Ritu Moitra, CHRO, Duroflex India
In an exclusive interview with All Things Talent, Ritu Moira, CHRO, Duroflex shares how the company seeks to be an employer of choice amidst the gold rush in the mattress industry in India, and interesting employee initiatives like ‘a nap while on the job’ at the company.
Q. With many startups springing up in the mattress category in the last couple of years, how do you ensure that Duroflex is the employer of choice?
A. We never play the one-upmanship role. We are just like the others. If we have to compare, we have Kurlon, Sleepwell, and others and they have been for a while. We have been in the business for 50+ years. Yes, there are newcomers like Wakefit, SleepyCat, and others. But they have a different perception for the consumers and offer different propositions. At the end of the day, from an employee perspective, if they get a good environment, feel appreciated and cared for, then there is no difference between a new-age and old-age company.
Q. Do you continue to have a startup culture in the industry?
A. I don’t think there’s anything called a startup culture or a traditional culture anymore. The work culture is becoming more open and uniform.
Q. For the new companies entering the market, Duroflex presents a potential pool for talent acquisition. How do you address that? What about the attrition rates in the industry and the organisation?
A. Fortunately, we don’t have a large challenge with attrition. Within the industry also, there isn’t a high amount of poaching. When a new entrant joins the market, they are creating a new pool for a segment of employees. Actually, everybody knows everybody in this industry because for some we would be the foam suppliers. There are professional forums where CEOs meet. There’s a kind of tacit understanding that if we poach aggressively from each other, we will lose the game. There’s a respectful distance unless someone approaches for a particular role. The industry is growing at a fast pace because 70 percent of the market is unorganised. There is enough room for everybody to play.
This industry is a bit different from IT, FMCG, FMCD, etc. In terms of the talent war, I would still say it is in the sleepy category. The beauty of this category is that it can hire from any segment. I can hire an IT person because we are trying to be digitally savvy. On the other hand, I can also hire from FMCG as the person will know my SEM (search engine marketing) well. What has changed for us is that though it is a sleepy segment of the market and nobody cares what’s beneath the bedsheet, this segment is picking up. Four-five years from now, we might become a hot segment for talent. For now, it is the consumer awareness phase and soon talent awareness will grow too. People don’t even know they can have a career in this industry as a foamer. Till I joined, I wasn’t aware of a profession named foamer which is a highly sought-after role in the industry.
Q. Could you please give an overview of the talent requirement of the industry?
A. We already have 3000 employees as of now. It’s a labour-intensive process, similar to the garment industry. On the retail side, experience centers are there which require a good salesforce.
Q. Are there any interesting new roles being introduced in the last few years in the category?
A. This segment is growing strong in India. When you go to engineering colleges, people prefer chemistry as the last option unless they are a fan of the subject. This industry needs chemical engineers. When this category starts growing rapidly, you will realise that the tech institutes of the country are not churning enough chemical engineers. In the future, we will definitely face some challenges because of that. This is a very niche role and is at the heart of the manufacturing segment for this mattress industry. Any mattress company should have a team of foamers depending on the scale. A young company might have one or two foamers per factory, a larger organisation will have 20-25 foamers. These are just indicative numbers. So, there is a shortage of foamers and they command the price in this segment.
“This segment is growing strong in India. When you go to engineering colleges, people prefer chemistry as the last option unless they are a fan of the subject. This industry needs chemical engineers. When this category starts growing rapidly, you will realise that the tech institutes of the country are not churning enough chemical engineers.”
Q. Duroflex recently received funding from Norwest Venture Partners. What is HR’s role in such fundraising activities? How much of this investment impacts the hiring ambitions or spendings on the people-side of the organisation?
A. Just before the investment, we bagged the ‘Great Place To Work’ certification. That’s like a verdict from the employees that they enjoy working here. We are thinking of wealth creation through various means like stock options which will strengthen our retention program, all from the invested funds. We will roll it out by April next year.
Q. There are reports of exports getting doubled soon. Would it also require overseas hiring?
A. We will not be doing overseas hiring immediately at least for some time. In this market, you work with an overseas agent. They know the market, the purchaser on the other side. That’s the model the mattress industry typically follows.
Q. Alia Bhatt recently came on board as the brand ambassador for Duroflex. Does the celebrity ambassador also help in talent attraction, employee and candidate experience. What have you observed in that regard?
A. In terms of employee attraction, it has definitely helped us. It has helped us to fortify our national identity. We did a music intellectual property launch event on reviving the art of lullabies in India with Kalki Koechlin and India’s top 6 singers. Contrary to earlier, people who I meet now have heard of the brand and know us well. It has positively influenced employee recognition and has helped us attract talent as well.
Q. Are there any interesting employee initiatives that you have undertaken recently?
A. At the corporate office, there’s a lot of freedom that employees have been offered. We don’t have an attendance policy and employees can work from anywhere. Moving on, we would like to introduce a space where people can take a nap while on the job. We are moving to a new office where we have a designated place where people will go and sleep.
“At the corporate office, there’s a lot of freedom that employees have been offered. We don’t have an attendance policy and employees can work from anywhere. Moving on, we would like to introduce a space where people can take a nap while on the job. We are moving to a new office where we have a designated place where people will go and sleep.”
We use certain sleep monitoring apps and even gift them to the employees to capture their own sleep data. The new joinees get that device as a part of their welcome kit. Although it’s too early to say, we are planning to have a learning and training room that will look like a sleep sanctuary to educate anybody who walks into the office.
Q. How can the employees at the retail outlets and factories avail it?
A. Our sleep talks are open to anybody and everybody. We are bringing up another L&D session where retail shop employees will be made aware of Matt Walker’s book titled ‘Why Do We Sleep: Unlocking the Power Of Sleep and Dreams’. So, when customers walk into a retail outlet, retail shop employees aren’t just showing the mattresses but also asking them about their sleep patterns. The person will appear like a subject-matter expert. So, we are trying to percolate it across the organisation. We are currently researching sleep and running models, but we are not opening any external agency. On the factory side, we are starting with something like ‘right posture’ as most of the time they are standing. Still, a lot of work needs to be done at the factory level.
We have doctors in our panel who are sleep specialists. We have a policy where if an employee has a book related to work or sleep, it is billed to the organisation. We are building up our own modules around it.
Q. You mentioned that in the next four-five years, this category will be a hot segment. How are you ensuring that you have certain practices in place to ensure getting the right talent?
A. Maybe a tie-up with colleges and universities to introduce learning modules around foaming that’s where the heart of the industry rests. These are done to attract very young talent. If we become more digital in the outlook, we will be able to get more people. I would rather hire niche profiles and use tech where it can be used.
Q. Duroflex has huge expansion plans for the coming years. How much of that extends to the people and talent side?
A. We look for sleep evangelists and customer-driven people. We will definitely like to be a day 1 company on campuses. We would also like to retain people who have been with our company for a long time. At the factory level, we will hire a lot of skilled and unskilled labour. That’s the place where we can have a make-in-India initiative. From rural areas, we will attract talent and give them their first jobs. We are looking at a 20-30 percent increase over the current manpower count. Largely it will be retail and factories where we will be hiring most of the people.
As told to Moumita Bhattacharjee and Bruhadeeswaran R