PRESSIdeas: Kindly share your SOMA journey so far—SOMA’s journey in India and some key milestones.
Ms. Pavla Kusa:
My father was a young, capable mechanical engineer when everything changed in the Czech Republic and the communist regime came to an end. He strongly believed in the team of people surrounding him in the company where he was working at the time. He didn’t have any doubt about the technical skills of the designers—even in competition with German ones.
Based on this, I believe he decided to take an enormous risk and privatized the 350-employee company where he was working. In doing so, he assumed a loan for approximately €10 million in today’s value, with an annual interest rate of 12% for five years. He didn’t have any orders; in fact, he didn’t have anything other than two children and a mortgage for his home. But, he had a clear vision to bring to the market the ultimate level of technology that would be competitive compared to the best global brands. He also wanted to give his company the independence to sell their equipment to any customer, worldwide.
It was a fortunate coincidence that, in the end, the product portfolio was positioned to flexible packaging companies, with CI flexo presses, slitters, laminators, mounting plate machines, and die cutters. In the beginning, it was quite difficult to enter that market segment, where giants such as Windmoeller & Hoelscher and Fischer & Krecke were in a dominant position. They had many reference sites, and the development of their machines was based on decades of experience and know-how.
But, at that time there were significant changes in CI flexo technology—one which was considered of poor quality in the past but had improved dramatically. The market was hungry for new, innovative solutions—where SOMA was strong and our team of engineers were, from the start, excellent.
SOMA had started to lead in some technological areas; for example, compact design (electro cabinets were an integral part of our machine footprint), and gearless technology (SOMA was among first to replace geared solutions to gearless).
However, a real SOMA milestone was the 2013 launch of the OPTIMA press, with a short-run concept and ‘ABC’, our Advanced Bounce Control system. It was the time when SOMA established our position as a trendsetter. From the launch of this model in October 2013, there are now more than 150 presses installed worldwide at all kinds of companies, from middle-sized to global players such as Amcor, Mondi, and others.
Soma’s journey into India began couple of years ago, when we realized that worldwide changes were creating pressure on the Asian market to modify habits. Instead of working solely with gravure technology, they started to look at flexo technology—not only because of clear global environmental commitments to protect future generations, but also because of the real economic benefits of using flexo, instead of gravure, in every print facility. The Asian market has always demanded high quality printing but, at the same time, with considerable price consciousness. Between 2012 and 2014 we began to feel it. But SOMA has always maintained a strategy not to enter any market until we have satisfied two important keystones:
– we must have a strong and reliable partner who knows the customers’ needs and challenges in the market
– we have set up and built all the critical structure for after-sales service support
In the Indian market, the right partnership came with DKSH and their clear commitment to deliver a team of real flexo technology experts under the leadership of Mr. Suhas Kulkarni, who has more than 30 years of flexo experience. At the same time, they have provided a team of service engineers who are trained in the mechanical and electrical aspects of CI flexo technology.
PRESSIdeas: With your extensive line-up of machines and solutions, what constitutes the Indian focus of SOMA?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: As I mentioned at the beginning, the Indian market is a demanding market as it relates to print quality, because the comparison is gravure. Indian customers don’t want to compromise at all, in this respect. To offer it flexo, one of the key deliverables is “print stability”— excellent impression and register accuracy which must be set and guaranteed with a minimum of skilled operator assistance. In response to those challenges, SOMA has unique solutions with our ABC ‘Advance Bounce Control’ system, and the ARUN system.
PRESSIdeas: What is the current market share in India and what are the near future targets?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: SOMA has just launched our efforts in the Indian market with our DKSH partnership, so we are really at a starting point. However, we would like to install our first three machines during 2021. What is our target in the longer term? I can offer an example. In 2000, SOMA became active in Poland from a starting zero position, while all the other players had been established there. Year by year, we maintained a patient, but reliable approach, with no compromise to our SOMA customer service support. Now, for the past three years, SOMA has had the number one position in the Polish market, the largest flexible market in Europe. I would like to see this repeated, in a couple of years, here.
PRESSIdeas: What are key points of your association with DKSH? How has been you experience before and after this association?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: They are dedicated, hard-working, reliable, and have demonstrated a long-term perspective. We consider these attributes crucial for every strategic partner and, with DKSH, we have found them all. I didn’t know DKSH as an organization, since their focus was not directed to flexible packaging. It was my biggest ‘question mark’ before we entered our association with DKSH, but they were willing to invest in an experienced team across all markets. This was a major factor to our decision to work with them, because it showed their dedication and long-term perspective. The DKSH flexible packaging team is a group of very passionate flexo experts, so we’re a great match.
PRESSIdeas: What is the current range and latest product offerings by SOMA for the Indian customers?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: SOMA can offer a complete flexible packaging solution – CI flexo presses, laminators, slitter rewinders and, new this year, we have added an automatic mounting plate machine with an ARUN solution into our portfolio.
PRESSIdeas: Who are the key persons managing the Indian market, especially the Graphic Arts and Printing related market? What is the current network of offices, staff and partners?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: The key Indian market contact within DKSH is Suhas Kulkarni. I met him for the first time many years ago on a business trip across Asia Pacific with David Stevens, the most passionate flexo person I have ever met. Both are from a generation of people who represent the flexo pioneers from their days at DuPont. Suhas was, for me, the right person for our first venture in Asia, in the Indian market. We kept in contact, but it took a little while before we were able to join paths. Some things in life are really like destiny, and this was one of them. Suhas has built around himself a great network of people who are directly part of the organization. One of the people I must also recognize from the DKSH management team is Hanno Elbraechter, Head of Business Unit Technology, who supported our new project with maximum effort. At this moment, DKSH is partnering with SOMA in nine markets (India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), with six active salespeople plus a dedicated service team in all those markets.
PRESSIdeas: What is the total number of installations by SOMA in India? What are the market and application areas where SOMA solutions have been favoured by Indian customers? What, in your opinion, is your USP?
Ms. Pavla Kusa:
At this moment we have two CI flexo press installations in the Indian market — and soon we will have three. I wouldn’t say there is any favourite application. We offer solutions across all application, such as food, personal care, pharmaceuticals, etc.
I think that the greatest benefit is that every SOMA customer will get great print stability, which means excellent print registration and the maximum speed for demanding jobs — even if they bounced in the past. This is possible due to SOMA’s unique Advance Bounce System and job tuning software. The second significant benefit for SOMA’s customers is job setting, with quick registration and impression setting without any waste due to the ARUN system. This is the greatest tool in the hands of the printer because it guarantees perfect job settings with minimal operator skill required.
PRESSIdeas: Any particular experience you would like to share where DKSH has been a special partner?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: Where I see the biggest value of DKSH is their way of thinking, which is oriented to the long term. They also have demonstrated an impressive level of professionalism in everything they do.
PRESSIdeas: Do you see today’s customer wishing more than the machine from the technology provider? What makes SOMA special in satisfying such customers’ demands?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: Yes of course they wish more, especially when you offer and sell CI flexo technology. Flexo is a complicated technology, and to deliver just the machine doesn’t bring success. SOMA and DKSH are very much aware that it is also essential to become the customer’s partner. This is not only in the fact that DKSH offers a complete portfolio of critical flexo tools such as anilox rollers, but also that behind the DKSH team is a deep understanding and experience in flexo technology. They recommend their customers partners for repro, ink, and anything else. They provide consultation about technological problems as well as the financial ROI for any application. I think that, most important, is to be aware that with the SOMA CI flexo press, any customer gains SOMA and DKSH as partners, not just suppliers.
PRESSIdeas: What are the key challenges you see in Indian market? How are they different from other markets?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: I see as the biggest challenge the fact that it is still a gravure-oriented market. So, our first conversations will need to persuade prospective clients that flexo is a competitive technology in terms of quality, compared what they know very well and consider very effective.
PRESSIdeas: What are the key opportunities you see in the current, challenging market conditions?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: Right now, everybody starts at the same line—we are all starting from ‘zero’, which is great from SOMA’s perspective. People can start with a clean slate. They can follow the latest trends. It is like we are all starting with a piece of clean white paper, creating new opportunities without any history. That is fantastic!
PRESSIdeas: Anything else you would like to share with your customers or our readers?
Ms. Pavla Kusa: SOMA has decided to enter the Indian market in partnership with DKSH. We are prepared to become real, long-term partners with every individual customer who works with us.
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