Sandeep Engineer likes to narrate anecdotes from his own life to explain his belief that big stories have their origins in very small ideas. One such instance goes back to 2002 when the Brihanmumbai Licensed Plumbers’ Association was holding its annual meeting. On an impulse, his company, Astral Poly Technik, decided to become a sponsor for the event. The attendees at the day-long function were largely plumbers, accompanied in smaller numbers by architects and contractors. As a sponsor, Engineer was asked to address the 300-strong audience and over the next few minutes, he spoke about his company and the benefits of installing his CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) pipes. “It was apparent nobody had ever taken the effort to speak to the plumbers,” he recalls. As he stepped off the dais, Engineer was inundated with requests from plumbers to visit their sites and offer advice. The next day, he visited the Hiranandani Gardens site at Powai, a north-east Mumbai neighbourhood, with snacks and complimentary T-shirts branded with the Astral logo. “It became an event of sorts and it was really the first time the plumbers were interacting with a company,” he says.
The key learning from the experience: the plumber is the influencer and decision maker, a fact that is often overlooked by others in the pipes business. Engineer put in place a formal plumber training programme, which currently imparts skills to over 40,000 plumbers across India. “There is a module taking place in some part of India all the time. Right now, for instance, we are having one in Kerala,” he says. Most importantly, his CPVC pipes — plumbing material that is used in many parts of the world on account of its durability, ability to resist corrosion and, most importantly, high temperatures — has been accepted by large parts of the community as a viable alternative to the more archaic galvanised iron (GI). As a result, it is the plumbers themselves who are recommending CPVC pipes to apartment owners and builders. “The ease of working with the product and the advantages that it offers is well understood by them,” feels Engineer.
It is not surprising, then, that today developers of repute, such as Hiranandanis, Lodhas, DLF and Uni