Being a sporting goods manufacturer during a global pandemic

The challenges that have confronted the manufacturers of sporting goods have been humongous.

“First priority, of course, was keeping the spirits of our workers high,” says Rakesh Mahajan of BDM.   -  Special Arrangement

These are testing times — for the players, administrators and the other stakeholders associated with the world of sports. The spectators have been reduced to television audiences but they are getting some entertainment from the sporting world. The challenges that have confronted the manufacturers of sporting goods have been humongous.

When the lockdown was announced first in March 2020 the world of sports manufacturers had come crashing down. The industry had been facing various problems, tackling duplicate products in their brand names being the most vexing issue. But the coronavirus-induced lockdown meant the business had to be shut temporarily and it impacted the revenues, which in turn made life difficult for the workers.

Rakesh Mahajan of BDM and Paras Anand of SG took the challenge front on and ensured the workers did not become victims of the harsh circumstances. “First priority, of course, was keeping the spirits of our workers high,” said Mahajan. For Paras, the focus was to keep the mood of the workers “positive.” Obviously it was not easy but they did not give up.

“We continued (despite the pandemic last year) with our production because we had orders from overseas — UK and Canada especially. I remember sales picking up post-Diwali as retail picked up. It was some boost. But all that collapsed in April. It is kind of crippling because for us the best time was summer vacations,” says Paras Anand of SG.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Mahajan recalled, “the revenue dropped and manufacturing took a big hit because the demands fell. It was an unprecedented situation for us. The lockdown was a shattering experience. But we kept at it by adhering to the instructions by the authorities. We had a staff of 50 percent at work with all the health and safety protocols in place — social distancing and proper sanitisation. I would call the staff only three days a week because the demands had shrunk but I did not compromise with the salaries of the workers.”

For Paras, it was, “staying positive. We had no idea what was this pandemic and how long it was going to last. Honestly it was impossible to understand the gravity of the situation. We shut all operations and we planned for better days when the pandemic would be gone. We had to dig into our reserves and give salaries to our employees.”

It had never happened before. No sports were taking place. Coaching camps had been called off. Hundreds of academies had been shut. “It was so disheartening. I had not known such a challenge in my career. The pressure on business was enormous. Sales were down because there was no sport happening anywhere. Would you believe close to 2000 academies had to be closed in Noida and Gurgaon? The kids were impacted the most because they were compelled to stay indoors,” said Mahajan.

“Business was under pressure,” said Paras. “We still continued with our production because we had orders from overseas — UK and Canada especially. I remember sales picking up post-Diwali as retail picked up. It was some boost. But all that collapsed in April. It is kind of crippling because for us the best time was summer vacations.”

Wood cut to size and ready for bat manufacturing at BDM.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Summer vacations offer these manufacturers the best platform. “There are times when we struggle to meet the demands because there are thousands of academies who train youngsters. Coaches want the best of equipment because playing gear is important,” insists Mahajan.

Without wanting to sound pompous, Mahajan shared some lesser known aspects of his work. “I hate telling you this but we take great pride in sharing this information. Despite the revenue hit, BDM has not stopped sponsorship to more than 3000 kids in all age categories. We still give each such talented player a complete kit which is worth ₹50,000. It is our contribution to the game. We also have been sponsoring girl cricketers apart from the specially-abled category. We will continue to do this.”

The biggest obstacle for these sports manufacturers has been meeting the demands.

“The challenge begins with procurement of the raw material and preserving it," says Paras. "We have to do the job within a time frame of procuring, manufacturing and preserving. We also have to meet the tasks of sponsoring. We have about 100 junior players, 65 first-class cricketers and 30-odd international players. Shefali Varma is the latest to endorse our products. Some academies had just restarted but this lockdown has caused havoc. When we procure raw material we have to finish the product within a span of time. We have to store the products if they are not able to reach the market. It costs and sometimes there are losses when they rot.”

As Mahajan pointed out, “The Government wants to support the employees. They talk of start-ups but I want laws in place to protect us. It is tough to keep track of duplicate stuff being sold in our name. Many times we go to sports shops to check the stuff and bring it to the notice of the police but it does not help because there are no laws to punish the cheats. There are big companies who have done this for years, but we have been helpless.”

The end product at BDM.   -  Special Arrangement

 

Speaking of losses, Mahajan feels, “We have encouraged this new concept of work from home. We allow the workers to make balls, gloves, pads, from home. Bats have to be manufactured in the factory only because of the specifications and they can be done only on the machines. Unfortunately, some of the workers also let us down by giving duplicate stuff.”

Mahajan and Paras are convinced that they have a constructive role to play in the evolvement of the game by constantly meeting the demands of the players and also providing for those who create the playing gears. As Mahajan shares, “There is a lot of raw material that goes waste. It takes us three months to prepare a worker to learn the intricacies of making a ball. Also, material worth ₹1 lakh is wasted, too, but it is part of the job.”

The world of sports waits for the pandemic to end so that normalcy returns to the playing field. For Mahajan and Paras, these are tough times but credit to them for keeping their employees in a positive frame of mind.