A coastline of about 7,517 km and a strategic location by the world’s busiest maritime route in the Indian Ocean positions India as the sixteenth-largest maritime country in the world. Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, (earlier known as Ministry of Shipping) characterizes the fact that around 95% of India’s trading by volume and 70% by value is done through its maritime transport. The healthy outlook is Quite Intriguing. The country’s shipping industry has been flourishing for the last two decades; however, the competitive status of the industry seems to be in dire straits and it needs to be strengthened on the international shipping map.
The shipping line industry in India seems to be left out in the cold! On one hand, the past cycles of peaks and troughs, patched recovery from the global financial crises has hampered its growth, some of the industry’s pain has been self-imposed. The exploitation of good days leading to an unsustainable rise in demand, increase in unneeded building capacity and the conservative nature of the industry have made the sector nothing but complicated.
Change comes slowly to the shipping line industry. Anything ‘out of the box’ is either not adapted well or gets accepted quite lately. Furthermore, most of the traditional companies seem uninterested in challenging the status quo of the industry. Apart from the challenges that are inevitable, systematic and beyond control, other issues can be addressed by container lines themselves. Container shipping lines need to act first and several lines have already made significant progress on the journey to greater and smart productivity.
One such smart container shipping line has emerged from the Indian shipping space. The secret; by just being quicker and timely updated. Since its beginning in the year 2009, Econship has been benchmarking its operations to international standards to improve the efficacy, quality for its customers through innovation and all possible tools of modern technology. Econship has grown steadily over the years as a premier NVOCC and has been a role model for others in the industry. Its fleet is mostly brand new containers, with an age of 3 years, compared to other NVOCC’s 20 years old containers and are maintained to a very high standard of upkeep. The company has forayed into the vertical of carrying liquids & chemicals in ISO Tanks.
Challenging conventional container shipping lines stereotypes and inspiring the next generation
Taking every market, every border as an opportunity, Econship through the years has put together all required strategies that have helped him to take charge and make an optimal and effective contribution towards developing the shipping industry.
Leading an edge over others
- A young and well-maintained fleet of containers
- A cutting edge online system
- Competitive pricing
- A back-office and IT innovation centre in Mumbai
- A dedicated team working tirelessly 24×7
All this has accelerated the company’s rapid growth from the start and has established the company’s solid track record. Econship’s customer excellence and quality services have been applauded well through various awards like the Asia Pacific Brand Award 2013 and the Singapore Distinguished Maritime Award. Further, certifications and ratings from CRISIL, ISO and BL are a testament to Econship’s strength, expertise and credibility.
“We have always tried to understand the emerging needs of our customers and adapt our services accordingly. We assessed our core strengths and unearthed the key elements to dive into the highly competitive and fragmented industry. And since day one, our two core pillars have been our people and our technology. We take pride in performing to the best of our ability and changing the conventional paperwork structure with our technology approach.”
Capt. P S Rath, the leader-in charge, chairing as Econship Group of Companies’ CMD.
All the action and thrill that the sea holds, seemed inviting for Capt. Rath since a young age. Getting captivated immediately, Capt. Rath started his career in shipping. At the age of 18, he joined Indian Maritime University – TS Rajendra and became an ocean person. Later Capt. Rath started his professional stint in the shipping industry and freight forwarding where he would represent a foreign company. While working there, Capt. Rath decided to take an entrepreneurial plunge to create an Indian container line business and invest his dedication and passion there instead of employing it for a foreign company.
The idea worked and the country was introduced to a new shipping line. During that period, there were only a handful of Indian shipping lines. The startup got categorized as an NVOCC due to the absence of having a ship. A decade passed down the line and Capt. Rath accelerated the company’s growth towards new horizons. Later in 2008, Capt. Rath exited the company due to opinion differences and laid the foundation of Econship in 2009 along with other members of the founding team, Kavita and Subramaniam.
The dream to carve a big niche in the future of container line business in Asia and beyond turned into a thriving enterprise. Today Econship is going head-to-head with the big player around the world and due to its customer-centric approach, it is winning out, most of the time. The persistent high score of 4.7 ++ on a scale of 5 from its customers is a testament to its success and it further keeps the company pushing to raise its bars.
We spoke to Capt. Rath, and discussed the journey of Econship and its growth trajectory. He discusses with us his vision for the company, the growth, his outlook on technology and plans ahead.
Let’s discuss your ambition- “to be the best shipping line in Asia, in the eyes of our customers”.
Let’s hear a fact of truth. Unfortunately in India, you don’t see a fully dedicated shipping line to date. Honestly, we also don’t categorize ourselves as a shipping line plainly because our operations and services are dedicated to container lines and we don’t have ships. We need to have dedicated ships on a particular route to address ourselves as a shipping line.
It requires a lot of planning, capital and most importantly acceptance. It gets quite complicated as no one allows an Indian company to enter the international shipping line industry. The market is highly dominated by European, Japanese, Korean and Chinese shipping lines.
We want to change the tides. We are working on our ambition to be the first fully dedicated Indian shipping line on the world shipping map.
What has been your approach towards COVID-19?
Well contrary to our anticipations, the global coronavirus pandemic became a goldmine for the shipping line industry. Ships getting stuck created an unsustainable demand for containers and ships and the margins got elevated. Acute shortage of inventory, especially 40 HCs, erratic vessel schedules arising out of quarantine rules, and slow port operations, have hit us in ways we could not foresee. Much to our dismay, our customers have been facing the brunt of these problems. Instead of focusing on making gains, we focused on calculating ways to help our clients. We understood the emerging needs of our customers and altered accordingly.
We also shifted our focus towards strengthening our technology dexterity to provide easy and simple platforms for such customers to negotiate rates, file rates, place bookings, and execute shipments from the comfort of their locations, or the factories at the destination points.
The demand for containers has grown humungous. For instance, it has burgeoned from 20 containers per customer to 70-100 containers during recent times. In all, we didn’t think about margins, rather we focused on our customers and churned out ways to help them in the best possible way.
Let’s talk about Econship’s advantage over others – its technology supremacy.
Shipping Industry has always been reluctant to any new change. It is comfortable with manual work and has a craze for paperwork. When we first entered the industry, our first step was to blend the latest technology with our offerings and documentation. Honestly, the move was not welcomed by our customers. We have first mover’s advantage over others to date when it comes to technology and even today, if you compare us with big shipping lines, we are ahead of them on the grounds of technology, ease of doing things, simplicity and customer excellence. Our approach was accepted well later on and we give some of the credit to the digital disruption due to the pandemic. Our customers find it easier to work with us than the big players. Undoubtedly, these players have better resources and systems as they have money to invest but at the end of the day, the simplicity that we deliver to customers stays unmatched.
Taking a step ahead with our app, we have given the power to our customers to do 90 per cent of their work on the mobile app, freely from anywhere and anytime. Documentation is a huge affair in the shipping industry and we have made it feasible, light and simple for our customers. Now, we are looking ahead to how to make it faster and convenient in near future.
Our every effort in changing our customers’ lives and making it easy has been a proud moment for us. We take special pride in our app. In recent times, we have seen a remarkable user base on our app for which we were skeptical earlier. People are accepting our digital presence and that is a milestone for us. Every day we are adding such special moments to our journey. We are improving with every day and we will keep the trend running in the near future as well.
The Current stage of the industry has never been like this in its entire history of shipping. There are phenomenal margin levels and so therefore anyone, even the newbies in the shipping industry are making handsome money all because of the pandemic. The ports have been slowed down and the demand is huge, the supply side has shrunk and it has been there for more than a year now.
However, this wave is unsustainable and will plunge deeply after the pandemic becomes endemic. The time is good for the industry and disheartening for customers. However, things will swing around after a year or two.
Piece of Advice
As an entrepreneur, you have to think and be defensive when the time seems good instead of being aggressive. One should stay low, sit tight and reserve cash during the ups and wait for the right opportunity to hit the market when it goes down.
Don’t get carried away with the market’s pipe dreams. Just because everybody is doing the same, you need not to push yourself. It’s most important to have patience and wait for your turn. Today, everyone is expanding in a fast forward mode which sometimes could attract heavy errors and losses. You only need to shine when others get quiet.