Steelbird: Soaring High!

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Founded in 1963, Steelbird today is recognised as India’s premier helmet manufacturing company with an annual turnover of Rs. 150 crore. Now, eyeing Rs. 500 crore turnover in the next two years, it is aggressively scaling up its production capacity, launching new products and focusing on its direct retail model of exclusive brand stores.

Journey so far 
Delhi-based Steelbird Hi Tech Ltd. (SBHT), the flagship company of Steelbird Group, is one of the earliest helmets and auto accessories manufacturing companies in India. Founded in 1963 by Subhash Kapur, barley 20 years old at that time with little formal education and resources save for his excellent business acumen, the company started out as a small unit, which produced auto accessories like air filters and fuel filters, etc. After attaining success in his maiden venture, he forayed into the helmet production business in 1976.  His son Rajeev Kapur, Managing Director of Steelbird Hi Tech Ltd., states: “The year was 1976 when it became mandatory to wear helmets while driving two wheelers under the traffic laws in Delhi city, thus creating demand for head safety gears. Recognising the opportunity, my father decided to step into helmet manufacturing and launched Steelbird brand. In fact, we are the pioneering company in this sector in India. ”
Today, SBHT is a leading player in India and its world-class products have found their way into international markets as well. The company’s current annual turnover is around Rs. 150 crore. Its ultra-modern integrated helmet manufacturing facility is located in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh. “We have India’s biggest helmet manufacturing unit, which currently produces 9,000 helmets a day,” Kapur states. As regards helmet business in India, SBHT distributes its products through the dealer or distributor channel and exclusive retail outlets.

Market positioning 
Offering world-class standard and quality, Steelbird helmets cater to the broad range of customer profiles as in age, gender and occupation. The company primarily targets students, executives, small businesspersons, girls and others. Kapur explicates: “Every person who rides two wheelers for personal or professional needs is our target customer. We serve safety-conscious customers who seek quality and style in their helmets and offer them varied price-points to choose from.” As per him, earlier there were lesser numbers of people , mostly middle aged, who preferred quality over price and bought only certified branded helmet. These days, even college goers who like trendy yet durable products are on Steelbird’s growing list of customers. He also notes another emerging set of clientele, that is, the motor sports enthusiasts who ride motor bikes professionally or as hobby. “So, anyone and everyone who rides two wheelers is a frequent visitor to Steelbird stores,” he quips.

Product nest  

SBHT’s core products lines are helmets, pannier boxes and auto accessories. Steelbird range of helmets consists of more than 30 models along with 6–8 variants per model. Kapur affirms: “We have perhaps the biggest range of helmets in the entire industry. Some of our most popular brands are Zorro, Adonis, SB 2020, SB 29, Carbon Fiber, Eve, and Cruze.” The brand produces both open face and full face motorcycle helmets like safety helmets, ski helmets, Grand Prix racing helmets, jet helmets, off-road helmets, Moto Cross helmets, etc. Available in different sizes ranging from XXS to XXL, they are priced between Rs. 749 and Rs. 12,999. However, the most favoured price brand among customers is Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 1,500. Notably, Steelbird is also the leading manufacturer of ISI mark helmets. Since 1995, SBTH has been in technical tie-up with BIEFFE, an international helmet company. It is as well exploiting the co-branding route to enhance its brand equity. Comments Kapur: “Steelbird has always been in the forefront of creating innovative products. We have collaborated with youth iconic brand MTV to produce an exciting new range of MTV helmets. Under licensing deal with Yash Raj Films’ licensing division, we have launched   Dhoom 3 product line.”
Apart from new products, Steelbird is diversifying into new product categories too. Recently, it has started selling riding gears like jackets, gloves and goggles under own brand name in exclusive shoppe.

Distribution & retail  

The products under Steelbird’s helmet division are distributed in the Indian market via varied distribution channels. Presently, the company has about 2,200 direct channel partners in its partner network and has significant presence in MBOs throughout the country. Besides individual customers, the company also supplies helmets to institutional clients such as canteen stores, Ministry of Defense, Government of India and corporate from across sectors. To create retail presence via exclusive stores, Steelbird rolled out its first ‘Riderz Shoppe’ in New Delhi in 2012. Shedding light on the concept, Kapoor says: “Riderz Shoppe is a one-stop shop for bikers. It is an exclusive chain of riding gears dealing in entire range of our products including helmets, jackets and suits, gloves, goggles and pannier boxes. Moreover, the in-store experts provide technical knowhow and information about products and their functionalities.” Steelbird plans to expand Riderz Shoppe through own and franchise business model. The store size ranges from 250 sq.ft. to 550 sq.ft. and investment varies according to location. As of now, exclusive shoppes are located in six cities – New Delhi, Chandigarh, Bidar (Karnataka), Jorhat (Assam), Kanpur, and Aurangabad (Maharashtra).
Internationally, Steelbird products are distributed via country-specific distributors in countries like Bahrain, Dubai, Egypt, Nepal, Vietnam, Colombia, Uruguay and European nations. The company has exclusive off-take agreements with M/s NAVA S.r.l, Italy and M/s GP ONE S.r.l, Italy for exports of helmets and auto accessories of certain defined models.

The company strives to retain its loyal customers and reach out to more and more customers. If need be, it also undertakes market trails for upcoming products to understand the market pulse and design its   products accordingly. “At Steelbird, innovating new technology in helmets is more than just a business; it is not only passion but the core of our existence,” declares Kapur. As regards front-end, the sale staffs at own as well as franchisee locations are regularly updated on new products and features. Moreover, the company also educates customers on the need for quality helmets and not to compromise their safety by buying spurious products.
On competition Kapur says: “Our multi-tier sales setup is unique in the helmet business, which gives us an edge over other organised players in the market. As of now, we are not faced with much competition in terms of market penetration as well as sales volume.” For brand promotion, SBHT resorts to a mix of ATL and BTL strategies including advertisements in TV channels, newspapers, auto magazines, hoardings, translites, glow signs and gift articles. Furthermore, it also participates in international exhibitions and trade shows to tap corporate clients.

Soaring high
To feed its expanding distribution and retail operations, Steelbird is gearing to scale up its production capacity. Kapur apprises: “On the retail front, we are contemplating significant expansion in near future. So, we need to increase our manufacturing capabilities. In addition to enhancing our existing production facility at Baddi, we are planning to set up another facility in Noida. This will increase our manufacturing capacity from current 9,000 helmets a day to 18,000 helmets.
The key to the success of SBHT lies in innovation in terms of both technology and products. In recent times, it has added a new line of helmets, namely Ares, to its product portfolio. The Ares helmets are manufactured as per outlast technology, originally developed for NASA (USA).  Made from material used for astronauts’ space suits, the product targeted at professional riders is available at an affordable price. Moreover, acknowledging the rising demand for riding gear, Steelbird plans to soon introduce Valentino Rossi racing apparels in the country. Kapur informs: “The line is inspired by famed speed driver of MotoGP world championship, Valentino Rossi. It is one of the most popular brands in the overseas market.”

The future
Set for huge expansion, Steelbird is eyeing 300 percent growth in the next two years to reach Rs. 500-crore revenue. About the company’s growth plans, Kapur says: “The demand for our branded products is consistently growing. Steelbird Riderz Shoppe has also received good response from customers. Within the next two years, we are looking at having around 200 Riderz Shoppe pan India mainly via franchising.” He further says that even as Steelbird will continue to expand its distributor base, the company is now particularly focusing on its direct marketing retail model – Riderz Shoppe – for which it is actively seeking franchisee partners for opening exclusive shoppe in all metros, Tier-I and -II cities.

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