The Watertec Way

The Watertec Way

For our Growth Enterprise section, we chatted with Coimbatore-based Bantwal Ramesh Baliga, CEO of Watertec (India), one of India’s fastest growing plumbing solutions companies. Baliga has carefully shaped the growth path of the company over the last few years with a textbook-style focus on the 3Ps – Product, People and Promotions.

Bantwal Ramesh Baliga, CEO of Watertec (India)

We last caught up with Baliga in July 2017, when we featured Watertec as part of our Hidden Gems series. This digital and print content series was conceptualized to bring to the fore some of India’s best enterprises that were growing remarkably in terms of financials and brand, yet, the leaders at the helm of these companies preferred to stay under the radar.

At that time, we convinced Baliga to share with us the remarkable journey of Watertec and how it identified an important gap in the bath fittings and accessories segment. It became a market leader in the polymer-based bath fittings space, manufacturing close to 25 million units of various products. (Today, the company manufactures over 32 millions units).

For this interview, we started from where we left off. “I am happy to say that our growth story continues. We’ve grown by two digits year-on-year and the key to this has been a concerted effort on product, quality, right hiring, distribution and marketing,” says Baliga. The company’s emphasis on a strong distribution and dealer network has been a key part of the strategy as well.

It all starts with an idea or an insight from an observation. It helps that I interact closely with our dealers and plumbers. But once an idea is identified, I may personally take a shot at product design with help from the R&D team. Then we take the time to experiment, redesign, test until it is ready for market. In some cases, we bring out our own range. In other cases, we partner for technology or may even acquire

Customer-centric approach to designing new products
On the product front, Watertec’s journey has been shaped by a single-minded, customer-centric approach. From purely polymer-based a few years back, the company added a Nickel Chrome-plated range of bath fitting and accessories. Then came CPVC-based pipes and fittings and last year the stainless-steel range was launched.

Today, the company can deliver a total plumbing solution for an entire bathroom, complete with bath fittings, sanitaryware, pipes, floor drain and other accessories. In each of these segments, even as new products are launched – the core philosophy of Watertec remains. It has to be drip-free, rust-free and leak-free.

The senior team at Watertec, led by Baliga, spends a lot of time on the ground meeting with a wide variety of people – from dealers and people in the supply chain to plumbers and architects. These on-ground conversations result in interesting insights on everything from price to specific customer requirements.

For example, one such on-ground visit resulted in a very important idea for the company. It was to build a product range focused on conservation of water. For one segment of customers, this meant designing sanitaryware and taps with turbo-flow, wherein even a little lesser water but with foam, feels like enough water for the required purpose. For another segment (like Airport Urinals, for example), the company realized that a different technique was needed for water conservation. Watertec went on to establish a technology partnership with a global company called Conti+, which offered a sensor-based approach to remotely control a washroom solution for maintenance and repairs. If one of the urinals at an airport was leaking, one could remotely shut off water to that appliance only.

Focus on actions, not outcomes – is something Baliga emphasizes to his sales team of 340+ people every time he meets them.

We quizzed Baliga on how these ideas take shape from concept to reality. He says, “It all starts with an idea or an insight from an observation. It helps that I interact closely with our dealers and plumbers. But once an idea is identified, I may personally take a shot at product design with help from the R&D team. Then we take the time to experiment, redesign, test until it is ready for market. In some cases, we bring out our own range. In other cases, we partner for technology or may even acquire,” he explains.

The central focus is to continuously enhance and widen the range of products offered. “In stainless-steel, for example, we have the 316 and 304 Series which includes taps, arm shower, head shower, concealed single control mixer, etc. The idea was to move up the value chain,” says Baliga. Consumers familiar with the Watertec brand in the polymer-based segment, expect the same quality with better aesthetics and innovative features in the stainless-steel range. For this, the company established a technology partnership with VRH, a leading Stainless-Steel faucet and sanitary fitting manufacturer in Thailand.

Over time, Watertec is also looking to launch a brand in the higher-end luxury segment. The fundamental thesis is that the company has the distribution network and trust in the brand and it makes sense to leverage it for a wide-range of products serving many customer segments.

Strong Backend
Baliga, of course, is very clear in his mind. Product is only one piece of the jigsaw. The second and probably one of the most important is manufacturing, supply chain, distribution and sales.

The company runs three manufacturing units, with state-of-the-art Industry 4.0 framework. The latest unit also has best-in-class manufacturing equipment with robotics and automation. “Over 1500 people work in our plants across three shifts,” adds Baliga. He believes that while automation and technology is crucial, a careful balance of skilled staff is a critical part of the strategy.

One of Watertec’s key differentiators is its strength in distribution. The company has 10,000+ channel partners and dealers across the country and in select global markets like Egypt and Sri Lanka. Watertec also employs a field salesforce of 340+ people, up from 120 people two years back.

Baliga believes the strategy for the sales team is simple. “Focus on actions, not outcomes,” he repeats to them in every sales meeting. Sales teams are split by product vertical and the focus is on constantly staying in touch with dealers, plumbers and architects. The company does large-scale events with Indian Plumbing Association, in addition to organizing small, informal in-store meetups. There is a deep focus on branding and messaging at all touchpoints. “It’s a simple process we have. Every month – numbers come in by 5 PM on the last day of the month. It’s a data-driven approach. But I hardly ask my team about their sales numbers. The focus is on what activities they do. The numbers will automatically come,” explains Baliga.

We also quizzed Baliga on the fact he has spent more than two decades in this bath fittings industry and how it has changed. Prior to Watertec, Baliga has had long associations with a range of super-premium bath fitting brands. Baliga says that the biggest shift is probably on the unorganized segment becoming more and more organized and mature. He says quality is today a “must have”. The theme of drip-free and leak-free will never go out of fashion.

An on-ground visit by Baliga resulted in a very important idea for the company. It was to build a product range focused on conservation of water. For one segment of customers, this meant designing sanitaryware and taps with turbo-flow, wherein even a little lesser water but with foam, feels like enough water for the required purpose. For another segment (like Airport Urinals, for example), the company realized that a different technique was needed for water conservation. Watertec went on to establish a technology partnership with a global company called Conti+, which offered a sensor-based approach to remotely control a washroom solution for maintenance and repairs. If one of the urinals at an airport was leaking, one could remotely shut off water to that appliance only.

For Watertec, the biggest opportunity lies in using its manufacturing, sales and service infrastructure to scale across customer segments. Baliga is betting big on growth over the next few years. He has set himself a target of becoming a Rs. 1000 crore company by turnover by FY 2021-22. “And it’s about focusing on the same 3Ps we spoke about at the beginning: Product, People and Promotions & Marketing,” he says as he wraps up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *