A mixed bag

Every three to four years, most hoteliers renovate their properties. This is either to make them more contemporary or add the latest utilities to improve its functionality and provide better guest experience.

With the hospitality business coming to a standstill during the pandemic, several hoteliers decided to use the downtime for renovation. This way, they would be all primed and ready when the economy reopened.

Moreover, they could drive a hard bargain with vendors in the interim and get more bang on their buck. Additionally, with hygiene becoming a buzzword, they could install more safety-first products in their properties without breaking the bank.

These factors helped sanitaryware brands like Roca Parryware not just survive, but thrive, during the pandemic. The company’s MD, KE Ranganathan, tells Vinita Bhatia that given fears about COVID-19’s spread, hotels were keen to highlight the hygiene standards and protocols at their properties. This helped it weather the pandemic without too much of a hitch, while other businesses were hit significantly.

Roca has a mixed bag of brands, doesn’t it?The bathroom business comprises sanitaryware, faucets and tiles, and Roca is the world leader in sanitaryware. Starting in 1917, the company continues to lead this space, after more than a century.

It entered India in 2005 in a joint venture with Parryware. Three years later, it took complete ownership and today, it has five brands in its portfolio.

The Armani Roca Brand is a joint development of premium bathroom products by Giorgio Armani. Laufen is another luxury brand with Swiss technology, while Roca too is a super premium brand. We have two brands for the Indian market – the premium Parryware and Johnson Pedder, which falls in the affordable category. This mixed portfolio allows us to offer a variety of brand and product options to hotels, so they can manage their cost, while offering great value to guests.

How is Roca leaning on its R&D to create high quality bathroom products, which is also economically viable for the hospitality industry?

Earlier, hoteliers were focusing on luxury brands and high-end products. Today, they want COVID fighting solutions. Our global R&D center in Barcelona and regional lab in Chennai constantly collaborate to innovate and introduce contemporary products.

We define three sections in a bathroom – the basin, closet and shower area. If one considers the hygiene aspects in the washbasin area, the waste pipeline can allow food particles stagnate and bacteria multiple, if it is of poor quality or not fitted well. This can also happen, if the ceramic surface does not push water down.

After working on the basin’s surface, we ensure the pipeline efficiently sucks all the water. We also introduced an electronic faucet with a sensor integrated in the spout. This can be retro fit to replace existing faucets in hotels. Moreover, we launched a microbial faucet knob, so if a user has to touch it, they can be rest assured that it is free of infection.

In the closet area, we have electronic flushing toilets. We also have sensor-enabled toilets where the seat opens and closes automatically. Many hotels have wall panels for the flush. Now, we have integrated sensors in these panels, so that users don’t need to touch them.

A mixed bag

Similarly, we introduced a anti-microbial seat cover. Here, the granules are impregnated with skin friendly chemicals, which can kills the bacteria.Looks like the focus on hygiene following the pandemic came as good news for Roca Parryware.

With eight factories and 15000 outlets, we create a constant pull for our five brands through various market development activities. You are right; the focus on hygiene helped our business see a helicopter take off this year.

From January to May, we recorded 60% growth in revenue over the same period last year. This hike took place because of our brand’s pull as well as rising consumption. We kept up communication with customers, introduced COVID-friendly products, identified new segments, and explored the rural market, which created great consumer demand.

Do you expect this growth pace to continue for the company?

I expect the next helicopter ride in July. Let me explain why. There was limited economic activity during the 1st wave – the nation’s GDP collapsed in April 2020, businesses were shut, products were unavailable and people were coming to terms with the lockdown. During the second wave, the government permitted sectors to resume operations, like construction, which require bathroom products.

As the caseload drops, the economy will reopen. That will see the pent of demand take off, be it in the consumer or hospitality segment.

How important is the hospitality sector to your overall company’s business?

Institutional segment, which includes residential, commercial, hospitality and healthcare properties, contributes around 30% to our business. Within this, hospitality stands at around 20%.

We are very strong in this segment. One can find our products in upscale as well as economy brands. While several companies have slowed down on construction of new hotel properties because of the pandemic, they are renovating their existing buildings.

Were there seismic shifts in demand patterns from the hospitality segment badly during the pandemic?

If we look at the hospitality business demand as a pyramid, luxury occupies the top 5%, and they will always invest. The super premium segment, comprising 15%, was slightly affected by the pandemic. These buyers contemplated whether it was prudent to invest in bathroom and sanitaryware currently and how to spend their money.

Resorts, for instance, are renovating quickly as they are seeing a lot of travel uptake. At the same time, they have to deal with cost challenges since they lost business in 2020. Fortunately, this is where we scored over the competition because we could offer these customers a mix and match – they could buy a Roca washbasin and a Parryware shower. So our super luxury business did not see much change.

My market and sales reading does show that there a bit of a slowdown in the Roca segment, since it is a super-premium brand. However, this was compensated by Parryware sales.

Bathrooms are long-term investments, and even your clients in the institutional segment are unlikely to renovate before five years. How do you help them maintain these products?

Service is a big aspect of the bathroom business. Typically, most hotels have their in-house maintenance staff. However, these people might not be able to repair sophisticated products. Hence, we conduct a plumber development programme at all hotels, where our experts educate the housekeeping and maintenance staff about the preventive measures to take while cleaning, and reactive measures to take for repairing.