Apollo LogiSolutions for one stop solution

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Apollo LogiSolutions is keen to play a role of one stop solution in logistics.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

Logistical needs in India are on the rise. The proliferation of ecommerce is one of the factors among many others that is providing much thrust. Logistics however has a long way to go in India. In a country like India, the linking of logistics industry’s growth with infrastructure should not come as a surprise. The two complement each other like no other. With much scope for road conditions in the country to improve, it is only logical for logistics solution providers to look at addressing the often conflicting needs of their customers, in doing so lies their ability to create a niche for themselves. Keen to play the role of one stop solution, and serve customised solutions, Apollo LogiSolutions (ALS) is bullish about growth. Avers PSS Prasad, President, ALS, that his company is not a mere transporter. “We are into transportation in a very selective way for end-to-end solutions,” he adds. Stressing upon providing CFS, freight forwarding and custom brokerage services, the company, according to Prasad, is looking at creating a niche for itself through a gamut of services that support quicker and healthier growth. With analysts expecting third party logistics to grow by over 20 per cent till 2018, Prasad is right about creating a niche. He comments, “There is good potential in the logistics market, which remains to a good extent unorganised. There’s much opportunity waiting to be tapped.”

End to end solutions

ALS was established in 2009 at Gurgaon, and is a subsidiary of the Raaja Kanwar-led Apollo International Ltd. In a short span of time, the company spread its wings far and wide. Taking on the challenge to provide end-to-end logistics services on the back of its multi-modal capabilities, ALS operates through three verticals. Offering services like CFS, ICD, custom brokerage, freight forwarding, and contract logistics to various companies from diversified sectors under its 3PL business structure, the company is planning to increase its fleet size to 250 trucks in the next six months. Mentions Prasad, “We have patented truck bodies for specialised movement of Hero two wheelers. As of current, 220 trucks have been entrusted with the task.” Keen to move up to 250 trucks in six months by increasing the container capacity by 20 per cent against the standard containers used by others in the industry, without flouting the road safety norms, ALS, by early next year, is looking at growing its fleet to 300 numbers already. “Whereever there is a dry port, we believe in buying the trailers. Depending upon the location we also work with third party operators as well to boost the logistics business pan-India,” explains Prasad.

For regional support, ALS works with two operators. Centrally, up to four operators stay committed to ALS operations informs Prasad. Also undertaking reverse logistics assignments for companies like Samsung, ITC, and Asian Paints, the company, as a 3PL player, offers warehousing services. “Our warehousing services include various services like kitting, labeling, and even specialised operations like fitting a tyre on to the rim of a two wheeler,” avers Prasad. To allow its customers to work on lean inventories, ALS picks up rims from the factory in China and tyres from Vietnam for the Hero Group. After procuring them, ALS gets them custom cleared in India. The two are assembled at the ALS warehouse before being supplied to the Hero factory. ALS, says Prasad, has 50 warehouses the world over. Of these, 35 warehouses are in India. Of the opinion that it is important to expand strategically, Prasad draws attention to ALS’ joint venture with a German logistics player Fiege.

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ALS-Fiege JV

The ALS-Fiege JV was established in 2012. The resultant company, Apollo Fiege Integrated Logistics, focuses on generic business of freight forwarding through air and ocean along with secured short-term storage for valuables in transit, and customs brokerage where the company will assist customers to interface with the customs department during shipment imports or exports as per various classifications, contract logistics and transportation services. Touching upon Fiege bringing with it 140 years of industry experience, Prasad avers that Apollo Fiege Integrated service platform is outfitted with operational expertise and solution capabilities across the entire logistics spectrum catering to freight forwarding, customs clearance, projects and other 3PL logistics requirements through its vast global network. “Enabling us to access the latest technology in logistics, the participation of Fiege also brings with it the advantage of having a presence in 70 countries, and across 200 locations,” says Prasad. Under its asset heavy business, the company has got four dry ports out out of which the one in Panvel is directly owned by the flagship company. For strengthening its presence in Sourthern India, ALS acquired Chennai based logistics company, Kailash Shipping Services, in 2013. ALS has also strengthened its capabilities in handling export-import containers, refrigerated cargo and warehousing. States Prasad, “We also have two dry ports in Tuticorin and Katupalli respectively.” “We are awaiting approvals to commence operations,” he adds. For 3PL logistics and freight forwarding services, ALS acquired a controlling stake in a firm called Freight Reach with presence in the Middle East and Africa. “With most of the automobile manufacturers including Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland exporting to Africa, it made sense to expand our reach,” expresses Prasad.

Staying ahead

Applying good deal of emphasis on technology to stay ahead, ALS, according to Prasad, is driving its end-to-end logistics solution business with the help of its joint venture with Lycos. As a technology company, Lycos allows ALS to help its clients with end-to-end logistics solutions in the area of ecommerce especially. Opines Prasad, that in the logistics business, it is more or less similar as far as operations are concerned. What makes a difference is technology. With Lycos on board, ALS is helping global brands to deploy e-commerce platforms that target Indian customers. ALS clients include 612 league and Kyo creations. “Anybody who wants to get on the ecommerce bandwagon, we can hook its operation in a day’s time. This capability of our will indirectly help us with our logistics side of the business. It is no surprise that we would like to be their logistics partner as well,” stated Prasad. For increasing reach in dry port services, ALS acquired Wifin Technologies in 2016. The company has also partnered with CargoWise for freight forwarding. This, says Prasad, is allowing us to develop mobile apps like Mobizee, Billijee, and Purplepatch for ecommerce logistics.

For an improved ecosystem

With increasing radialisation and better roads, Prasad feels that the hub and spoke model in India will gain momentum soon. As the length of the vehicle is increasing, improvement in highways in many parts of India has also reduced time in transit and costs for the cargo movement, he points out. This Prasad opines will get a boost once GST gets fully implemented which may lead to 30-40 per cent fall in frieght times and up to 30 per cent reduction in logistics costs. “Transportation under GST will make more sense as monitoring of the truck at every stage will be much easier. It will also reduce inventories to large extent which will benefit the economy in the long run,” said Prasad. He feels substantial results might not arrive soon as there might be a dip, but things will gradually improve. “It may not affect the cost which we have to see in the long run. But if you are using a good infrastructure you have to pay for it,” stressed Prasad.

Startups and Automation

Highlighting transparency and lack of will as a serious issue in logistics, Prasad points out that real time access to information on goods movement aids building of trust between the company and the clients. “A large part of cargo is still transported by road as it happens to be cheaper than railways. Any reduction in manpower dependence is beneficial,” he states. Mentioning that CFS needs 20 approvals, Prasad opines that there is a need for a single window clearance system. Prasad draws attention to the fact that the logistics industry has its aspects coming under ministries. This, he avers, leads to inefficiencies. With startups in logistics sector coming up and vanishing like wild mushrooms, Prasad is of the opinion that large flow of funds is spoiling startups, and calls for building up of a sustainable business model. Terming the constant change in taxation structure as detrimental to the growth of the logistics industry, Prasad calls for better channeling of forex reserves for faster development

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Moving forward

ALS recorded a revenue of Rs.800 crore in FY2016-17. By 2020, the company aims to quadruple it. This, it plans to achieve through organic and inorganic growth. Setting aside Rs.200 crore for acquisitions, the company, according to Prasad, has been growing at a CAGR of 50 per cent for the last few years. With thrust to continue on exim services and freight forwarding, the company is keen to enter the area of cold chain. Avers Prasad, “Cold chain is one area that we are thinking of.” “Without full fledged transport support it is not going to be helpful though,” he adds. Having a cold storage setup at Panvel for select goods that require temperature controlled containers, the company, concludes Prasad, will require to ramp up cold chain infrastructure, which would call for an amount of investment in the future.”

Fish lorry

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Trucks have been transporting fish the world over. What makes it unique is how they ensure that the catch remains fresh until it reaches the market.

Story & photos by: Ashish Bhatia

The ‘Koli’ (fishermen and fisher women) community dotting the seafronts of Mumbai are arguably the originally inhabitants of what where once seven different islands of Mumbai (Bombay). Over 7000 ‘Koli’ families stay at Versova (Vesave). Many have turned to jobs after educating themselves in modern streams. A good deal are however practicing their traditional profession of fishing. Some 30 fishing boats bring a large catch of fish to the Versova jetty, making it one of the major distribution hubs. Trucks built for the purpose ferry fish to various retail markets in Mumbai and Ratnagiri. The beauty of these trucks lies in their construction. For, fish is highly perishable unless stored at freezing temperatures and transported swiftly.

Unlike the air-conditioned container trucks that are used to ferry fish in the advanced markets, the trucks that are used to ferry fish from Versova are different. They are owned by the very ‘Kolis’ that often own the fishing boats as well. A tightly woven community that has specailised in fishing over the generations is as passionate even today. They know their work well, and do what it takes. Entrusting the task of building superstructures of their trucks to local body builders like Rajmal and Jain, the kolis are well aware of what they want. The body builders too are well aware of the requirements of these folks. They are also aware of the trucks the kolis buy.

Buying trucks for the trade

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Crates of fish stacked between a film of crushed ice makes for an amount of load. They also call for ample cargo space. So, when Vijay Sathi decided to buy a truck to transport fish, he gave preference to a Tata 608. The year was 1992, and Vijay was taking to the business to get away from boarding a fishing vessel and explore the high seas. His earlier endeavours had helped him earn enough to buy a truck. He was encouraged by other community members who were already into the transportation of fish. Certain of the potential to earn well, he bought Tata 608 cab chassis for Rs. 4.8 lakh. Aware that the container body would define the payload, Vijay turned to a body builder in the fishing town of Vasai to the north of Mumbai. It cost him Rs. 1.35 lakh to get a container body built on the Tata 608 cab chassis. Today, it costs Rs. 2.75 lakh to build a container body avers Vijay. “A majority of transporters procure ready to fit carriers that are procured and assembled at Taloja by body builders like Antony Auto Coach Builders,” he announces. “Stress is on adequate space for the container body superstructure to carry as much crates of fish,” adds Vijay. Pointing at his new stead, a Tata 709, Vijay avers, “Each crate contains 30kg of fish depending on the species and size. A transporter earns Rs.80.” If Vijay is to be believed, much importance is given to the technical specifications of the truck. The engine, the clutch, the brakes, cabin comfort, and more.

In the case of Vijay’s truck, there’s a door and a staircase built into the left side of the superstructure. It facilitates easy access to the cargo hold area states Vijay. The superstructure, made of composite material for good sealing is not exactly the kind where fish is loaded from the rear and the cargo hold area is air-conditioned to preserve the quality. The superstructure of Vijay’s lorry, like the other fish lorries found at Versova, is non-airconditioned. Crushed ice is forced into each crate that does the job of keeping the temperature low. Speed of transport is crucial. The staircase and a bench inside facilitates partial loading and unloading of the cargo.

The Tata 709 is not the only truck that Vijay owns. His enterprise, Gorai Tempo, operates three trucks including a Mahindra Maxx pik-up. Mentions Vijay that his company’s turnover is Rs.12 lakh per annum. Claims Vijay who has been in this business for 23 years that he achieved success on the basis of his dedication and perseverance.

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The secret of success

The absence of an air-conditioner brings down cost, it also makes for more cargo space. Fish from Versova is transported to as far as Navi Mumbai, and takes one and a half hour to reach there. The non-air conditioned way of transporting fish helps, claims Vijay. He avers that they use a secret agent in the form of a special salt. Sprinkled on the fish, this salt ensures longevity. This is done at the local warehouse – a cold storage facility. Fish is stashed in plastic containers (crates) and covered with a thick layer of locally produced ice. The loaded crates, when it is time to transport them, are stashed on to the truck. Claims Vijay that stringent quality checks are carried out, both at the start and at the end of the journey. How this is done he does not reveal. Instead, he says that this is what determines his remuneration. If any deterioration in quality is observed, the remuneration takes a hit. This can happen when the truck gets stuck in a traffic jam, or breaks down. Explains Vijay, “For short distances we don’t face problems. In case we have to travel long distances, we halt to replace the ice.”

Rising operational costs

Transporting fish is crucial to the success of the business. Fry and fingerlings are transported from hatchery to pond for stocking. Brood fish are sometimes transported into the hatchery to spawn. Many methods of transporting fish have been developed, including the transportation of live harvested fish to the market. It is surprising therefore, that despite the risks associated with the nature of their cargo and its ability to perish, Vijay and other fish transporters of Versova are not in a hurry to upgrade to advanced transporting technologies. Neither is looking for a reefer truck! Nor are they keen to acquire oxygen cylinders. “Our priority is to keep the operating costs under check,” avers Appu, who gives business to transporters like Vijay. Vijay explains, “Our affinity for Tata trucks over others stems from the confidence of carrying out basic repairs ourselves in case of a breakdown.” He quips that other brands have also begun finding acceptance with them, subject to addressing their requirement. Stopping short of mentioning that they opt for dandy trucks that sustain their tendency to overload, given the nature of their cargo, Vijay states that it is the new crop of sub five-tonne trucks that are currently attracting their attention. “A longer cargo tray assures higher payload carrying capacity, and is the most motivating factor,” says Vijay. He adds, “Trucks like the Eicher Pro 1049 (sub five-tonne) stand a good chance.”

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Staying in the business

Keeping operational costs in check has become a crucial part of success for Vijay and his fellow fish transporters at Versova. On a new truck chassis, the operator, instead of mounting a new body opts to mount a refurbished body, states Vijay. This costs much less, he adds. A new body costs upwards of Rs.2.5 lakhs. Also, the rise in diesel prices over the last few years has pushed many fish lorry operators to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) claims Vijay. Many are increasingly wary of buying a new vehicle. Unique to these fish transporters is their preference for a manual clutch and a powerful engine. Failure or a break down is the last thing that we would want, says Vijay. “It can cost us as much as Rs.40-50,000. This makes us very careful in what we select. We are not particularly fond with anything that is automatic or electronic in nature,” he adds. Trucks with such systems, feels Vijay, are liable to have high operating costs. It gets a little difficult to understand when Vijay mentions that a manual clutch operation ensures optimal power. He states, “It provides us some room to overload.” It is a similar story when it comes to air brakes. Explains Vijay, that air brakes allow for a strong bite and quick retardation, and even when the truck is overloaded. The rigidity of a non-assisted steering, he mentions, enables better manoeuvrability. In the case of tyres, the fish transporters prefer 8.25 size as it supports higher load carrying capacity. “It also raises the height of the vehicle which isn’t a dead giveaway of the load at the time of checks by authorities,” beams Vijay. He concludes, “Apart from an acute business sense, the volatile nature of the business is safeguarded by government tax exemptions us ‘Kolis’ enjoy.”

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