Sheela Foam hopes for biz to return to normalcy by Diwali; to be hit by 30 pc this year

New Delhi, Jun 28 (PTI) Sheela Foam Ltd, makers of popular mattress brand Sleepwell, is hoping for business to return to normalcy by around Diwali although it will be hit by around 25-30 per cent in the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a top company official.

The company, which is setting up a new manufacturing unit at Jabalpur with an investment of Rs 50 crore, also said the project may be delayed a bit due to the health crisis.

From May's first week, the company has started 'little bit of work' in its factories following relaxation of lockdown guidelines.

'Markets have also opened up one by one. We oscillate between some markets opening and closing back again. If I take a picture as of today, I would say that 80 per cent of the market is open and our business level is about 50 per cent of what we used to do earlier at this time,' Sheela Foam Ltd Managing Director Rahul Gautam told PTI.

Asked when the company expects business levels to return to normalcy, he said it is difficult to say as it is not known how the pandemic will pan out but 'we feel that Diwali is going to be okay. So, we hope that everything gets over'.

On the overall impact of COVID-19 on the company's business this year, Gautam said, 'I would only be making a wild guess but two months have been washed out. If we are able to do about 70-75 per cent of last year, it will be good.' The migrant labour issue has also affected operations and besides that, the social distancing norms is also another factor hindering rapid scaling up, he added.

'There was a sizeable number of workers involved. Mattresses and foams are voluminous items. We need labourers to move around these items. We are impacted 25-30 per cent of our work by people who have gone back and are yet to return,' Gautam said.

With some of the states where the labourers have gone back planning to employ them within the states, he said, 'Our feeling is that very few of them will return. Therefore, we are definitely looking at planning ourselves better, looking at automation, looking at outsourcing a few things and, therefore, be less dependent on migrant labour. At the moment, let's say our 25-30 per cent of our capacity would be impacted by lack of labour.' While the company has already incorporated some of the measures, Gautam said that at the moment, the situation is a bit fluid as it is not only due to the non-availability of labour but also due to the social distancing norms within the factories.

'We have to also work in shifts. It is a bit of a gooey situation and we are waiting for it to crystallise to see how we will need to plan ourselves for the future,' he added.

Asked if the pandemic has impacted the company's expansion plans, Gautam said, 'Our next project is in Jabalpur. We already had procured land there. It may get delayed a bit because of COVID-19.' Sheela Foam Ltd is investing around Rs 50 crore at the plant, which has been envisaged to serve markets around it that are difficult to be served by its plants at Greater Noida and Hyderabad due to distance, he added.

'For us, the expansion project was definitely never based on the fact that we have run out of manufacturing capacities. It was based on the fact that a market has developed there and we need to be closer to the market to service it. The products we make are voluminous, therefore transportation costs are high,' he said. PTI RKL HRS