Companies must innovate, manage expenditure meticulously and ensure the safety of employees to survive in the post-pandemic era, said a top executive of Berger Paints Bangladesh.
"Berger Paints is following these principles and is getting the results," Mohsin Habib Chowdhury, senior general manager for sales and marketing at Berger Paints Bangladesh, told The Daily Star in an interview last week.
The impact of the coronavirus on the global economic situation has been devastating and Bangladesh's economy has also come to a halt.
Bangladesh's two important sectors -- garment and remittance -- both would be impacted by the global meltdown. The International Monetary Fund has forecasted that the growth of the Bangladesh economy may be around 3.8 per cent in the just-concluded fiscal year, which is way lower than the 8.15 per cent recorded for fiscal 2018-19.
"The impact would be huge on all industries," Chowdhury said.
Under these circumstances, the government needs to focus on treasury management, rationalising and prioritising projects and agricultural development.
As industrial production is yet to pick up, tax and duty are also going to be slid through lower imports.
"So, every penny of the government's spending should be well-managed so that there is maximum return," Chowdhury said.
For the private sector, all the companies need to take care of the safety and healthcare measures for employees, he said.
"It is important because when you fight against an adverse situation, you need to fight to take all the team members on board. The safety measures may motivate the employees. When employees are motivated, a firm gets its result automatically."
The market leader in the paints industry, Berger has made available all types of safety and healthcare equipment for its employees after the outbreak of the contagion. An extra allowance has been given for using designated transportation rather than public transport.
The multinational company has gone one step further and distributed safety and health equipment among external stakeholders such as painters, dealers and shopkeepers as well. It disbursed more than Tk 1.75 crore among the painters, allowing insurance policy for them along with dried foods.
Innovation should be at the heart so that every opportunity in any area can be seized, Chowdhury said.
As part of the innovation drive, Berger has introduced some new products and services even during the pandemic and some are in pipeline. It rolled out a hand sanitiser under the brand name Mr Expert.
"We have offered a safe painting service so that people need not be worried about running painting activities. They can get full painting solutions from us safely," said Chowdhury, who joined Berger in 1995.
The company also initiated a sanitisation service under which its service team member works for a periodical sanitisation of customer's places, whether homes, premises or offices.
The service, available in Dhaka and Chattogram, is intended to provide consumers with a safe environment from all kinds of virus and germs, including coronavirus.
The research and development team is working to bring in a new product, anti-microbial coating. The anti-virus coating provides long-term protection, can't be washed out and lasts for the lifetime of the painting coat product.
"The coating protects our consumers against the virus. We already have an antibacterial coating, which is our Breathe Easy series. However, this particular microbial coating that we are currently working on will protect against a virus similar to coronavirus."
Once the anti-microbial coating is applied on a surface, it causes no dis-colouration and any adverse effect, he said, adding that the company is bringing some textile products too.
The financial portfolio has to be well-managed because all companies don't have sound financial health, according to Chowdhury.
Expenditure management should be very meticulous so that investment in the necessary stage can be made and cash flow can meet the demands of necessary expenditure.
"Since revenue for all the companies is drying up, expense management should be looked into so that they can invest whenever it sees a profitable place," Chowdhury said.
Berger is a debt-free company and it hopes to withstand the current storm while optimising expenditure. "Enough cash-flow is very important in this juncture and we are mindful about that."
The financial situation needs to be shared with a company's stakeholders, especially employees, he said.
"Then employees would realise the condition of the company, how much they should earn and how they should spend. Then transparency and confidence would be there and employees would be motivated to do their best for the betterment of the company."
Digitalisation is also required so that customers from all corners can be in touch with the company online, Chowdhury said.
"Berger has already sailed its boat for digitalisation so that there would be no communication gap between our company and consumers."
The pandemic had a detrimental impact on the paint industry as the construction industry has screeched to a halt owing to the shutdown.
Before the onslaught of the pandemic, Bangladesh's painting industry had been growing at 7 to 8 per cent per year in keeping with the economic growth of 7 to 8 per cent.
Businesses have been impacted because of the drastic drop in demand. For instance, demand for paints plunged about 50 per cent.
"This year, the painting industry will grow hardly. 2020 would be a very tough year for the construction industry as a whole and the paint industry as well," Chowdhury said.
There are some activities involving mega projects though they are moving at a slow pace.
"The re-painting segment can pick up this year," said Chowdhury, a former vice-president of the Bangladesh Paint Manufacturers Association.
The situation is getting better because of the part resumption of economic activities.
"We hope July would be a good month for everybody as most of the businesses are trying to make up the losses they had incurred due to the shutdown."
The government implemented a general shutdown from March 26 to May 30 to contain the spread of the contagion.
As there is no silver-bullet cure for the virus, companies need to survive in the coming months by taking precautions, Chowdhury said.
"We all should be prepared mentally that 2020 would be the worst year," he said, adding that the last quarter of the year would be better than the April-June quarter.
He said the government has taken the right steps so far and it needs to improve the testing facilities across the country and make sure isolation of the infected people to stop the raging contagion.
Listed on the Dhaka Stock Exchange in 2006, Berger provided 250 per cent cash dividend in 2019, 200 per cent in 2018, 600 per cent in 2017 and 370 per cent in 2015, according to the DSE data.
Its share ended 1.71 per cent higher at Tk 1,331 on Thursday.