Putty in Richwood’s hands

Roy Thomas chats with Mr.HrishikeshBadamikar, entrepreneur and owner of Solapur-based Richwood, about putties and fillers and all things that the Indian furniture industry needs to catch up with…

The Indian paint market size is estimated to grow to Rs 709 billion by the year 2020. Although wood putty accounts for less than 5% of that segment, Hrishikesh sees big potential in it.

The Richwood story, unlike many other success stories, does not follow the classic script. There is no big business family background, or several specialised degrees attached to the manufacturer’s name here.

Instead, along with some exposure to woodworking provided to him by his father, it was Mr.HrishikeshBadamikar’s curiosity, meticulous eye for detail and a drive to overcome odds and find solutions. This attitude paid dividends and eventually he is what he is today: a successful entrepreneur.

Hrishikesh’s father, Mr.RaghavendraBadamikar, started a small workshop in Solapur (Maharashtra) in 1989 from where he sold sofa sets, dining room furniture, cots, wardrobes and other household furniture. In 1991, Hrishikesh completed his B.Com. and joined his father’s business.

Crude methods

While apprenticing with his father, he became aware of the various problems and drawbacks that were being faced by carpenters. He noticed that at the time of polishing, carpenters used very crude methods to fill the gaps, cracks, holes and cover knots.

“Generally plaster of Paris or ‘whiting powder’ was being used. It often dislodged or cracked after it dried,” Hrishikesh noted. Carpenters also used wax, sawdust, Fevicol or metal paste as a short-term, quick-fix solution to the problem.

Despite his non-technical background Hrishikesh soon began asking questions on whether improvements could be effected to the process, and whether better solutions could be found.

He then started researching and experimenting with various materials and chemicals to see what kind of putty would give the best results, and whether a permanent solution to the problem could be found. Finally, he developed an effective wood putty.

In 2007, confident with the quality of his product, he decided to manufacture and market his brand ‘Richfill’ throughout the country, while simultaneously registering a patent for it. He has also developed a wood polishing system, to get better wood finish.

Going pan-India

It was in 2006 that he came to visit the IndiaWood exhibition in Bengaluru, and went back convinced that this was a good platform for his products. He participated in IndiaWood 2008, and advertising in WoodNews magazine immediately gave his products a pan-India exposure.

Customers started approaching him with suggestions for improvements and also with requests to customise the wood putty to suit their specific requirements. Richwood became a regular feature at the subsequent DelhiWood exhibition in 2009 and at IndiaWood 2010.

Constantly innovating and improving his products with several new features, Hrishikesh got good response and soon Richfill became an established brand. Subsequently, the company started developing ‘need-based’ or customised products. Today, in addition to DelhiWood and IndiaWood, Richwood participates in Sri Lanka Wood and Nepal Wood.

In-house R&D

Richwood is now recognized as a pioneer of wood putty in the Indian furniture and plywood industry and Richfill wood putty is now known as a high-strength, eco-friendly product.

The 8,000-square-foot Richwood factory was set up in 2008 by the Badamikar brothers, with machinery that includes pulverisers and mixers and sieving machines. It also has a well-equipped laboratory that is looked after by Hrishikesh himself.

“We can research on and further develop our products because of our customers: they tell us their needs and give us constant feedback,” he says. “The industry is such that there is a constant need to innovate and improve. We at Richwood compete with ourselves, and this is our philosophy.”

There are basically two categories of putty; both are inorganic chemicals in powder form comprising iron and aluminium (metal oxides) that are manufactured in the Solapur factory. Richfill is a readymade, water-based wood putty that is mixed with water and applied to the damaged surface of wood. It is crack-resistant, shrink-free and has a high bonding strength to wood.

Plywood putty

Richfill Plywood-Plus is a special grade edge gap and face crack filler that has been specially developed to fill the edge gaps and face cracks in plywood, flush doors and flexi plywood. It is available in different shades like teak wood, Okume, rubber wood, and Gurjan.

This is also a powder that is mixed with white glue and water and applied to the face cracks and edge gaps of plywood. Hrishikesh says this product is very popular with the plywood industry and is used as quality calibration filler to address the problem of evenness and thickness variations and for filling the corners.

This is also a powder that is mixed with white glue and water and applied to the face cracks and edge gaps of plywood. Hrishikesh says, “Richfill Plywood-Plus is like a cosmetic to plywood. This product is used widely in India.”

This special filler is a combination of various inorganic metal oxides in powder form. “Recently we undertook many technical changes to this product. The new product can be spread more, and has better colours and textures,” Hrishikesh says.

Richwood’s list of customers includes the who’s who of the industry, including Century Ply, Swastik Plywood, Keshav Plywood Industries, Gujcon, Rama Plywood, Gattani Ply, Truwoods, Minimax, Hitachi KK, Navair International, Basant, Shreeji Woodcraft, Forms, Artasia, Zircon Exports, Abbas Designer Doors, etc.

Putty and filler

Plywood manufacturers regularly face the problem of uneven thickness in their products because of uneven thickness of the core. Manufacturers also face the problems of waves on the face veneer, apart from glue penetration on the face. This reflects badly on the beauty of plywood.

“We noticed the need of our plywood sector and developed this innovative product, Richfill calibrated filler. It helps to get even thickness and helps to overcome the problem of dark patches on the face veneer,” Hrishikesh adds.

Richfill wood putty is also a readymade, water-based wood putty that is applied to the damaged surface of wood. It is crack-resistant, shrink-free and has a high bonding strength to wood. It is available in different colours like white, rubber wood, teak, American Walnut, Mahogany and jet black.

It is equally useful for wood, moulds, sculpture, stone work, MDF, block board, wood flooring, rattan and bamboo. A special putty has also been developed for speaker box manufacturers and toy manufactures.

Market potential

The Indian paint market size is estimated to grow to Rs. 709 billion by 2019-2020. The overall putty share would be around 5% of that – and the share of wood putty is even less.

“But we realise that there is lot more potential, because I have seen Indian manufacturers concoct their own putty formulae, which which differ from factory to factory. If a manufacturer is quality conscious, he will study the available products and resources in the market and select according to his requirement. It means there is still large scope, and that awareness has to be created among the manufacturers to manufacture quality products,” Hrishikesh notes.

Richwood has opened its sales offices in Yamunanagar (Haryana) and Kannur (Kerala), from where it focuses on various markets.

But why is wood putty still being imported? “For one, the demand in India is very large. Secondly, the adherence of global brands to maintaining high quality and consistency, from samples to huge orders,” Hrishikesh notes.

Many Indian manufacturers are not able to match the quality of their samples with the promised orders. This is an important barrier in the development of the domestic wood putty sector. But the new generation of manufacturers are adopting new technology and behave like players in a mature market.

“So this bias towards domestic products is also gradually changing,” he feels. “Once any Indian company tries out our products it is usually convinced of the quality and efficacy of the material.”

Expansion mode

Thanks to the exposure it has received at various exhibitions, Richwood’s export orders have also picked up, especially from Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Asian countries and in some countries in Africa.

The company plans to further strengthen the marketing set-up by opening up new offices in potential areas throughout the country in a phased manner. The manufacturing capacity, which is currently 40 tonnes per month, is also being ramped up in anticipation of increased business.

“We know the quality of our products. Once the awareness kicks in, we expect an exponential increase in orders,” says a confident Hrishikesh. This positive attitude is what has brought him to where he is today, and will surely pay him rich dividends in the coming years.

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