The recent FIFA World Cup was played on expertly maintained pitches in Qatar for a global audience. But far from the international playing fields, Indian sporting goods supplier NIVIA Sports nurtures a love of the game by providing quality equipment at accessible prices.
NIVIA Sports Chair and Managing Director Rajesh Kharabanda points to the situation in his native India, where perfect conditions are often lacking, but the passion for sport shines through on the pitch.
"We don’t have manicured, proper grassy football pitches that you see in many other countries. We need to provide durability, price and quality of an international standard," Kharabanda tells The CEO Magazine.
"We have a very localized and clear vision of working for the population, which is around us, for our customers and sportspersons."
Success for me is to create the value for our customer at a price they can afford.
Sport for all
NIVIA Sports manufactures equipment for top athletes and enthusiasts alike, ranging from footballs, basketballs and cricket bats to badminton rackets, running shoes and boots. Founded in 1934 as Freewill & Co, and based in the Punjab city of Jalandhar, NIVIA Sports supplies India’s top teams and leagues, and sells its wares through a nationwide network of dealers. Now the iconic Indian brand is exploring markets beyond its borders.
"We’re already on track to prove ourselves as on par with the best in the world," Kharabanda says, noting the governing bodies of football and basketball have certified its equipment. NIVIA Sports is also the official ball supplier of the Indian Super League.
"With the image and value we’re creating, we are continuously taking the leadership role and the larger share of the market in India," he says.
We have a very localized and clear vision of working for the population, which is around us, for our customers and sportspersons.
NIVIA Sports occupies a unique position in the sporting goods industry. It manufactures equipment and sells under its own brand rather than buying from other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), according to Kharabanda.
"Most of the brands in the world are buying from other OEMs, but we are a design-to-delivery company. That gives us huge price and brand advantages in the countries where the income levels are not as high as the Western world," Kharabanda says.
Kharabanda sees vast opportunities both in India and abroad. But he notes that participation in sport remains stubbornly low at home, which is a phenomenon he sees in other developing nations, too, and hopes to address with NIVIA’s accessible equipment.
"There’s a huge potential for growth within the country itself," Kharabanda explains.
Step out and play
Kharabanda’s vision for expanding access to sport is encapsulated in NIVIA Sports’ guiding principle: "Step out and play". This means encouraging everyone to take their sport to the next level, regardless of where that is.
"Success for me is to create the value for our customer at a price they can afford," Kharabanda explains. "To give them a product that’s equivalent to the best in the world but at the price my countrymen can afford."
Kharabanda became Managing Director of NIVIA Sports in 2005 – a time he describes as challenging but also offering great opportunities. At the time, the Indian sports industry was maturing with leagues expanding and television audiences mushrooming, he recalls.
"Markets were growing, but at the same time, the international players were also coming onto the market. They were the ones who were taking away a lot of our heritage associations with the sports federation," Kharabanda explains. "We had to prove that we understand this market better and to reclaim our well-earned space in the Indian sports scenario."
This doesn’t mean that NIVIA Sports has been inward-looking – Kharabanda notes that they also take an international approach when it comes to their vendors and partners.
"We have a very close partnership with the PU suppliers from Korea, Japan and even China, which have been instrumental in guiding us with the right materials and substitutes," he adds.
We had to prove that we understand this market better and to reclaim our well-earned space in the Indian sports scenario.
Ultimately, Kharabanda recognizes the importance of NIVIA Sports’ unique position in the sporting goods industry and what that means for the future.
"We do draw inspiration from the success stories around the world, but we also look at local solutions and local materials," he concludes. "We are very conscious about sustainability, but we’re not blindly copying what the Western world is doing."
By valuing local knowledge, high-quality products and a view to expansion, Kharabanda’s leadership seems set to take NIVIA Sports all the way to the top.