Unforgotten Brands: Duroflex

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Duroflex is poised for significant growth, aiming to become a sleep solutions company in the coming years

A member of a family of rubber planters, PC Mathew founded Duroflex in 1963. Mathew, an engineer by training, had been working in his family’s tyre business, National Tyres, and sought to explore his entrepreneurial potential.

Selected for a government mission to Germany and Austria aimed at boosting India’s domestic manufacturing sector, Mathew travelled alongside Ramesh Pai, a Mangaluru-based industrialist who would later establish Kurl-on.

During a factory visit to Mercedes Benz on this trip, Mathew observed the use of rubberized coir in car seats due to its durability and cushioning. This inspired the engineer in industrial chemistry to start a similar business in Kerala, using rubberized coir to manufacture mattresses.

Thus, Duroflex was born with an initial investment of Rs 3 lakh and a manufacturing facility along a small canal in Alappuzha.

The 1960s presented numerous challenges for entrepreneurs in India, a developing country with limited access to technology and knowledge. Import restrictions on machinery posed a significant hurdle for Mathew, who decided to import some major components and reengineer the rest locally based on his observations in Germany. Despite facing additional obstacles with customs, Mathew managed to reverse engineer the machinery and get the business running, with components brought in through Alleppey’s canals.

The Government of India provided crucial support with a significant order for hospital beds, battle tank seats, and railway coaches, helping Duroflex gain acceptance for its coir mattresses. However, profitability remained elusive.

By the 1970s, Mathew’s older son, Chandy Mathew, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, joined the business. The 1980s saw Duroflex expand with two new factories in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. During this period, Duroflex and Kurl-on were of similar size, and business was brisk until the mid-1990s. The company also established a profitable export-oriented business for organic latex in Kerala.

Despite these successes, expansion beyond southern India proved challenging due to the largely unorganised industry. Additionally, the attempt to professionalize the business faced difficulties with the involvement of Mathew’s five other children.

An unsuccessful venture into manufacturing coir as a wood substitute led to discord among the brothers. Over the next decade, internal conflicts hampered business decisions, leading to prolonged boardroom battles and a loss of valuable time. The dispute escalated to the National Company Law Tribunal, resulting in three brothers leaving the company.

During this tumultuous period, Kurl-on continued to grow, while Duroflex focused on maintaining global standards without significant investments in growth.

It was not until 2008 that the family reconciled, but by then, Chandy Mathew had passed away. George Mathew, Chandy’s brother, took over as managing director. Recognizing the need to slow down, he invited Chandy’s son, Mathew Chandy, a lawyer with UBS in London, to run the business. George Mathew retired around 2012, and Mathew Chandy, who had relocated to Bengaluru, began revamping the business. He increased the marketing budget, introduced new designs, improved product quality, and offered better salaries to professionalize the organization and attract talent. The company also began hiring more professionals.

When Mathew Chandy took over, Duroflex sold products only in six southern states. Rival Kurl-on, with over 10,000 dealers and nine manufacturing facilities across multiple states, had a significant advantage. However, Duroflex expanded its network across India, with substantial business coming from non-southern markets. The launch of Sleepyhead in 2017, a mattress-in-a-box product aimed at millennials, marked a significant foray into the e-commerce sector, contributing to about 30% of revenues.

Its 2017 debut of the millennial-targeted product Sleepyhead marked its entry into the e-commerce market. The idea of a mattress in a box is embodied by it, which is convenient for logistics since it can be rolled back and compacted, making it easy to ship. They derive around 30% of their revenue from online sales.

Mathew Chandy received support from his cousins: Mathew Joseph, who leads the Sleepyhead business; Mathew George, who heads new product development; and Jacob George, who oversees the expansion of Duroflex’s business in western India from Mumbai.

In 2018, consumer-focused private equity fund Lighthouse invested $22 million (Rs 160 crore) in Duroflex, marking the largest PE investment in a mattress maker at the time.

Over the past decade, consumers have become more conscious about their purchases, shifting towards branded products, a trend accelerated by the lockdown as people focused more on their homes. With Chandy and his cousins at the helm, Duroflex is poised for significant growth, aiming to become a Rs 2,000-crore company in the coming years.




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