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Interview with Sandeep Duggal

Sandeep Duggal
Sandeep Duggal
IML Group
IML Group

Our journey reflects our dedication to push the boundaries and keep evolving
Indo Asia Machines (IML Group) stands at the forefront in the realm of textile machinery trading, providing state-of-the-art equipment for diverse requirements.

Rooted in the rich history of the textile industry since the 1950s, the IML Group has evolved to offer a comprehensive range of machinery and services, marking its prominence as a key player in this sector.

Over the decades, IML Group has diversified its offerings to include a variety of textile machinery such as weaving machines, embroidery machines, water jet looms, heat sublimation printing machines, warping machines and advanced digital textile printers. These machines cater to a broad spectrum of textile manufacturing needs, ensuring high efficiency and superior quality output. 

The Group’s expertise is not limited to machinery alone; it also extends to the production of specialised textile inks used for printing on various fabric types. This dual capability of providing both machinery and consumables places IML Group in a unique position to offer integrated solutions to the textile industry.

The Group’s commitment to excellence is reflected in its ability to adapt to market trends and technological advancements, ensuring that clients receive the best possible products and services.

IML Group operates through several specialised verticals, each dedicated to a specific segment of the textile industry. 

Among IML Group’s extensive product portfolio are several flagship machines renowned for their performance and reliability, which include the Tejas Direct Fabric Printing Machine, which is celebrated for its precision and efficiency in fabric printing. The Brahmos - Kyocera Head Sublimation Printing Machine is another notable product, known for its high-speed and high-quality sublimation printing capabilities. Additionally, the Agni series of Epson Head Sublimation Printing Machines, which includes models i20, i16, i12, i8, and i3, offers a range of options tailored to different printing requirements. 

The Heat Transfer Machine (base to top model) is another key offering from IML Group, providing a versatile solution for heat transfer printing. This machine is designed to handle diverse types of fabrics, ensuring consistent and high-quality prints with every use while the company is also the exclusive dealer of 4-Star Warping Machines for Gujarat and Punjab regions. 

The comprehensive range of products and services offered by IML Group underscores its commitment to customer service and satisfaction.

Recently, Fibre2Fashion had the opportunity to engage in an insightful conversation with Sandeep Duggal, Director of IML Group. During the discussion, Duggal shared insights into the company’s journey, its current operations, and future aspirations. He highlighted the group’s firm dedication to quality and innovation, which has been instrumental in IML’s sustained success in the competitive textile industry.

Following are the excerpts:

How has Indo Asia Machines Pvt. Ltd. (IML Group) evolved over the years?

The IML Group was officially established in 2007, but our history stretches back much further. Our family business has deep roots, originating in Amritsar in 1950 under the guidance of my great-grandfather. 
By 2002, we relocated to Surat to concentrate on our fabric business. Despite the promising opportunities in the textile sector, we encountered significant challenges with the payment structure by 2004, making it difficult to sustain.
During this period, my younger brother Neeraj Duggal, a computer engineer by profession, decided to join the business. To support our fabric operations, we started importing embroidery machines. Initially, our suppliers were also new to the market. However, recognising the potential and good margins, we decided to import machines from China, confident in our ability to manage any arising issues.
Neeraj’s involvement proved pivotal. On a visit to Surat, we decided to explore further opportunities, prompting us to travel to China. This visit shifted our focus significantly towards machinery sales. 
By 2007, the foundation of IML Group was laid, primarily importing embroidery machines and water jet looms from China. 
At that time, even the established weavers in Surat were unfamiliar with water jet looms. 
In 2005, we showcased the first Chinese water jet loom in Surat, marking a major milestone for our business. 

So, in a way, IML Group was the first to introduce water jet looms in Surat?

Yes, specifically the Chinese version. Before our introduction, only the major players had water jet looms, primarily the second-hand Japanese machines. 
Displaying the Chinese water jet looms at an exhibition in Surat turned out to be a transformative moment. The overwhelming crowd demonstrated the market’s strong interest and potential.
Since then, our journey has been marked by numerous memorable milestones. By 2006, we had sold the first set of water jet looms in India, setting a precedent in the industry. The company we began collaborating with in 2005 has since grown to become the largest globally, and renowned for its impeccable quality. 
Today, we are the sole selling agent in India for ‘YIINCHUEN’ water jet looms.
The durability and quality of our offerings are evident, as the looms we introduced in 2005 are operational till date. This longevity highlights the robust nature of our offerings. Many customers have returned with repeat orders, some multiple times, underscoring their satisfaction with our product offerings and services. 
This consistent positive feedback and loyalty speak volumes about the reliability and excellence of our offerings. The ability to maintain such high standards over the years reflects the strong foundation and enduring commitment to quality that defines the IML Group today.

There is a general perception that Chinese machines, while affordable, lack long-term sustainability. What is your take on this?

I do not agree with this generalised view. While there could be some minor differences, the price advantage of Chinese machines cannot be overlooked either. 
The Indian market is exceptionally competitive in terms of price points with customers known for their tough negotiation skills. 
It is also important to note that Chinese machines are not only sold in India but also in highly developed markets like Europe and the US. In the realm of capital goods, striking the right balance between price and quality is very important and one needs to keep track of long-term viability. 
The fact that our machines from 2005 are still operational stands as a testament to their durability and quality. 
Many customers have also developed a sentimental attachment to their first machines because of the consistent and reliable service they have provided over the years that they are not ready to part with those. This loyalty and satisfaction highlight the fact that Chinese machines can indeed offer sustainable, long-term value, challenging the perception that they are not a viable option in the long run.

Can you take us through the Group’s other business verticals and how did they evolve?

Our business is primarily associated with the textile sector, but it has evolved significantly in phases, especially from 2010 to 2020, and more so post-COVID. 
In 2009, we ventured into importing digital printing machines from China, pioneering the digital printing sector. Our first customer, Ganga Fashion from Surat, marked the beginning of this new chapter. We are sellers of the world leader ‘ATEXCO’ digital printing machines for fabrics.
That same year, we diversified further by launching a polyester coating and sequins line. 
This expansion reflects our strategy of diversification by venturing into new areas to stay ahead in the market, which has been crucial to our growth, particularly in the face of global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. 
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic brought about major disruptions to our operations. In response, we swiftly pivoted by establishing a printing unit to utilise our surplus stocks of machines and inks. 
Thus, was born Printona Digital, known for its expertise in digital printing on fabrics such as polyester, poly viscose, and PC fabrics, which prides itself on adding value to these fabrics through innovative printing techniques and high-quality output. This specialisation allows us to meet the growing demand for customised and intricate textile designs, further enhancing the Group’s reputation in the market.
This unplanned initiative has since evolved into a significant vertical for us, now contributing 30-35 per cent of our overall revenue. Despite its impromptu nature, this addition has seamlessly integrated into our business model and become a cornerstone of our operations. 
Additionally, we ramped up our ink production and remained committed to fostering innovation across our existing verticals.

Can you elaborate on this business vertical dealing in ink?

We distribute inks to the primary textile manufacturing centres across India, ensuring comprehensive coverage of the market. 
Despite the vast potential, only a modest 15-20 per cent of the ink market is currently catered by inks produced within India. This scenario presents ample opportunities for us to expand our market share.
With most ink demand being met through imports, there remains scope enough for us to capitalise on this untapped segment of the market. By leveraging our expertise and capabilities, we aim to strengthen our position within the industry and enhance market presence.
Through strategic initiatives and targeted efforts, we endeavour to seize upon the opportunities presented by the growing demand for inks.
Bluejade Texink Pvt. Ltd. focuses on the production of water-based, inkjet, dye-inks compatible with a range of print heads including Epson, Kyocera, Konica-Minolta, Ricoh, and Spectra. These inks are meticulously formulated to ensure vibrant colours and durable prints, catering to the diverse needs of textile printers.

How important is early market entry to your overall business strategy?

For us, it is primarily a personal drive than anything else even though my father always says, “the one who comes first gets the necklace of flowers.” However, our motivation stems from seeking out new products and enhancing the sector as a whole and this mantra leads us to seek new technology and interventions to contribute value to the industry. 
Despite facing adversities, such as the setback in 2012 when a fire ravaged our polyester coating plant, which forced us to halt importing embroidery machines and rather concentrate on the other verticals, we redirected our focus towards digital printers, digital inks, and allied machinery, a decision that ultimately proved advantageous. 
Our journey in a way reflects our dedication to pushing boundaries, seizing the opportunities, and keep evolving.

Are you also manufacturing machines in-house?

Within our operations, we collaborate with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). 
Operating under the IML Group umbrella, we engage in the purchase and sale of machines, assuming complete accountability for their performance. 
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our OEM partners would dispatch technicians to address service-related issues, if any. However, in response to the challenges posed by the pandemic, we underwent adaptation, which involved conducting rigorous in-house testing of new machine models prior to their commercial launch. 
By implementing this practice, we aim to guarantee that our customers receive products of utmost reliability and performance. 
We now prioritise extensive in-house testing of new models before their commercial launch and this strategic shift makes sure that our internal team becomes thoroughly acquainted with the machines, enabling us to deliver top-notch service without relying on foreign technicians.

Is IML’s machine supply network spread pan-India?

Our distribution network spans across the key textile manufacturing hubs, encompassing nearly all major regions. With operational offices strategically located in Amritsar, Panipat, Gurgaon, and Surat, we ensure comprehensive coverage of these vital industrial centres. Moreover, our sales team operates in prominent textile hubs such as Varanasi, Ahmedabad, Tiruppur, and Hyderabad, further extending our reach and accessibility to clients across the country. 
This has helped us to cater to the diverse needs of our clientele and facilitate seamless access to our products and services.

Given IML’s proficiency, why have you refrained from setting up in-house machine manufacturing, which many are doing these days?

The younger generation within our business is driven by the aspiration to initiate manufacturing operations in India. 
The government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative serves as a catalyst, fostering an environment conducive to local production. However, certain technologies crucial for our operations are currently unavailable within the country. 
Particularly in sectors like embroidery and digital printing, China still holds a dominant position in the market due to its scale and technological advancements. Nevertheless, as attitudes evolve and there is a growing emphasis on promoting domestic manufacturing, we anticipate notable shifts in the landscape going forward. 
This shift in mindset, coupled with the government’s support for indigenous manufacturing, will pave the way for advancements in the Indian manufacturing sector, aligning with the objectives of ‘Make in India’ vision.

How do you distinguish yourself in a such a competitive market with so many players already operating?

Although numerous competitors exist in the market, our primary emphasis remains on delivering exceptional quality and service. Prior to introducing any product, we meticulously ensure that it meets rigorous quality standards. 
The same is with the ink, we conduct comprehensive testing to guarantee compatibility with a diverse range of machine heads. This meticulous approach apart from giving an edge in the competition also fosters trust and confidence among our clientele.

What is your current turnover, and what are your growth projections for the next couple of years?

At present, our turnover stands slightly below ₹10 million. Our forthcoming endeavours are directed towards surpassing this threshold in the upcoming fiscal year.
However, our primary objective is not merely to surpass this figure but to strategically augment our market share so rather than solely concentrating on revenue growth, we intend to expand our presence and plan to capture 25-30 per cent share of the ink market in the coming days. 
Achieving this milestone will propel turnover beyond the ₹10.5 million mark.

Do you follow any specific marketing strategy to achieve your goals?

In our service-centric industry, the provision of exceptional service holds paramount importance. The impact of customer satisfaction cannot be overstated, as contented clients have the potential to generate additional business, whereas dissatisfied ones can undermine it. 
This is the reason why prior to introducing new machines to our customers, we adhere to a rigorous protocol of in-house testing. This meticulous approach is integral to ensuring the reliability and performance of our offerings and is also a part and parcel of our marketing principle.

What are your expectations for the future growth and development of IML Group?

The outlook for the future appears bright and encouraging for IML Group. Our optimism stems from our commitment to continuous innovation, focus on quality, and our proactive efforts to expand the market share. 
The infusion of fresh ideas and energy from the new generation will play a pivotal role in our ability to adapt to the ever-evolving market dynamics. I believe that by embracing the spirit of innovation and service, we can continually contribute to the growth of the textile industry. While navigating the challenges as they arise, we must embrace agility and responsiveness to emerging trends.
Interviewer: Deepankar Shyam
Published on: 10/07/2024

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.