Friday, March 25, 2011



With a 30% margin clothing business had allured many textile mills. But now, most of them, such as Arvind Mills, are opting out of this high risk, high margin industry. They realise that the highly labour intensive business is facing a chronic shortage of talent pool, and with cyclical sales patterns, offers everyday new challenges in face of high rejections of the finished product. Vertical integration is virtually nonexistent.

Now read this: Garment companies at Tirupur and Bangalore have felt that backward integration and consolidation have become crucial to the growth of textile industry as uncertainty in raw material availability and cost have been unnerving. Assured quality, timely delivery, saving on transportation cost and even availability of raw materials are some of the benefits for integrated companies. Vertical integration helps them control the costs at various points in the supply chain. Further, a company can be flexible with the order quantity as it need not outsource any work that might require a minimum quantity.

Contradictory, ain’t the above two scenarios? Well not really.


A firm integrates backward/upstream when it undertakes to produce raw materials and semi-fabricated inputs that might otherwise be purchased from independent producers. Firms integrate forward/downstream when they move toward further finishing of semi-fabricated products and the wholesaling and retailing operations that put manufactured goods in the hands of consumers. Amway, for whose 123 products (across personal care, home care, cosmetics, and gift items) Indian market is growing at 25% annually, has planned to invest Rs.400 crore to set up its first manufacturing facility in India. Currently 85% of company’s products in India are produced by seven contract manufacturers. Retailer turning producer – an example of backward integration.

In a contrarian fashion, however, in March 2004, Sunil Mittal created a flutter by outsourcing the very heart of his telecom business – technology and networks. At that time Bharti had 8.4 million subscribers; this number was expected to grow to 50 million by 2014, the terminal year of the deal period. By December 2010 it already had more than 150 million subscribers. So now the outsourcing also includes billing, application development, customer relationship management, network expansion ... The success of this model has prompted even the rivals like Vodafone, Idea, Aircel, Videocon, and others to follow suit. The whole arrangement freed up Bharti’s senior management bandwidth to focus on what they know best – build the brand, customer acquisition, and strategy formulation while the partners (IBM, Nokia, Ericsson) deliver on signed service levels.


A coffee plantation yields about 400 kilograms of Arabica grade, valued at Rs.142 a kilo, for Amalgamated Coffee Company. This can be exported at Rs.165 (i.e one sixth more than the local market price). But each kilo of coffee powder sold at roast and ground outlets in India sells for about Rs.250, i.e a markup of 50% from the farm gate pricing (taking into account roasting loss of about 18%). Finally, a mug of coffee at Café Coffee Day sells at Rs.42 on average, using 12-15 grams of coffee; this is Rs.4 worth of coffee per mug. This has prompted the owner of 10,000 acres of coffee plantation to set up more than 1,000 coffee retailing outlets (the highest number in India, and the fifth highest in the world) and reap the fruits of vertical integration by reducing costs and extract higher incremental value.

Vertical integration is prompted by a motive to reduce costs. It may also give a producer enhanced control over his economic environment. Upstream integration, for example, helps to ensure that supplies of raw materials are available as and when needed at a certain cost & quality parameter. Tata Motors has its own forging plant. There are many other advantages such as confidentiality of technology, barriers against potential entrants, and so on.


Unfortunately the choice is not so obvious always. At least, some of the benefits of vertical integration can be achieved through outsourcing. So, for every Tata Motors there is a Maruti Suzuki, for every Reliance there is an Indo Rama; they prefer to stick to knitting. These companies argue with equal convincing force: outsourcing may actually mean availability of supplies at competitive prices. Thus, with the imposition of 10% excise duty on branded garments in the latest budget, Van Heusen is contemplating sourcing them from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, though currently 90% of the brand’s manufacturing is done in India. Then the input needed may be of highly specific dimensions requiring very large operations to enjoy economies of scale. For McDonald’s the humble potato is a very critical input, what with 30% of its customers coming to McDonald’s only to eat French fries. But due to unsuitable quality of locally grown potatoes, it invited Mc- Cain, its global partner, to come to India and set up shops here; through contract farming route McCain accesses right kind and sized potatoes so that when fried at exactly 168 degrees Celsius for precisely 3 minute and 10 seconds, the restaurant gets perfect golden coloured patties. So, instead of vertical integration, it is argued, the benefits can be achieved through contracts or informal agreements. Each firm then remains free to adjust its own scale of operation and to deal with others. Each firm will have its own incentives thereby obviating the need for an administered system as would have been required in a joint (vertically integrated) company. To be sure, the problems arise for such agreements when there are marked changes, say, when there is a sharp fall in demand, or the technology changes considerably, or when it is contract renewal time that may either be pre-planned or initiated by one side because of changed circumstances. Bombay Dyeing, for example, once crossed swords with its international raw material suppliers over the issue of purchase price of Paraxylene, wanting to convert contracted price into spot price.


It is also crucial to decide how vertically integrated must the firm be or obversely, to what extent can a firm satisfy its needs through outside procurement of large scale economy components, perhaps avoiding thereby some diseconomies of managing a larger organisation (such as moral hazard, limited span of control). Noteworthy it is that while resource allocation in the market is normally guided through prices, within the firm the same job is done through the conscious decisions and commands of management. The activities will be performed intrafirm if transaction costs incurred in using the price mechanism exceed the cost of organising the same activities through direct managerial controls. These transaction costs could be high due to price shopping, communication of work specifications, contract negotiations, and even tax regulations. On the other hand if the pricing power vests with a large supplier and he exercises it to detriment of the buyer, the latter may decide to produce something intra-firm, even at a higher cost. Generally, we could say that more prone the markets are to a breakdown of competitive supply conditions, the stronger will be the buyer’s incentive to integrate upstream. So you may decide to go as far as Kodak did once – rearing its own sheep to obtain gelatin to be used in photographic films. Likewise a firm likes to integrate downstream when margins are mouth watering. A Yash Chopra dabbles into film distribution and exhibition.