Indian conglomerate ITC's education and stationery products business, which sells notebooks and other stationery items under the Classmate brand, has clocked revenues of Rs 1,000 crore in terms of consumer spends.
"When the company got into the stationery business way back in 2003, there was a lot of scepticism, but today we are market leaders in the branded notebooks category," says Chand Das, chief executive, education and stationery products business at ITC.
The company's rise to the Rs 1,000-crore mark took a little over 10 years, which according to Das is the fastest in the history of the stationery business in India.
Companies such as Navneet, for instance, despite being around since 1956, have a turnover of less than Rs 1,000 crore.
Das, who was moved from the company's packaging business to run this business way in 2002, has played a major role in getting consumers to think brands while buying a commoditised category like notebooks.
The organized market for notebooks is around Rs 4,000 crore, where ITC's Classmate is the market leader with a 20 per cent share. The other national brand, Navneet, is a distant second with 7 per cent share. The rest of the market is controlled by a host of regional brands.
Das is now set for the next round of market expansion. He is currently testing brand Saathi, which would be a notebook brand targeted at what he calls "less prosperous markets".
Brand Saathi would be priced 15 per cent lower than Classmate, whose average price is around Rs 25. "The idea is to ladder the portfolio," says Das.
He also plans to launch a premium offering called Classmate Pulse. This, he says, will be strong on design elements and would have features such as dividers and pockets. But how many Indian consumers are actually brand conscious when it comes to buying a notebook? Das says that in the last decade, he has succeeded in capturing the mindshare of the students by actively investing in various school contact programmes. "Our target audience, both consumers and the trade, understand brands," he says.
Almost 85 per cent of the company's revenue comes from notebook sales, while the rest is from other stationery products such as pens and art stationery. This ratio will change to 70:30 in favour of notebooks in the next five years, says Das.