There was a time when the rains meant Duckback. The iconic brand could be found on gum-boots, raincoats, waterproof schoolbags, hot-water bags...

One of the most successful pre-Independence Bengali nationalist ventures, Bengal Waterproof Ltd, set up in 1920 by Surendra Mohan Bose and brothers, has changed hands. The company was acquired in 2014 by OP Saxena, a chartered accountant and once Bengal Waterproof’s financial consultant. He renamed it Duckback Waterproof Works Pvt Ltd.

Bengal Waterproof, which was growing steadily till the mid-1990s, suddenly witnessed a slump in the early 2000s due to a sharp increase in rubber prices and a shift in consumer preferences.

Crippling labour trouble at its manufacturing unit in Panihati, a Kolkata suburb, and working capital shortage proved the final nail in its coffin. Production stopped in 2010. The company’s Ranchi unit, Bihar Rubber Company, however, continued to operate.

The company then went through a corporate debt restructuring process in 2012. Subsequently, the West Bengal government granted ‘relief undertaking’ status to Duckback to keep small creditors from filing for liquidation.

According to Saxena, at the time of takeover, Bengal Waterproof had a debt of around ₹85 crore, and a labour liability of ₹17-18 crore.

“We settled the entire liability of Bengal Waterproof by investing around ₹100 crore and took over the company in 2014,” he told BusinessLine .

Bengal Waterproof’s eight- acre land at Panihati was sold to settle a part of the debt; the rest of the proceeds are being used for redevelopment and setting up of a warehouse.

“The Ranchi unit was also entangled in some financial and legal issues, and we resolved them,” Saxena said.

Way forward

With Brand Duckback in its fold, the Saxena-led management is planning to expand the portfolio into school supplies such as notebooks, water bottles, and tiffin boxes, as also men’s readymade garments.

“We have already launched readymade men’s garments in Gujarat and hope to roll them out across India over the next three-four months,” he said. Duckback plans to launch its school supplies range in the North-East.

The company will also focus on premiumisation of its soft-luggage category, which includes suitcases, office bags, and travel bags.

Around ₹10 crore has gone into setting up a manufacturing unit at Barasaat, 30 km from Kolkata. The plant is expected to be operational by January.

“Our target from the luggage business is ₹100 crore over the next one-two years,” he said. The company is expecting a turnover of ₹75 crore by March 2019.

The company’s last filing with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs reveals it had a turnover of ₹2.76 crore in 2016-17. It has around 25 exclusive outlets apart from a 550-dealer network. The company plans to scale up the number of standalone outlets to 100 by March.