*Schevaran supplies cleaning chemicals, machines and tools to healthcare, hospitality, food manufacturing and catering, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and FMCG companies

*Wipro, Infosys, Ford Motors, and TVS Motor were among its early clients

*Its machines are used to automate the cleaning of offices, malls, hotels, hospitals, and airports

The year was 1988, and Kerala-born Sam Cherian Kumbukattu was trying to bring to his home country some of the world-class cleaning and hygiene products he had helped market for leading manufacturers — Rochester Midland Corporation, Taski Switzerland and Premier Products of UK, among others — in the US, Europe and West Asia.

“When I approached the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for approval of technology transfer, I was told this was not a priority area for the country and, therefore, was not given permission,” recounts Cherian, a management graduate from Schiller’s University, Germany. He then approached science and technology minister (and, later, president) KR Narayanan and managed to secure the go-ahead.

Thirty years on, the company he launched, Schevaran, has become a one-stop shop for a diverse range of cleaning and hygiene products — from chemicals to machines and tools — catering to companies in sectors such as healthcare, hospitality, food manufacturing and catering, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).

“It’s heartening that things have changed over these years. There is a clear and marked awareness of the need for cleanliness and hygiene in our society now. And, of course, the coronavirus pandemic has pushed the need for 24x7 cleanliness and hygiene to centre stage,” Cherian adds.

His company proved to be a pioneer in the country at a time when largebusiness houses did not see an opportunity in the cleaning and hygiene segment. Since the ’90s, however, with the boom in the information technology industry, multinational corporations (MNCs) setting up back-offices in India began to insist on hygiene conditions on a par with the West. For Cherian, the timing proved to be perfect.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 (declared a pandemic in March this year), Schevaran has witnessed a spike of ₹40 crore in its topline; there has been a surge in the sale of its VIROFF® 753 range of products, consisting of hand sanitisers, germicidal handwash, vegetable wash, dish cleaner and disinfectant cleaner for floors, toilets and windows. The anti-viral hand sanitiser, adhering to World Health Organization (WHO) standards, was developed in 2003 by the company’s senior scientific advisor Richard Joseph.

Family-owned Schevaran Laboratories is located in Mysuru, Karnataka. “We were like a ‘start-up’ in today’s terminology, but with no finances coming from any recognised sources,” says Cherian. He relied on his own funds and loans from Karnataka State Financial Corporation and Canara Bank. The state government, too, supported him ably, he says. “I was able to get all approvals such as land allotment, Cauvery water connection, power connection and all licences in flat four days. This speaks volumes for the industry-friendly atmosphere in the state.”

The company’s name is an amalgam of his name and that of his wife Miriam. It also helped that it sounded like one of his favourite brand names. “I always admired Chevron, the oil major, and wanted to build a company like that in the cleaning business, which I knew will be the future of the world,” he says.

In the early days, Schevaran manufactured disinfectants, multipurpose cleaners and food industry sanitisers. The next big task was to market them.

Cherian says that though he met with persistent pushback from one particular MNC with a long presence in the country, Schevaran managed to bag Wipro as its first large client, followed by Infosys, Ford Motors, and TVS Motor.

At a time when the market for hygiene products was still nascent in India, Schevaran had more trainers than sales people to explain to customers the proper usage of chemicals.

“I have visited clients across the country to develop the market,” says Cherian.

From 12 initially, the number of workers at the company now exceeds 100.

With over 100 formulations in its kitty, the company — which boasts the international quality certification ISO 9001:2015 — is a leading player in the country’s estimated ₹1,500-crore cleaning chemicals industry, which is predominantly in the unorganised sector.

Mysuru was a natural choice of location for him as it is home to many premier research institutes, especially the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), which played a vital role in the growth of Schevaran. Citing the support extended by CFTRI directors BL Amla and V Prakash, Cherian says, “We could work together and develop very unique formulations for cold storage disinfection.”

Schevaran recently tied up with CFTRI to develop environment-friendly and cost-effective sanitisers and disinfectants for rural areas.

The Schevaran Innovation Centre was set up in 2014 to develop formulations with eco-friendly and bio-based — natural/ near-natural/ phytochemical — ingredients.

Headed by TN Bhavanishankar, a former director of American spirits company Bacardi, the innovation centre has on its advisory board several former scientists from CFTRI, including the former director V Prakash as its chairman, and Richard Joseph, KN Gurudutt and MC Varadaraj as senior advisors.

The centre brings out a quarterly newsletter, Schevaran Innovator . One of its major objectives is to keep customers informed through seminars/ symposiums on ways to ensure a clean and hygienic environment at work and home, proper healthcare, healthy and hygienic food, and eco-friendly hygiene products, Cherian explains.

A range of herbal — non-alcoholic — sanitisers is ready for launch and awaiting patent registration.

As part of its corporate social responsibility efforts, the company conducts a programme called ‘Hygiene in Schools’ for the students of Stds IV to VIII in select government schools in Mysuru; it provides the youngsters a kit containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, bath soap, nail cutter and hand soap at regular intervals.

It also financially assists children from needy families to continue their education, provides financial aid for palliative care, and, under the ‘Save A Child’ project with the Rotary Club of Mysore West and the city’s Kamakshi Hospital, it funds dialysis treatment for children born with genetic disorders.

In the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for mechanisation and automation has assumed importance as it reduces human intervention, cuts cost, and is safer.

Through a tie-up with Cleanfix AG of Switzerland, Schevaran is manufacturing and marketing a range of Cleanfix cleaning machines for the Asian market. These machines are used to automate cleaning in industries, offices, malls, hotels, hospitals, and airports.

The company also has a tie-up with Filmop International of Italy to market its environment-friendly and anti-microbial mopping systems in India.

The self-funded company aims at becoming a ₹500-crore entity by 2025.

Looking back, Cherian reflects that had the country embarked early in according priority to cleanliness and hygiene, the pain brought about by the ongoing pandemic could have been minimised to a large extent.

“Hygiene is not a one-time job, it is a continuous process — in fact, a way of life,” he says.

Thomas Abraham