By Shonali Advani
In a globalized world where connectivity is the norm and gadgets rule, the most basic toilet facilities are not available to a staggering 2.5 billion people in the world.
The 2011 Census reveals that a little more than half of the country’s total households-53.1 percent-have no access to toilets. There have been some notable names in India working in this sector, like Sulabh Shauchalaya; and there have been others too, lesser known but making a quiet impact in sanitation facilities. Last year, Pune-based social enterprise Saraplast Pvt Ltd. provided over 200,000 people access to toilets in India-o which 130,000 were first-time toilet users, and 50,000 were women and young girls. The company which manufactures, cleans and services portable toilets under the brand 3S Shramik, is the pioneering effort of Rajeev Kher, 38.
An MBA from Pune, Kher was first introduced to portable toilets during a brief stay in Canada as a management intern in 1997-98. “I thought it was a great idea to bring back home. It is non-seasonal, scalable and has a social impact especially for India,” says Kher, Managing Director, Saraplast.
Kher wanted to import portable toilets from the West but no company was willing to give him free samples to showcase it to municipalities and government departments-he base Kher wanted to target. Only Thal, a German company now bought over by European firm Satellite Industries, responded to Kher’s calls, offering two samples that kickstarted his business.
3S today offers Indian and Western-style toilets (including urinals) made from polyethylene or high quality plastic engineered for a life-span of ten years. These 4×4 feet toilets are 100 percent recyclable, and UV protected.
The toilets are designed on a water saving model with a foot operated pump that uses only 300 milliliters of water per flush, and does not need external supply of water or drainage. “Last year, we recycled 147 million liters of waste water,” says Kher.
Kher identified large public gatherings and construction sites as his first targets. “We have a special group that conducts an awareness building program around benefits of sanitation and correlation between health and productivity,” he says. The firm charges Rs.1,000 to Rs. 2,500 per day for events and Rs. 6,000 per month for construction sites, which goes up as volumes increase. Jaws Events, an event management firm in Pune founded by Jehan Sataravala said they have been a client of 3S for over a decade. “More important than the product is the service. High-nd toilets are the need of the hour,” Sataravala says. Aditya Javdekar, Managing Director, Vilas Javdekar Eco Homes in Pune, has been a client for five years. Eco Homes has 3S toilets at all its 12 real estate projects, where the labor varies from 60-600 workers. “Their service is responsive. They have a fresh manner of looking at something that is otherwise a social taboo,” he says.
For those in need
By the end of 2010, Kher also got into the social sanitation space. Still in the pilot stage here, Kher has been experimenting with different models in urban slums across Delhi and Pune on the back of four projects with Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Working closely with NGOs, the firm has adopted a pay-per-use model here. “We work with self-help groups or individuals who would like to generate employment,” says Kher.
3S also refurbishes and maintains existing toilets in slums. Kher says that at first he faced substantial opposition from local authorities in these projects but over time he managed to convince people about its benefits. The Department for International Development (DFID) also gave them some assistance for research and market survey in cities 3S intended to scale up with slums. “We got pointers with this strategic study to see how we could progress here,” he says. The firm charges slum dwellers Rs. 30-Rs. 50 per family, per month. “DFID researched and helped us establish price points depending on the type of slum and per capita income therein,” he says, adding that he is consciously aiming to reach difficult places. Though the projects are a prime focus area, they are not yet generating revenue. Kher says he is trying to raise funds for it.
Urvashi Prasad, Program Officer, Health Initiative, Dell Foundation says, “Public toilets set up by the government are not enough. We need facilities at the community level, but maintenance is the biggest challenge which we thought Shramik could do as their quality of service is high.” The partnership helped Kher get wider recognition too-he was invited by former US President Bill Clinton for the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2010.
Kher was importing toilets till 2006, when they hit an air pocket. “We had reinvested in business, people were not paying on time, and we had a cash-crunch,” he says. Realizing they need to reduce costs for business to expand, Kher considered manufacturing toilets. So in 2006, Saraplast began to manufacture and sell sanitation products. The toilet’s interior is manufactured in India and they continue to import the shell from Satellite, Europe.
“We realized that not everyone was buying these toilets. 3S was doing well on the service front but Saraplast sold very few numbers,” he recalls. So he merged both entities in 2008 into one parent company and all sanitation services continued to be sold under the 3S brand.
In October 2009, Aavishkar Venture Management Services invested `2.92 crore when revenues were only Rs. 4 crore. By FY11, sales touched Rs. 7 crore.
“They are still trying to establish a commercially viable model for slums. Once frozen, slums will offer the largest potential market,” says Noshir Colah, Operations Partner, Aavishkar. Colah says a majority of the revenues are generated from Pune. He feels geographical expansion at least in the construction sector would be wiser for Saraplast.
“Power plants and oil refineries can be potential verticals. But quite correctly, the management is focusing on going deeper into only a few verticals,” he says.
Room for More
Product Price of Toilet: Rs. 5,000- Rs. 75,000
Expected Revenues: FY13 Rs. 14-Rs. 16 crore
Annual Manufacturing Capacity: 10,000 units
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