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A Gem in the Rough: Behind the Success of Classic Stripes

Find out what it takes to become—and remain—among the biggest and best in a crowded and competitive country.

Mike Young

I cannot begin to think what the delegation of special visitors must have thought when they arrived at the company’s compound earlier, especially as the first spectacle encountered immediately was a fully restored locomotive (Figure 1), perhaps the only one owned by a private citizen—in this case, the company’s CEO, Kishore Musale. Now long retired and resting on its own tracks, Loco 4369 flaunts its majestic glory alongside an equal—Classic Stripes’ large imposing factory. If this awe-inspiring sight that really blew me away was parked right outside, what must it be like inside the building?

The entire plant is effectively one huge clean room, save for the lobby/reception area, offices, cafeteria, and shipping department. The company proudly touts itself as the world’s largest screen printer of its type, and I have no qualms to the contrary from what I saw. Due to its enormous production capability to provide more than 15 million sets of automotive and graphic decals of all types annually, typically averaging five colors, it probably is the world’s biggest—period! It is certainly one of the most pleasant and organized screen-printing factories I have ever visited. The facility is laid out for an optimized workflow in 130,000 sq ft of actual production space (Figure 2); although management claims they are running out of room quickly.

The plant boasts some of the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art collection of high-end printing machinery at varying automation levels, covering several sizes of flatbeds, cylinders, and roll-to-rolls to handle various substrates with either solvent or UV-based coatings. From my perspective, a similar thoughtfulness had apparently applied to their equally imposing fleet of pre-press processing equipment, as well as those to fully support their enormous post-printing operation, and a wide range of finishing and fulfillment services—including a number of necessary quality-assurance requirements. In the case of their polyurethane doming operation, the company has one of the few worldwide hands-free, in-line, conveyorized doming lines, complete with robotic arms and multi-nozzle dispensing systems, to produce more than 200,000 domed labels in a single eight-hour shift.

Inspiration to installation
At one end of the organization spectrum, their in-house design studio and product-development teams blend technical knowledge and graphic arts with creative talent by using the very latest design and graphics software available to provide award-winning and ground-breaking design and product concepts in three days or less. Cost-effective product innovations led by a well-qualified experienced R&D team, having already notched up an impressive track record by developing more than 100 world-class automotive-graphics solutions, offers value-added products competitively in a highly unwavering and price-conscious marketplace. This is just one critical approach Classic Stripes takes to stay ahead of the curve.

However, at the other end of the spectrum, as expected, their signage and fabrication division provides specialized consultancy services, innovative visual solutions, and high-quality printed products for gas stations, showrooms, retail outlets/shopping malls, etc., by using the latest equipment, tools, and techniques at their disposal with trained fabricators. As far as installation and application goes, they coordinate and plan installations and set up application centers with professionally trained applicators for vehicle and fleet wrapping.

Passion for quality
Due to the nature of my work, I frequently take a hard stand on quality issues; but to my surprise, I found they were even tougher than I am—to the extent of rejecting a vignette that had one very small missing dot—something I missed when inspecting the print with a loupe. Quality has always been a major obsession with them; from the standpoint of not just reaching excellence, but constantly in the pursuit of achieving in-house standards on a daily basis, particularly with so many different types of printing lines, levels of automation, print sizes, and multiple shift operations to contend with that stretches into 24/6 every week of the year.

Monitoring incoming raw materials continuously and quality assurance of outgoing shipment is no easy task for the faint-hearted at Classic Stripes. A large number of stringent standards are adopted rigidly, including ASTM and those from Europe and Japan specifically for the job at hand. If that was not enough to satisfy demanding OEMs’ specifying engineers, they actually set their own bar higher than other high-performance screen-printing companies’ SOPs (standard operating procedures) simply by initiating their own internal quality-assurance plan.

The plan defines strict operating procedures throughout the process, and Classic Stripes is believed to be the only screen-printing company that has four different types of advanced accelerated weather testing systems—perhaps more than what most ink-coating or substrate manufacturers have at their own disposal. It is not out of the ordinary for the company to reject incoming raw materials, even from top international brand names, when the products fail to meet advertised standards.

The QA department works to guarantee long-lasting, high-quality, screen-printed products—particularly those that must conform to some of the world’s strictest automotive specifications. The team checks numerous physical and mechanical properties, in addition to durability when exposed to chemicals and atmospheric changes, which are simulated (accelerated), as required, either for days, weeks, or a number of years. The QA department’s process-oriented work style has enabled Classic Stripes to achieve an extremely high degree of efficiency in every stage of the process, thereby maintaining an overall rejection rate that is lower than the industry average.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Classic Stripes can afford to stand by its quality and product warranties with full conviction is none other than focusing on leadership in product development and processing style. By virtue of their mindset, they seem to be committed to supreme quality and innovation, including unparalleled ability to deliver products just in time as required more frequently by their OEM customers. Such a factor, which prevents costly internal warehousing of finished prints on any customers’ shelves, is fast becoming a common element of doing business with principal OEMs to meet their production on a daily or weekly basis. From a visual aesthetic appeal, these efforts have paid off handsomely as a constant recipient of many prestigiously global awards for print excellence, including those bestowed by their esteemed customers.

As a large, multi-faceted printing and fulfillment organization, the company has established its own Kaizen system, a meticulously involved program that facilitates workforce participation to improve performance. This ensures continuous improvement is an ongoing process, an interaction in the program that occurs regularly. Furthermore, it also addresses specific areas such as print-quality enhancements, health and safety, as well as seeking greater perfection in productivity, cost, delivery, and morale throughout the workplace.

Corporate responsibility
In addition to the company’s mission and doctrine of core values, Classic Stripes is committed to public service as its central benevolent role by way of helping the local populace and environmental concerns in carrying out numerous charitable activities. This includes forming a trust that serves to improve the welfare of the underprivileged. Among other involvements, the trust provides educational help to some 25,000 students across 350 schools throughout the region and even to the extent of reaching out with computers, science laboratories, and modern sports grounds. Most importantly, they do not forget physically and mentally challenged students.

The company also takes its corporate responsibilities further with healthcare activities within the community by providing hearing aids, glasses, medications, and regular medical check-ups. Additionally, some 300 women have been given practical training on how to make candles, papads (crispy flatbread appetizers), detergent powder, liquid soap, agarbattis (incense/floral scents), sticks of chalk, and other useful household items. In the quest to pursue their core values to benefit the environment and beyond, Classic Stripes plants trees on a large scale and assists several institutions with various cultural activities over a wider geographical area.

At the end of a rutted road
With a growing list of prestigious customers to support, such as Toyota, Hero Honda, Volkswagen, Bajaj, Suzuki, General Motors, Yamaha, Hyundai Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Volvo, John Deere, Tata Motors, and Caterpillar—to name but a few—it is no wonder Classic Stripes must continue to function at the optimum level in all their endeavors to maintain marketplace supremacy. If there is one lesson undoubtedly learned from my visit to this company, it is: Look hard enough at the end of a rutted road and you might find a gem somewhere in the rough!


The Top 25 Companies to Work For

After conducting several management and technical seminars during the Screen Print India Expo, which was held in Mumbai (formally Bombay) last December, I visited a nearby printing company upon which more than 40 VIPs from around the world descended. It was an organized plant tour to arguably the largest and most impressive OEM graphic/decal screen-printing company in the world—Classic Stripes Pvt. Ltd (Sidebar: Figure 1). The tour took place at their Pelhar facility, in the suburbs of Mumbai―the largest of four world-class manufacturing operations they operate in India.

Screen-printing companies—or those that use the process, either to manufacture or fabricate a finished product—come in all varying shapes, sizes, specialties, marketplaces, and business models. However, how many screen-printing companies can claim to be the world’s biggest of its type and earn the revered distinction of a listing in the Top 25 Best Places to Work in India―and having the honor of being the second most desirable company to work for in 2007. Without a doubt, this is an incredible feat for any company, one that they are extremely proud of, especially when surveyed from more than a million officially registered enterprises throughout the country. Any reservations concerning the worthiness of such an official accolade can be put to rest; as surveys are conducted under the auspice of Great Places to Work Institute (USA), in partnership with Business World magazine.

Such an exceptional achievement is seen as even more remarkable when considering the Top 25 distinction has been bestowed upon Classic Stripes for the past six consecutive years. In reality, this company is something else in the superlative world of screen printing, as your writer discovered during his lengthy visit long after the special international visitors had departed for home.

Suffice to say; at the end of a rutted road directly north and away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai’s sprawling metro area was a real gem to be found. This gemstone was none other than Classic Stripes, an ISO 90001:2000 (Systems), ISO 14001:2004 (Environmental), and OHSAS 18001:1999 (Occupational, Health & Safety) certified OEM screen printer. With a strong presence in a diversified portfolio, they are a premium provider of automotive decals (motorbikes, cars, and SUVs), dashboard instrumentation, fleet graphics, POP/POS signage, large-format four-color process, electroluminescents, and domed labels.

Established in 1987 and employing more than 950 people today with an average age of 28―a third of which are females, they have secured more than 70% share of the domestic market in their automotive-decal specialty. To entrench their position further as a successful global player they now boast a presence in the UK, USA (Milwaukee, WI), and the Middle East to solidify present markets and embrace other industrial markets showing signs of exceptional growth.

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