How did India, which always had a need for industrial cleaning machines, finally come to access them at affordable rates? Deepak Baluja, Director-Klindex India & Final Technologies Pvt. Ltd, goes 25 years down memory lane, when he began his journey with cleaning & polishing ‘stones’.
Having worked for five years with UT Limited, which introduced high pressure cleaners and industrial vacuum cleaners to India, the floor cleaning market was known to me. In the late 80s, just like any budding businessman, we did not possess the capital to start independently. In 1994, we began importing high pressure pumps from Bertolini Spa, Italy and industrial vacuum cleaners from FLOOR and within a year, we formally created a private limited company with core focus on car washers, vacuum cleaners and upholstery cleaners.
The only vacuum cleaners sold in the early 90s were available at just Rs 3000 for domestic and limited dry applications. And we were talking about selling industrial vacuum cleaners starting from Rs 35,000! When we approached a restaurateur with our machine, he said “I have 106 of the Rs 3000 machines and none of them are in working condition anymore!”
He agreed to try our machine. However, he said, “If it lasts for three months, I will buy 10 more”. The machine worked up to its standards for a year, and he ended up buying a 100 more! That gave us the insight that there was a need for reliable equipment.
In the late 90s, single-disc machines made an entry into the Indian market. Hotels required floor cleaning & maintenance machines to scrub, shampoo carpets and maintain floors. We got a diamond polishing set from Italy. Initially, with limited idea of what is to be done, we failed.
It was the knowledge imparted to us by one of our customers that taught us how to go about polishing floors. It made us realise that although the product could be made available, the key was training and educating people about its applications, to get the right product mix at better price-quality ratios.
We approached a hotel in Chandigarh and gave them a live demo of floor polishing with our machine. Following the demonstration, the hotel management wanted the rest of the floors polished immediately. For the next two days, my team and I were locked up in polishing the entire banquet hall. The hotel bought the machine and even paid for the polishing job. At that moment, we realized that this market has a future.
During the same time, a scrubber-dryer revolution in industrial cleaning surfaced. Epoxy floorings were getting popular in India. Need-to-clean was in place and we advised such facilities to use scrubber-dryers, which could eliminate the problems of water and oil seepage.
There were problems initially, because the equipment was European, while the operators were Indian. There was resistance to the recurring detergent cost. Spares were expensive and customers were unwilling to spend on maintenance. Facility management then was manpower-based and not productivity-based. FM Companies would charge monthly rentals to bring the machines till the time they were accustomed to their efficiency and realised that quality paid.
We always assembled high-pressure equipment here in India. Importing the complete machine entailed a much higher cost than importing parts. Indian automobile garages used to cater to 70-80 cars in one day. The temperature inside rises to around 50°C, and European machines built for Italian standards/environment won’t work here.
Trip switches will stall and hence only basic safeties were needed. Electrical supplies were poor and the machines were needed to run along with local inefficient generators too.
Imported high-pressure machines were aesthetically pleasing and had much better safety norms, but they were not suitable for Indian conditions and acceptability of safety measures in machines required frequent service calls. They ran a smaller pump at a higher rpm to bring down costs, but at the expense of reduced life. The service sector was not willing to spend so much as electrical failures were frequent!
When it comes to cleaning, one needs to pick the right technique for the right surface. For example, if we take the basement parking area of a large facility, it will have a concrete floor, which drinks a lot of water. When you use a high-pressure machine to clean here, it will be in continuous use for four-six hours at a stretch, wasting a lot of water. The concrete will also start getting damaged; this causes it to start absorbing even more water. Treatment of these surfaces is a one-time cost but it makes cleaning easier and affordable.
In 2008, one of our main industrial cleaning partners suddenly shut down. This was the most testing time we have had. We had been talking to Klindex for a while and we completely shifted our focus to floor polishing in the next two years. India had never heard of concrete polishing or terrazzo floor polishing and floor treatment services were unheard of. Tiles had come in, but many educational institutes could not afford them; terrazzo was best for them. For the next six years, we focused on floor treatment.
This gave me the opportunity to run Klindex India. I was in charge of market development, which was better than being just a distributor. I was free to choose my market, product range and prices.
India is the largest consumer of stone in the world. Industries demanded better standards of cleaning and a one-time floor treatment was able to provide floors with easy cleaning and lower maintenance costs. We transformed from floor polishers to floor treatment specialists!
The entire residential market for floor and marble polishing was largely unorganised and cash-based. With GST coming in, they were forced to enter the semi-organised regime. We made a marketing plan to go only through exhibitions, and not through the retail route. We wanted to educate people to use the right product specific to their floor.
For a long time, we focused on car washers and industrial cleaning machines. We began expanding into the mining market, the truck wash market and the food & pharmaceutical sectors. The pandemic brought us a new market — use of high pressure washing as a disinfectant for pavements and open areas.
Last year, we realized the importance of a digital presence for the future of any organisation. We started our own YouTube channel with videos of processes for treatment of various types of floors to educate every customer/contractor and labourer. By implementing digitalisation, Bhuwan Baluja has started taking over the reins as the second generation to reach new horizons.
As told to Mrigank Warrier