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Innovation is the Key to Global Competitiveness
Please give us a brief introduction of Merino as a global brand and its inception in India
Merino Group is a Rs. 1200 crore establishment providing décor solutions to consumers for nearly five decades. Built on the ethos of economy, excellence and ethics, Merino Group has strived to provide consumers with an entire range of products and services that complement the furniture and panelling industry. Over the years, the group has invested time and resources into its R&D so as to bring innovative products to its customers that reflect superior quality while following the current international trends. The Group has also successfully executed a number of CSR projects aimed at creating a positive impact on the lives of the underprivileged sections of our society.
The first product launched in 1974 was plywood, and the group then diversified into high-pressure decorative laminates in 1981. Today, it has three units, two in the North and one in the western part of India. Currently, Merino holds the distinction of being the largest manufacturer in India and selling under its own brand in 70-plus countries across the globe
How long have you been in this business and in the Indian market?
Merino Group has completed 50 years of presence in the industry. Today, we are one of the top brands in the Indian laminate industry and have a strong footprint in the global arena.
Tell us briefly about your journey with Merino over the years. Also, share your major success stories over the decades in India.
Merino Group has always been the innovator and has added several benchmarks in this industry to its credit, all of them first launched by the group. We are driven by our constant efforts to maintain economy, excellence and ethics in all our businesses and with this thought, we got ISO certification in 1996 as the system driver. Once the system was adopted, we ensured to follow strict IT-enabled practices to make it efficient and the entire working was switched to an integrated ERP platform.
Merino was the first in the laminates industry to actively participate with BIS in creating a standard for HPL, the first one to get post-forming laminates, and also the frontrunner to launch big size – 14×6 ft laminates. We have created a revolution in the restroom industry by launching compact-based restroom cubicles in collaboration with Besco from Singapore.
We have been instrumental in bringing organised work into practice in this industry. It is because of our state-of-the-art technology that we initially started with 500 sheets per day and today we have reached a remarkable production mark of 50,000 sheets per day. Merino contributes significantly to the organised sector in the panels industry; which is close to 50 per cent.
Innovation is the key to global competitiveness and Merino has continuously striven to provide innovative products to complement the diverse needs of the interior and architectural segment. “Merino” symbolises quality and reliability in terms of both its products and services. The recent launch of the Gloss Meister Series is a major success story where we offer mirror-like gloss panels and we are now in the process of launching fingerprint-free matte panels. The External Wall Cladding, an endurable weatherproof protector, is all set to act as a guardian for exterior surfaces.
What are the product categories offered by Merino?
Merino’s uniqueness and strength lie in its core objective to continuously offer new products keeping pace with international trends and market demand. Over the years, Merino has been an innovator of quality products that have been increasingly appreciated and well-received by architects and interior designers by complementing their creative needs. Today, we can proudly call ourselves a one-stop surface solution provider in the surface industry, offering a wide range of surface products starting from laminates, speciality laminates, compacts, pre-laminated boards, internal and external wall claddings, solid surfaces, PU acrylic coated panels, flooring, value added compact products like Merino restroom cubicles, lockers and many more.
Please tell us about your company facilities and infrastructure.
Our manufacturing units are located in north, west and south India to ensure minimum logistics of delivery across the country. We have a production capacity of 50 million sq m per annum for decorative laminates in the interior segment with our manufacturing facilities in Rohad (Haryana) and Hapur (UP) and new facilities in Dahej (Gujarat) and Hosur (Tamil Nadu). We have committed ourselves to uphold the highest manufacturing standards, a practice that has earned all our facilities pertinent certifications that include ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001.
How do you see the façade industry evolving in India?
The world is moving towards dynamic façades with endless aesthetic possibilities, which helps to manage energy sources and supports energy-saving techniques by reducing weather loads and new ventilation technology. Also, traditional products like stone and aluminium composite are not enough to take care of the creative needs of today’s architecture as there is a continuous demand in the industry to provide exterior building design materials that can provide features of both appearance and performance together.
The industry needs products that take care of the extreme Indian climate, dust, humidity, pollution, and aesthetics. Merino Armour External Wall Cladding (EWC) range adds to the sustainability, along with the creativity of the building by offering a wide design range and the possibility of perforation of various shapes and sizes, offering an unimaginable product to fulfil the quest of industrial designers.
What has been your or your organisation’s contribution in bringing about the current revolution in the façade cladding sector?
Merino has always been offering innovative products in this segment. Taking this forward, we have offered the brand Armour, which is Merino’s exclusive exterior wall cladding solution, present in the market for the last three years. In adherence to international quality standards, our offered cladding is fully tested on various quality parameters and is armoured against all types of extreme weather conditions prevailing across India. Moreover, our EWC sets a benchmark in the industry as our cladding is one of the best products in this category, with a unique ventilation technology where an additional high UV absorbing capacity layer enriched with Poly Urethane (PU) and acrylic is added. EWC is also a fire retardant.
Please tell us about a few of your iconic and innovative projects.
As far as EWC is concerned, we have a long list of successful sites where results have been delivered. Apart from the product, we have some very innovative in-house projects that add value to our offerings. We, as a socially responsible and credible corporation, always focus on achieving innovation in our ongoing projects, be it product or manufacturing. We would like to share a few of our iconic approaches towards projects that are driven by our philosophy of protecting the environment.
Our Hapur plant runs totally on green energy. Rice husk and sawdust are used as fuel to produce high-pressure steam to take care of electrical and heating needs. Further, electrical energy requirements are augmented through rooftop solar panels and biogas produced through anaerobic treatment of effluents from food processing plants.
We are currently in the process of setting up five-megawatt solar plants for our unit in Haryana. The objective is to reuse all the effluent water. This makes the entire process ‘zero discharge’. A novel technique to treat industrial effluent with very efficient bacterial technology has been successfully commissioned for the first time in India.
Besides the development of “Green Belts” inside our premises, the reduction of water consumption to half from 1,300 KL to 600 KL per day and the installation of rainwater harvesting facilities to recharge water double the amount consumed is a part of our commitment to achieving environmental sustainability.
Merino’s sustained CSR initiatives focus on improving healthcare by helping in the eradication of tuberculosis, promoting primary education along with a mid-day meal programme and empowering women with their ‘Learn to Earn’ programme.
As per your view, how important is the role of the right cladding in achieving system performance, optimum acoustic and thermal insulation as well as in achieving the desired aesthetics?
As the product serves the outdoors and replaces many traditional ways of protecting exteriors, it must outperform the biggest challenge of exterior surfaces, which is achieving maximum thermal insulation with the right balance of aesthetics.
Merino Armour Wall Cladding is a star performer when it comes to this parameter as it has to its credit a special energy-saving system, through which air can ventilate between the subsets during installation, which aids absorption of excessive heat, and moisture, resulting in an average of 20 per cent reduction in energy consumption by retaining indoor room temperature. Also, the insulation remains corrosion-free.
As far as aesthetics are concerned, there is an eclectic range of diverse designs and colours to choose from: be it woodgrain, patterns or solids ranges and all are weather, pollution, corrosion-resistant and termite-free.
How well aware do you think the decision makers are in general about the availability of the cladding products, their functionality, and categories? And how do they gauge the effectivity of the same?
As far as B2B decision makers are concerned, they are well aware of the cladding products available in the industry, and we are constantly deriving new ways to showcase the USPs of our products. Our successful EWC project sites across India speak aloud for themselves in the industry to relevant decision-makers like the architect and interior designer fraternity.
The end user, who is the extended client of our B2B influencers, is fairly aware of the EWC functionality. Due to newly emerging trends in exteriors, this product category needs to be explained to the end customer vis-àvis other traditional products.
Moreover, there is a constant challenge in positioning EWC as a better replacement for the traditional ways of doing exteriors which could be stone, paint or tiles. The cladding offers many advantages as it is durable, tough and aesthetic in terms of protection against all weathers, UV rays, climatic shock, corrosions, termites, moisture, impact, abrasions, and graffiti; it is also easy and quick to install and has energy-saving techniques. Gradually, EWC is carving a niche for itself amongst the B2C decision-makers too.
What is the emphasis laid on R&D, especially for the Indian market?
Merino lays special emphasis on R&D because the introduction of new products is the key benchmark for the group. We are continuously working with international partners to bring the most modern technologies and products to the market. All our manufacturing facilities have dedicated labs focused on development through sustained improvement and new innovation.
What do you foresee are the main challenges faced by the wooden laminate industry?
The industry needs to get more organised as the end consumer is still not aware of the benefits of the laminate which is way beyond aesthetics. The industry collaboratively has to work towards educating the end customer on empathising with how the product is more economical and environmentally friendly.
Tell us about your channel expansion strategies in the market.
We have a strong, widely spread channel partner network, some of them working with us since Merino’s inception. The group has focused on ensuring on-time and full deliveries to the customer as per their order requirement for which special initiatives to improve the supply chain have been made. We are also working with our channel partners to open an organised gallery and exclusive display centres in 2018. Another strategy taken by the company is to expand the channel and to work with the carpenters.
What keeps the company ahead of its competitors in terms of services offered?
Our organised and well-planned methodology of working, stringent quality certifications, more than five decades of association with the channel network and design fraternity, our outstanding product quality and services and not to forget our extensive design range, all these features keep us ahead and leading players in the industry.
We offer an extensive array of surface solutions under one roof and our supply initiative keeps us ahead of the competition in terms of services. Also, our constant endeavour is to maintain a strong connection with our customers by highlighting the new technology or product offerings from Merino. One of them is a recently opened Merino Experience Centre which provides aesthetical, technical and commercial exhibitions and guidance under one roof.
How do you see the façade and fenestration industry evolving over the next five years?
Façade industry’s biggest challenge lies in making it energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable. Merino Armour EWC offers natural insulation, which makes it more environmentally sustainable and commercially viable when it comes to saving energy and cost. The design range for finishes is also limitless.
The trend of decoration has shifted to the exterior surfaces of the house along with protection measures, compared to conventional times where the customer used to have maximum expectations from the interiors of the house in terms of aesthetics. Also in the B2B segment, professionals and designers want to achieve an attractive outer look that gives the project its own uniquely marvellous identity. EWC offers an unmatched design range, with the possibility of using different shapes and forms using perforation thereby, giving the exteriors a striking look. For example, we usually refer to some iconic sites with their unusual exterior look recall as ‘the red square house’ or ‘the triangular-shaped building’, etc. EWC has a huge role in defining the new trends in the exterior planning of various projects and allowing the architect and design fraternity to play with their creative instincts thus, taking the facade industry to the next level in the upcoming years.