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Perfect Strokes

01 Sep 2019 Long Read
Walls across the country are coming alive with innovative, striking and sustainable options designed for Indian weather conditions. 

With ‘Housing for All’ the mantra today, the paints and wall coverings sectors are enjoying their time in the sun.
Estimating the entire paints market at €3.6 billion, Rajiv Rajgopal, Managing Director, AkzoNobel India, says, “The underlying growth drivers in India include a young population and growing middle class, rapid urbanisation, increased infrastructure investment, lower home loan interest rates and a rapid rise in affordable housing projects. The fastest growth is in the mass market segment and smaller cities and towns that have seen a steady increase in disposable income.”
According to Abhijit Roy, Managing Director & CEO, Berger Paints, “The Indian paint industry has a turnover of around  Rs.500 billion and is well placed to cross the Rs.700 billion mark by FY2021-22.” 
“Overall, the paints market will always grow because it’s a generic product required by all houses and building exteriors,” reasons Rohit Gupta, Managing Director, Elementto Lifestyles. “Plus,the business of repainting buildings has also grown tenfold from 10 years ago.” 
As for market share, Roy shares that the decorative or architectural segment accounts for 80 per cent in India while the wall covering market is small and dominated by unorganised players. 
Nevertheless, Gupta points to the growing popularity of wallpaper. 
“It is easy to apply and you can do the job within a day without removing anything from the house,” he says. “Also, wallpaper has become so cheap and the aesthetics are better than paint. I would say the segment is growing at 15-20 per cent a year.”

Colour palette
With such an abundance of choice, how does one choose the right colour?
“The purpose of the space is an important factor,” responds Rajgopal.“Colours in interior surroundings define space, influence mood and create identity. We have taken the guesswork out of finding the right colour for home owners with our Dulux Visualizer app, which gives you an instant impression of how your room 
will look.”
Berger Paints, too, offers a ‘Preview Service’ where consumers can envisage how their interiors and exteriors would look in various colour options. The company also offers colour consultancy services. “Colour choice depends on the individual’s preference, taste and lifestyle,” says Roy. 
Gupta says that, for his company’s products, choice is largely driven by architects and interior designers. “Our products are mid to high range and architects usually help in making the selection. We have interior designers and stylists on board but invariably the client comes back with the architect.”
Indeed, architects and interior designers are becoming increasingly creative. “It is common knowledge to choose one accent wall for paint as it creates an illusion of space,” points out Supriya Lolayekar, Founder and Principal Designer, Crafted Spaces. “But paint can be added to furniture, accent pieces and artefacts as well, not just walls.”
“As a design firm, we understand the clients’ sense of colour and aesthetic,” avers Smriti Raheja Sawhney, Founder, DesignEx. “Accordingly, we help them decide the colour palette. There is a correlation in terms of an overall look and story for the space and we don’t break out into a new colour for each room.” She explains further that a living space is usually highlighted by juxtaposing a wall, boasting of the trending colour palette, with the neutral or complementing schema of the overall expanse. 

Preferred coverage 
Speaking of walls, it begs the question: Are coverings increasingly scoring over paints?
“There is definitely an increase in demand for wall coverings,” replies Sawhney. “Aesthetic appeal is a big factor. However, the choice is largely dependent on location, use and maintenance required. Walls with exposure to moisture or susceptible to seepage should be either covered with a non-porous wall finish such as tile, acrylic or glass or a water-resistant paint. Partition walls and other unexposed walls that are not subjected to moisture but lie in high-traffic areas, such as receptions and corridors, should be wallpapered with vinyl or other washable options like washable paints for longevity.”
“Now, all hotels are opting for wallpaper,” weighs in Gupta. “Demand also comes from offices. In the residential segment, a lot of high-end wallpaper is used for aesthetics, with the cost going up from `200 to `2,000 per sq ft. The low-end residential segment also uses wallpaper because of the variety of design options.”
While Roy affirms that the use of wallcoverings is higher among designers and architects, especially for hospitality and commercial real estate, he believes their use in the residential sector is still limited to affluent households in Tier-I cities and is a niche segment.
Not all designers are going the whole hog on wallpaper. “Wall coverings can encompass more options than just wallpaper – for example, tile, stone or wooden panelling – depending on the client’s feel of the space and budget,” says Lolayekar. “We opt for wall coverings only in limited spaces; we usually play around more with paints. Nowadays, paints have various textures that can be more cost-effective and durable.”
As AkzoNobel India only operates in the paints and coatings segment, Rajgopal’s opinion is unequivocal: “While trends keep changing, paint has a larger 
appeal and is timeless.”

Recent launches
To keep up with changing preferences, companies are widening their product portfolio. 
For instance, as Rajgopal tells us, many of AkzoNobel India’s recent innovations offer solutions for Indian weather conditions. These include Dulux Weathershield Max, which protects home exteriors against recurring cracks, dampness and fungus formation; the Dulux Aquatech products that help fill up cracks, particularly in places that experience much rainfall or are exposed to dust; Sadolin, a specialist solution for both exterior and interior wood applications; and Dulux Professional Weathershield TR E2000 and Dulux Professional Weathershield Creation Stonetex, which ensure durability and protection for the residential, commercial, education, healthcare and hospitality sectors.
On the aesthetic side, AkzoNobel has launched ColourMotion, a signature wall finish that brings alive a unique ‘colour travelling effect’ revealing subtle shades from different angles.”
Roy, too, shares how Berger Paints successfully churns out indigenous and innovative product offerings. Recent launches include Weathercoat Anti Dustt that does not allow dust to settle on your exterior walls; Easy Clean Fresh that offers excellent stain resistance and imparts a fresh fragrance; and PU RoofKoat, a PU-based roof waterproofing membrane that helps in waterproofing and cools down ambient temperature.
“There are a lot of new technologies coming in the construction industry, such as mivan technology, prefab construction, etc,” says Aneel Parekh, Managing Director, Godavri Paints. “So we have to be updated and offer the right products to also protect the structure and not only beautify it.” All our products come with performance warranty. Recent offerings of our company are elastomeric fibre reinforced waterproofing coating, anti carbonation coating, thermal insulation coating (reflective coating), which gives protection to concrete structures. 
For its part, Elementto Lifestyles has mainly been tapping the high-end residential and hotel segments – it represents Armani Casa, Missoni Homes, Jean Paul Gaultier, French company Elitis and American company Philips Jeffery, among others. “These are innovative, design-oriented companies,” says Gupta. “They add a lot of value in terms of textile products like silk, raw silk, velvet finish, etc, to basically give warmth to the house. In India, people like more subtle stuff compared to Europe and Russia.”

Sustainable offerings
While innovation and variety are essential, sustainability is an imperative that cannot be ignored. 
“Eco-friendly paints are not only better for one’s health but for the environment as well,” affirms Mitali Aharam, Founder and Principal Designer, Crafted Spaces. “Besides volatile organic compounds (VOCs), we also should check for heavy metal pigments.”
And Sawhney says, “With growing awareness of reducing our carbon footprint, clients are happy to use eco-friendly paints and materials. Another good reason is the reduced odour, eliminating the chances of breathing ailments.”
Manufacturers are clearly heeding the call.
“AkzoNobel aims to move towards zero VOC and continues to focus on developing products with significantly reduced VOC content,” asserts Rajgopal. “This has both environmental and health benefits and allows us to remain ahead of legislation. The Dulux and Dulux Professional range have received CII’s prestigious GreenPro certification and, over the years, we have launched a series of environment-friendly products.”
“In the past year, many of Berger Paints’ manufacturing facilities have been awarded for best EHS practices, including the CII-ITC Sustainability Award (CII), Greentech Award(Greentech Foundation) and recognition from the National Safety Council of India,” highlights Roy. “Also, all our products are low VOC and Green Pro-certified on the basis of various criteria.”
“Parameters have been prescribed by IGBC for low-VOC and eco-friendliness, and Godavri Paints has always kept its products in line with green specifications,” says Parekh. “Our R&D team is working to further lower VOC in our products.”
“Most European companies I work with specify that the dyes and chemicals used for printing wallpaper are eco-friendly,” 
says Gupta. “They also use solvent-free dyes.”

Combating challenges
Like any other sector, the paints and coverings segment faces its share of challenges. 
“The slump in real estate coupled with indication of an overall slowdown is the cause for concern,” acknowledges Rajgopal. “A possible exchange rate (USD to INR) increase, too, poses a risk. However, with the upcoming festive season, we are hopeful for a turnaround.” 
“Fluctuating crude oil prices and currency exchange rates create uncertainty as the industry is still quite dependent on crude and imported raw materials,” Roy adds. “Also, the Indian paint industry has always been competitive.”
Here, Parekh says, “While competition makes us increasingly agile, there is unhealthy competition too. There are innumerable small players who do not have capabilities to deliver quality and in-time delivery. When clients choose to get work done at a cheaper rate, they do regret it later on as there are project delays, retendering, recalling, and so on which is not acceptable in the current scenario due to RERA and other government regulations. So, it is the unorganised players who are a challenge.” 
“As we are mainly dealing in European and American products, we face a lot of challenges from China because they replicate all the high-end stuff,” says Gupta. “People don’t realise the ink they use for wallpaper is low quality and give way and that the design usually doesn’t match on the wall. But people on a small budget do go in for Chinese products.”
That said, organised players have clear strategies in place. “Today, consumers seek technologically advanced, functional, aesthetic products,” says Roy. “They require a hassle-free painting experience. Thus, product and service innovations are vital and companies who cater to these need gaps will be winners.”
“When your company has standards, efficiency levels and a track record, and you keep up with the latest technology, you have an edge and there are immense opportunities and innovations,” reasons Parekh.
“To stay ahead, we give feedback to our European and American companies on their price points and they reduce them,” reveals Gupta. “The biggest advantage 
is that their design innovation is so good. When we launch a product, the Chinese copy it, but it comes in after a year or two, and by then, we already have 
a new innovation!”
All considered, the prevailing sentiment is optimism. As Rajgopal says, “The long-term growth story of India is intact.” And, it is vibrant with colour!

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