The traffic along Knightsbridge is unusually busy because (we think) the Queen is leaving Buckingham Palace for her summer holiday at Balmoral.
That’s not a sentence that you might expect to read as the introduction of an aftermarket new venture, but as is clear by the penthouse office suite overlooking Hyde Park, this is no ordinary startup.
“We’re going to be disrupting this market, that’s for sure,” Mandhira Kapur. No stranger to the global car parts chain, Ms. Kapur is CEO of the family business, Sona Mandhira Private Limited, started by her late father, Dr Surinder Kapur. The company, headquartered in Gurugram near Delhi, was founded in its modern form just over a decade ago, although its roots can be traced back to the 1980s when Dr. Surinder bought a foundry and signed a deal with Suzuki (then known as Maruti Udyog) to supply steering components.
Today, SMPL still produces and distributes steering and suspension components for light vehicles, as well as clutches for heavy vehicles, but plans for the UK go far beyond simply wishing to import an existing product range and sell it through buying groups. To start with, a new company, Sona Mandhira International or ‘SMIC’ for short, has been registered. A central distribution hub somewhere in the Midlands is being sourced, while recent hires Derek Wales and Dimitri Balidis are busy sorting IT and logistics as well as sourcing stock.
Plans for the future involve parts distribution all over Europe and the Middle East plus, one day, America. For now though, all the talk is about launching in the UK.
“We’re changing the way that distribution happens,” she stated boldly. “We don’t want to do it the regular way, because, quite honestly, it is time for change.” SMIC plans direct supply to the aftermarket, but exactly how it is going to differ from any other warehouse distribution model is for now a closely guarded secret, although Derek Wales who is overseeing the UK operation suggests that an entirely new warehouse management system will be employed for maximum efficiency.
One aspect where Ms.Kapur is happier to elaborate is the issue of stock. “We don’t want to have the problem that the rest of the world has, so we want to make sure we always have enough stock” she said, explaining that the plan is to have a surplus that would last at least ten weeks to counter any more supply chain disruption.
Rather than following the usual warehouse distribution model of focussing on ‘infill’ part numbers, SMIC initially plans to sell ranges of the fastest moving part numbers to build volume, before moving onto the more obscure components. While none of the team will b pushed on the exact strategy for the range held, or even brands to be distributed, it seems that the group has ambitions to distribute parts beyond what the parent company produces.
Being part of a company that produces hard parts in its own foundry will go a long way to ensure that stock levels remain high, but Ms. Kapur is keen to go further. “Our long term plan is to form more manufacturing joint ventures”, she said, explaining that a properly agreed JV means you have control of quality and of production.
“Yes, pricing is important, but safety is crucial and quality is key for us,” she said. “I’d say [we will provide] OE quality with aftermarket pricing”. A quality product and quality business relationship is the ultimate goal for the firm. In India, SMPL runs with the concept of ‘Parivaar’, a Hindi concept literally meaning ‘family’. The idea is that customers are treated like extended family, and that the business will go out of the way to cater for their individual needs – which is perhaps a welcome difference from the attitude of some of the international trading groups.
“The bond between the supplier and the customer is something that is ready to change here. I feel in India, I have really strong relationships with my end end customers, and here [in the UK] I feel the market is ready for someone coming in and saying: ‘Hey, I’m here to look after you,’ and not just ‘Hey this is my price, do you want to buy based on this?’. So, for me I think it is a great time to come in and give the market a shake-up”.
Of course, good business relationships are earned over time, and to begin with SMIC needs to be up and running before it can go and persuade customers to try its offering. “I think for now, we are excited about coming in to the market and saying ‘hey, we’ve arrived’ and doing it in a fun manner,” concluded Mandhira Kapur. We can’t wait to see this new venture get off the ground.