It is a treat to watch Harish Gulati, Managing Director Alpine containers Jammu, immensely active in his factory’s large shopfloor, moving from one corner to another at a pace that even youngsters find difficult to match. He is in constant communication with employees in all departments motivating them and encouraging them to perform better. At 70 years of age, he emanates energy that sets an example for his young workforce and inspires them to be active and more productive. His father was a central government employee in Jammu, the winter capital and the largest city in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has now been converted to a union territory.
Lying on the banks of the river Tawi, the city is surrounded by the Himalayas in the north and the northern plains in the south. Known as the City of Temples for its ancient temples and Hindu shrines. Harish was born and brought up in Jammu. He completed his schooling from Ranbir School and did his graduation from MAM college and got his PGDAM (post graduate diploma in business management) from Jammu University. Harish is credited for taking label manufacturing to northern most part of the country.
Once out of college, Harish applied and got selected for a job in IB the premier investigating agency of India at that time but owing to typical profound wish to do his own business, he did not take up the job. He started his own business of manufacturing candles and dhoop (Incense) in 1975 and selling within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Moving on, in 1978 with family support he started his printing press in old Jammu City in an 800 square feet premises. That was his initiation into printing.
Unfortunately, a year later the factory was completely gutted in a fire, causing huge damage and loss. Not let down by the setback and with firm resolve, he restarted from scratch within a few weeks. However, at this time he closed his candle and dhoop business and concentrated on building his printing business. Though they did some commercial printing, yet his passion and concentration was in labels and packaging on which they started concentrating, finding success. Those days they used the primitive treadle presses to print with blocks and type fonts assembled inhouse. It was a challenging situation then, as blocks, dies, type fonts, artworks etc. were to be sourced from far away Delhi. He had to travel often to Delhi as there was no support for printing business within Jammu. Total support for prepress and materials was either available from Amritsar or Delhi, while sales were in the state of J&K. Amritsar had an established printing business and Harish did face competition from printers there, who would travel to Jammu to sell their products. Total support for prepress and materials was either available at Amritsar or Delhi. Sometime later someone did start making blocks locally but being committed to quality he kept getting his blocks made at Delhi only. He had three treadle presses, two were used for printing and one was for die cutting. Most of the jobs were done manually which included printing, die cutting, pasting etc.
In 1980 Harish got married to Sujata who was a graduate by education and did help him in business for some time but resorted to be a home maker when their two children were born. Daughter Divya was born in 1981 and son Vipul in the end of 1982. Once settled at home front Harish Gulati worked hard to make his printing business grow. In 1985 he expanded and moved to a 1200 square Yards plot in Gangyal Industrial area with 8000 square feet built up space. This facility was a 10-fold increase over the premises at old city. They installed a letter press printing machine developed and supplied by The Printers House in Ballabgarh.
They also added additional equipment like Victoria die cutting machine, varnishing machine and other allied equipment. One of their earliest big customers was Camlin Art Material Division where they were supplying the cartons for the well-known Camlin pencils branded “Flora” and another big candle manufacturer besides other customers. In 1994 he upgraded to offset with a single colour Dominant offset press. Business was growing at steady pace and in 2003 his son Vipul joined business as a trainee. With an additional working hand from family, Harish Gulati setup another new factory by the name of Karton Kraft Packers in same industrial area but a different location to manufacture Corrugated boxes.
A year later the present company Alpine Containers Private Limited was established and they purchased land admeasuring 7000 square meters in two parts. Construction commenced in 2006 and by 2008 Alpine containers was actively in production at their present location at Bari Brahma, Jammu where the built-up area has expanded to 60,000 square feet. Vipul Gulati who had joined as a trainee, became actively involved in business in 2007. Bouyed by the addition of young energy of Vipul, major expansion was taken up as the father son duo could share the responsibilities and manage the growth more efficiently. This unit was setup to produce corrugated boxes. In 2012 they installed an imported 5 ply automatic corrugation plant which was the first automatic plant in J&K. One of the earlier units manufacturing mono cartons that they had setup in at Gangyal Industrial area was closed and sold while the other unit Karton Kraft still continues to operate at the same place making monocartons.
Here they had also expanded to install a four colour Planeta Super Variant offset press. They also ventured into printing labels in sheet form on pre-gummed Self-adhesive sheets and manually half die cut with blade.
Label printing was always in the mind of Harish Gulati from the time of his initial days, in 2015 they entered manufacturing of labels in roll form in Alpine containers with the installation of a brand new eight color Gallus label press ECS340. This was a pioneering move taking the PSA(Pressure sensitive Adhesive) label manufacturing in India to Jammu and Kashmir, the northern most part of India. The level of confidence in succeeding is evident as the installation was done without having any orders in hand. The confidence was there because of fact that their existing customers for corrugated box packaging were also users of labels, and it would be a matter of time when label orders would come their way.
The first big order that came to them for labels was from an Agro Chemical MNC. Gradually other companies including more MNC’s too became customers. Initially due to locational disadvantage at Jammu there were many challenges which were overcome by their sheer perseverance and strong will they managed. Four years later in 2019, they added yet another press, this time they bought a Brand New 10 Colour Mark Andy P7 label press and other allied finishing machines.
They had planned further expansion at Baddi Industrial Area in Himachal Pradesh in the year 2015, but a customer prompted and convinced them to setup a unit in West, because instead of going from North to another location also in North it was better that they went westwards extending their reach in a big way.
Finally, they decided for expanding in western India and in 2016 invested in Gujarat buying four acres of land for further expansion. Construction at site started in 2018 but when plant and machinery arrived from Taiwan the pandemic due to Covid19 had broken in, putting all plans on hold as no engineers could come for installation, plus there was restrictions on personal movement. Finally, the Auto Line was installed in the year early 2021. Production has now started in the 50,000 square feet-built shop floor and they have commenced construction of another 50,000 square feet. By end of the current financial year the full 100,000 square feet will be completed.
Harish Gulati’s daughter Divya born in 1981 is a computer engineer now married and living in Jammu. His son Vipul finished his schooling from Maharaja Harisingh Agricultural Collegiate School Nagbani Jammu and followed it with higher studies in business management from Lovely University Jalandhar. In words of Harish Gulati, “Vipul is a big contributor to the growth of their company and is very passionate about our business. He is a keen machinery buyer always wanting to buy the right equipment to produce the best.” He further adds, “As a parent I have to and do support his endeavors, he has the capability and knack to get after things and achieve success. A very hard negotiator.” Vipul got married in 2009, his wife Smridhi is a qualified doctor but prefers to remain a homemaker by choice to bring up their three children, two school going children, a son. and a daughter. The third child is an infant son.
As regards the present scale business, they convert 1000-1200 tons of paper for manufacturing corrugated cartons. They convert 350,000 to 400,000 square meters of PSA Labelstocks per month to make labels. They are already working out of 170,000 square feet area at three locations; 60,000 Sq.ft. in Bari Brahma Jammu, 10,000 in Gangyal Industrial Area Jammu and 100,000 Sq.ft. West. There is wish now to consolidate and modernize present factories only with more efficient machines with increased automation, despite having more industrial land in possession at Jammu. The total workforce employed as of now is two hundred and fifty persons. Keeping in view the multilocational growing presence, professional management team has been put in place to manage the operations efficiently maintaining the progress effectively.
There are plans to modernize the corrugation unit at Jammu by replacing with a new more automated faster plant for increased cost-effective production. Their present ever growing customer base extends from Jammu-Kashmir to Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. They intend indulging in exports as and when more capacity is available. There is a definite plan to expand their label business exponentially and become a prominent player in the labels industry.
Written by Harveer Sahni, Chairman Weldon Celloplast Limited New Delhi India October 2022