ECONOMYNEXT- Atlas Axillia, a top stationery maker in Sri Lanka, says it has overcome a revenue impact from the anti-Muslim boycotts which followed Easter Sunday bombings and is also looking to boost exports.
Immediately after the Easter Sunday bombings, when radical Islamists bombed three churches and three luxury hotels, multiple Muslim-owned businesses being attacked and destroyed destroyed by mobs.
Diamond Pasta’s factory, the largest pasta maker in Sri Lanka that is owned by a Muslim but employs 70 percent Sinhalese, was burned to the ground.
Students at two schools had been ridiculed and punished for using Atlas products, and a grassroot-level hate campaign was forming, to boycott the purchase of Atlas stationery amid a social media storm.
However, Atlas Axillia, controlled Sri Lanka’s Esufally family’s Hemas Group, a public listed group, since 2018, had worked to combat a a hate campaign which was building up in June and July 2019.
The firm’s Managing Director Asitha Samaraweera said Atlas kept its ears to the ground, and responded with transparency.
“We went out and engaged heavily,” he said. “We met teachers, principals, clergy of all faiths and other community leaders and asked them to visit our factory to see how transparent we are, and explained our core values, and we believed that the truth will prevail.”
“The main pushback ended fast, but the effects lingered for a while.”
“There are still some small pockets here and there who are persisting, but I would say we have managed to address concerns of 95 percent of those who initially resisted” he said.
The firm, which has a 50 percent market share across all the products categories it is active in, managed to avoid any perceptable fall in revenue due to timely intervention, Samaraweera said.
“It’s hard to say if there was a fall in revenue from the boycott because in some other areas we managed to grow our business,” he said.
Administration at social media networks such as Facebook had taken down hate posts targeting Atlas, while the state Computer Emergency Response Team had also supported the firm, Samaraweera said.
Legal action had been taken against some of the more serious attacks on the brand, but the offenders had later come to an understanding with Atlas.
“Sri Lankans are fundamentally decent people except for a few bad apples. Initially, it was emotional and they were in shock, but later they came to a realisation about what they were doing and they forgot about it.”
The firm was also fortunate that the boycotts had taken place during the low-season.
Even sales of some of the firm’s lower value products such as books, which were hit initially, grew compared to a year earlier as the peak season approached.
Stationery shopping peaks in December, ahead of the start of the school year in January, and retailers fill their stocks from Atlas starting from September.
“As the season got closer, the retailers realised the quality, reputation and the popularity of the brand, and sales were normal,” Samaraweera said.
Leaving the Easter saga behind, Atlas is now focus on its regional expansion to countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmmar.
Samaraweera said the firm is also experimenting with the differences in tastes and expectations of quality in the markets Atlas is now expanding into.
“Export sales are very small now but in two to three years it should become significant.”
Once exports become high enough, Atlas will build factories in countries it is expanding into, Samaraweera said.
“We believe we can be a global company,” he said. (Colombo/Jan27/2020)