More and more RMC players and project implementing agencies are opting for bulk deliveries against split bags to save on costs and to curtail wastage.
Bulk distribution of cement is slowly but steadily replacing the once ubiquitous cement bags, changing the composition of cement channel supply chains forever. Bulk cement is consumed by ready mix concrete (RMC) manufacturers and project implementing agencies across the country. However, bag cement is refusing to disappear from the scene. For other activities like plastering, brickwork etc., bag cement is required, besides catering to the rural demand, where a lot of consumers order lower quantities.
“About 75% of requirements of RMC manufacturers are supplied through bulk only. The trend is building up towards bulk as wastage is low and cost is competitive. It saves on the cost of bags and wastage is less than one per cent. In the next couple of years, the trend will continue towards bulk,” says AK Bal, Director of Pune-based Viraj Projects Pvt Ltd, which deals in steels, sand, dyes, bricks and tiles, besides cement.
Earlier the concept was use of split bags for even medium and big projects. But the trend is changing for several reasons. “Now, everybody has installed silos and has a big RMC plantat the site, particularly in South Mumbai, where you can see new towers coming up. They go for RMC orders, practically due to space constraints. This is the reason bulk cement has moved there, and this trend will continue,” says Nikesh Parekh of Mumbai-based Span Cements, which also deals in paints, construction chemicals and tile adhesives.
For urban supplies and infrastructure projects, bulk supplies are being preferred, so demand for bulk supplies is expected to rise, says Bal, citing the example of Odisha, where bulk cement supplies were almost absent a year ago and gaining prominence of late.
Cement bag go into retail shops, who supply it to small contractors. “With the entry of specialised products like ready-made plasters, tile adhesives, mortars, polymer mortars etc., bag cement in retail will slowly diminish in future. In other developed countries, you do not get loose bag cements.”
Few producers sell their goods directly to the final users. But, most use intermediaries to bring their products to market. The latter involves forging marketing channels, which can be described as a set of interdependent organizations that help make a product or service available for use or consumption by the consumer. Hence a company’s channel decisions will have a direct bearing on its marketing success.
There is an apprehension that some independent marketing players could takeover the building material channel operations wholesale in the days to come. There are already a couple of start-ups which are doing this in building materials. Nitin Vyas, Managing Director, Beumer Group says, “I believe that the next step for it would be having a platform for all cement-related industries to become an Uber (online call taxi service) of cement distribution. In the end, the cement producers would be containers, but the interface to the market would be the service companies who are reaching the material to the end customers. And that can’t be stopped.”
Even some of the dealers have started guarding against this impending trend though it is not widely prevalent as of now. Span Cements has already started taking orders online from their customers. However, if online orders are accepted by any firm then they may seek payment in advance.
But for that there is no big change in the cement channels. The dealers opt for multiple dealerships for cement, so that they cannot disappoint any customer seeking a particular brand. Single dealerships are a rarity.
Cement is a pure commodity. Most of the cement manufacturers still deal with customers through distributors or dealers. “Though the companies are maintaining accounts of some key customers, the supplies are routed through dealers and distributors. Companies never supply cement directly to anybody. They want to encourage distributors also for insuring their receivables. The companies want to get their payment on time, so dealer will be in between to take care of payments,” says Bal of Viraj.
“We have virtually become insurance agent for our principal (manufacturer for their receivables) than a marketing agent, and financier for our customer,” Parekh says while explaining the role of cement dealers in the supply chain. For steel sector it is different - there customer pay interest for delayed payment. In steel, direct supply system from manufacturers is still prevalent. As far as sand goes, they have to make the spot payment, because natural sand is a very scarce commodity today. Whatever available is manufactured sand.
Comparing the channels between cement and steel, Bal says, “Another difference is cement has to be consumed within three months from the date of manufacture, hence some dealers push it through credit. That is not the case with steel, which can be stored for a couple of years without erosion in quality, if properly stored.”
There is a general consensus among the dealers ICR has contacted about the upward trend in cement prices in the coming months, mostly banking on the pre-election infrastructure boost that will take place in the next 12 months before general elections scheduled for May 2019.
Bal of Viraj is expecting the cement prices to go up to Rs 270 plus GST per bag in the next two quarters from the present level of 230 plus GST in Pune. Even builders are trying to complete their projects at the earliest to cash in on their land banks. The reason is that earlier the building prices were going up rapidly giving hope that the builders can make more money if the project is delayed. Now, there is no such hope. “Now the rise in building/floor price is only 4-5 per cent a year, which is not sustainable if the project is delayed as it does not even cover the incremental interest cost incurred. Besides, input prices are moving up,” Bal added.
If there is any hindrance to cement demand growth that is ‘availability of finance’, particularly in the wake of the government swooping down on defaulting companies and bad loans. “Financing has become tight everywhere. We (as dealers) have a certain capacity and I cannot go beyond that or else I will also fall. If any builder calls me and tells me that I can only pay you only a couple of weeks later, I will have to accept it. Otherwise they will stop taking my supplies. As far as payments to companies are concerned, we work on one principle - RTGS in 48 hours.”
- BS Srinivasalu Reddy