Unlike 21st Century Internet ecosystem, One of the reasons why India had been fortunate enough to not have been dominated by foreign companies in the strategically important industries like steel, cement, heavy engineering, transport and automobile tyres, was because a few Indian industrialists had taken the pain of doing it themselves. You name an industrialist pioneer, India has it… The Tatas, The Birlas, the Ambanis, The List goes on…
One such pioneer was K M Mammen Mapillai!
MRF is originally the brainchild of the late K. M. Mammen Mappillai. One of his cousins had a chain of tyre retreading plants for which the tread rubber used to be supplied by foreign tyre companies. To capitalize on this market, he decided to enter the manufacturing world of tread rubber. And shortly after his entry, the ‘tread rubber’ that he manufactured, was a hit!
MRF became the only Indian-owned company which manufactured this kind of tread-rubber, which placed them in competition with the Multinationals which were operating in India. Due to their superiority and quality, MRF had become the market leader with a majority share. After steady and smooth growth in for a while, KM again decided to expand. This time it was tyre manufacturing, and it changed everything for how we know the company today.
How did the story Begin?
Post Independence, Those were the days in the 1950s, when the Indian automobile tyre industry used to be heavily dominated by the foreign trio of Dunlop, Firestone and Goodyear.
After the initiation of the Tariff Commission enquiry into the tyre industry in 1956, the government figured that just how deeply these foreign companies were dominating the industry. The whole game was exclusively in their hands! It also opened their eyes that, since no army can move without tyres for its transport. So in case of a war or an emergency, these companies would easily gang up and conspire against the nation. Hence, to counter this situation, the government aggressively started inviting and encouraging Indian companies in the rubber industry.
Thus giving birth to MRF Tyres!
Since the business was very risky, MRF formed a collaboration with a small US tyre company called Mansfield Tire & Rubber, Ohio. Its first tyre factory was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister – Pandit Nehru in 1961. In the same year itself, the company also launched an IPO and hit the stock markets as well!
But All was not well. The US-based tyre company that he had collaborated with, their technology was not suited for the Indian roads. The product defects began to pile up and foreign companies started spreading rumors that Indian companies cannot make tyres.
To make matters worse, even after 18 years of independence till 1965, government orders used to be placed exclusively on Dunlop, and the Indian companies were at their mercy. The club of these three foreign companies used to decide what proportion was to be supplied by each company.
After reaching the peak of frustration, MRF finally decided to take up the issue with the government authorities. The government changed its policy and began to place orders directly on each manufacturer in a less random manner. Thus giving MRF a fair chance to compete.
Making of a Brand – MRF Muscle Man
After getting a fair chance to compete in the Indian market, MRF also decided to expand their market share and started investing in brand marketing. They wanted to introduce a brand image to the company which had could have a wider appeal.
The father of Indian advertising, Padamsee, decided to take customer’s opinion on tyres. He surveyed a few truck-drivers and understood that according to them tyres should be strong and should demonstrate power. Thus the MRF MuscleMan was born in 1964. The ‘Muscleman’ personified the strength of the tyres manufactured by MRF Tyres. This Muscleman was then used on TV commercials during the ’80s along with signature music, which quickly went on to become an image that everyone could relate to.
The reason behind the Super Success of MRF
Strong Distribution: KM very well knew that a strong distribution reach across the country in the form of dealers would be of utmost importance for a firm standing. Hence, he started various promotional schemes and built a strong and loyal dealer network. He travelled to every nook-and-corner of the country, be it the remotest parts of Punjab and Assam, he travelled and brought home dealers, only to transform MRF into a preferred brand.
Quality of the Products: The quality of MRF tyres was such that they match the Indian road conditions perfectly, to make them an easy first choice when it came to replacing tyres on an existing vehicle. Using these simplifications, the company successfully managed to establish its quality standards and marketing and distribution network.
Other than that, the entered into various Partnerships, Joint Ventures, collaborations and tie-ups with a list of companies from across the world to justify the places where MRF has lacked. Using these and many such strategies, today MRF has turned out to become the number one tyre company in India.
What has also made MRF stand out in the crowd has been its technical capabilities, and is also known to be amongst the global elite when it comes to possessing their own technology.
The company currently holds a massive market share of more than 24% in India and with around 12% share of the world market, as MRF exports to over 65 countries. They have grown on to become the 15th largest tyre company in the world.
Achievements of MRF!
- Listed on the Forbes India’s ‘Super 50 list’ of the best companies in India (2015)
- Ranked 48th among India’s most trusted brands according to the Brand Trust Report (2014)
- Won the ‘JD Power Award’ (2013)
- Received the All India Rubber Industries Association’s (AIRIA) award for ‘Highest Export Awards (Auto Tyre Sector)’