsorship: Anuja Path (Indian women's cricket team), Farveez Maharoof (Sri Lanka), Anish Paraam, Utsav Rakshit, and Varun Sivaram (Singapore), Thando Ntini (South African U19 player and son of South African cricketing legend Makhaya Ntini), Zeeshan Ansari (India U19, Ranji Trophy), and Yash Thakur (India U19). We also sponsor U16 and U14 state players in India, and provincial players in Australia and South Africa.

SMBS: What did you do differently in your business?

AA: A2 is unlike any other bat manufacturing company as we are trying to create a niche brand. We offer bats made from the best English willow; there is no compromise on quality. We are not selling our bats at a small margin. Our margins are huge and the products are priced accordingly. We cater to customers who believe in high-end, superior quality products and are willing to pay for them. Till now, our target customers’ response and feedback have been very positive.

SMBS: What were the key issues you faced in terms of growth of the business? What were your learnings?

AA: There are around 3,500 bat manufacturing companies in India; approximately 3,000 of these units are present in Meerut. Of these, only two to three companies are able to make it to the international level, so the competition is extremely cut-throat. You cannot sustain yourself without a thorough knowledge of the market and customer preferences.

I established my company in Lucknow, which isn’t a big market for premium cricket supplies as compared to cities like Delhi where I would have done ten-fold of the business I am doing now. My customer base was limited. Customers in Lucknow have a traditional mindset while buying. Superior quality isn’t the main yardstick and they often opt for cheaper products. We had to convince customers to go beyond big brand names as most people blindly buy bats endorsed by their favourite players without checking its quality. As a new, high-end brand, it was difficult for us to create a name in the beginning without a star player endorsing our products. That’s how I understood that the Indian consumers were greatly attracted by the brands which were endorsed by the star players.

SMBS: What challenges did you face in terms of sustainability of the business?

AA: Earlier no tax was levied on the bat manufacturing industry, but the GST rollout has led to a 12 percent tax. This has increased the cost of operations, leading to a significant rise in prices and consequently affecting customers.

Another major challenge is the fluctuation of currency values in the international market. We import raw material from foreign countries and pay import duty plus taxes; this becomes a problem due to the uncertainty.

SMBS: How did you use digitalisation in your business?

AA: We are one of the first Indian cricket brands to use social media as a tool for marketing. Other brands distribute 5,000 bats for free to cricketers, pay them crores to play with them. But we had a limited budget and chose to use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for digital marketing. We made online videos showcasing our products. In fact, our website is the most advanced when compared to other Indian brands.

SMBS: What are your future prospects and goals?

AA:  We are in talks with NGOs in India to provide sponsorships (in the from of cricketing equipment) to talented, underprivileged children pursuing cricket as a career. We are also negotiating with cricket brands based in Australia and England to manufacture unbranded equipment for exports. I want to develop A2 as a premium cricketing apparel range, specialising in T-shirts made from recycled jute. I am also working to develop another startup in the tech industry.

SMBS: What advice would you give entrepreneurs in the making?

AA: Youngsters need to have a strong vision and should start working on their project as soon as possible. Also, this might sound controversial but one doesn't need to be extremely innovative every time; one must try and adjust, based on the target market and customers. Unique marketing methods play a huge role in attracting customers, and businesses should harness the power of social media for promotions.