In 2022 IKAN Relocation won the corporate housing award at the EMMAS – APAC for its corporate housing brand – SENRI. This was the third such award for SENRI, having previously won a Relocate award and a BGRS award in 2019.
Being a unique and inspiring story, IKAN has decided to publish the SENRI story for the Industry to read and cherish.
In 2017, IKAN was faced with a complex housing challenge when Motor company Suzuki decided to build a new plant at Vithalapur, Gujarat – a hot, semi-arid state on India’s western coast.
IKAN’s client, Kumagai was awarded the contract to construct the plant for Suzuki at Vithalapur – a remote Industrial Zone, located an estimated 100 Kilometres from Ahmedabad, the capital of the state of Gujarat. The Kumagai team were immediately required to disperse twenty Japanese technicians to Vithalapur for approximately five years. Shimizu San, the Project Manager had the huge challenge to ensure boarding and lodging as the village of Vithalapur offered limited options, none of which were expat friendly. Gujarat, is the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi and therefore a “dry” state with most residents’ “vegetarian” and “meat” consumption is frowned upon.
Kumagai’s complex charge to IKAN: create acceptable boarding and lodging for their Japanese technical team moving to the remote green-field site for five years.
How was this accomplished?
Faced with a limited, 3-month timeline from engagement to delivery, the 15-strong IKAN Relocation team swung into action to deliver within the deadline and meet Kumagai’ s expectations. A building shell was transformed into 24 international class serviced apartments (SENRI corporate housing), complete with a bespoke Japanese kitchen (ICHIRI) and dining area.
The team successfully identified how to equip, staff, and operate the serviced apartments. This included the tricky coordination around both food and raw materials transportation, as well as addressing the stress of expats moving to this remote site. Solutions to other complex challenges were addressed by the IKAN team: a supply chain process for consumables was established, including quality meat (Poultry, Pork, Fish) was sourced and transported from Delhi. Basic foods like Eggs and Bread were sourced from the closest town thirty kilometres from Vithalapur. Culturally important Japanese garnishes, sauces, rice, and noodles were sourced from Delhi importers for onward transport to Vithalapur.
The Second SENRI :
The success of the Kumagai project heralded an innovation in IKAN’s service portfolio. SENRI, was now the IKAN-owned brand for residences and serviced apartments for the unique housing needs of its Japanese customers – offering quality, greenfield housing solutions in remote locations in India. SENRI supported by ICHIRI, the Japanese kitchen and restaurant were recreated as a greenfield in 2019 AS A bespoke solution for another Japanese company Toray, at Sri City, a coastal Industrial town. Once again, the project was in a remote manufacturing location in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Toray had a similar unique need to house approximately 20 technicians near their factory at Sri city. Most technicians and managers lived in Chennai, a two-hour drive to the factory where the residents’ costs were approximately USD 150 per night. SENRI not only solved the accommodation problem being close to the factory for TORAY – daily housing costs were reduced to USD 30 per night, and savings on travel time and related costs were met.
IKAN adopted the mindset to achieve and exceed Kumagai’ s and Toray’s objectives and expectations.
The Kumagai and the Toray scenarios were unique as their remote factory sites did not allow necessary, minimal comforts to the Japanese workers.
Thankfully, none of the Japanese workers housed in SENRI sites ever reported being sick, nor did any worker assignment fail before the project was completed. The Kumagai and Toray employees found a “home away from home.”
Japanese is an alien culture for most Indians and especially for those who live in rural locations like Vithalapur and Sri city where residents have rarely left the confines of their village – let alone travel overseas. The cultural and linguistic barriers were immense, and IKAN challenge was multifaceted. Hiring, training and skilling along with sensitization to Japanese requirements towards food, safety, hygiene, quality, and service standards were daily challenges addressed via IKAN’s established processes.
IKAN project teams met these immense challenges when developing and operating corporate housing located in hardship areas. These hardships included: enduring temperatures as high as 50 degrees, experiencing poor food and accommodations, and collaborating with local contractors and workers while dealing with language and cultural barriers.
The additional challenge to source and disperse trained staff to these project sites was met as IKAN recruited the serviced apartment staff from across India and a few locals. The chefs were hired from Delhi while the room service and maintenance staff were recruited from the North-eastern states of India. The drivers and the cleaning staff were hired locally. Due to the diverse background of the apartment staff, there were numerous cultural and linguistic challenges for the IKAN team that was further amplified due to their cultural differences with the Japanese expatriates.
IKAN had six months between contracting and handover to TORAY on 1st September 2019. A furniture shipment was ordered from China for the ‘SENRI” at Sri city and this shipment was delayed and could only arrive in India by end of September. So IKAN managed to source and rent furniture as a stop gap measure for two months to meet TORAY’s start date. This timeline was critical as TORAY had served notices to their respective Chennai property owners.
There were other housing challenges during this 6-month project: the builder experienced about a 2-month delay with the completion certificate. This impacted vital clearance linked to many subsequent developments like the swimming pool, the gym, the restaurant, the kitchen and the stores and other local and state compliances.
The SENRI Advantage
The IKAN Innovation – SENRI corporate housing and ICHIRI are unique in many ways. First, in an extremely competitive DSP market, these innovations provided considerable differentiators that made IKAN the preferred choice as service provider for the Japanese expatriate community working at remote plant locations within India. Both the SENRI’s were green field in nature and are exclusive creations.
This Innovation has not only added a new product line for IKAN, it also helped double IKAN’s revenue over a two-year period.
While the first ICHIRI and SENRI projects came up as a twenty-four unit (one-bedroom units each), apartment complex at Vithalapur dedicated for the use of Japanese employees of Kumagai corporation the second SENRI at Sri city, was built for Japanese employees of Toray Corporation, who otherwise had to travel daily between Chennai and Sri city, a two-way, five-hour daily commute along with high travel and transportation expenses. The SENRI and ICHIRI product innovations have created excellent value ensuring considerable cost savings to clients, as well as comfort to their expatriate employees.
The second SENRI at Sri City has Thirty-Six, two-bedroom apartments. Twenty-Four of them have been leased by TORAY for long term and the remaining are leased by other Japanese ancillaries within Sri city for long and short-term, ensuring an annual profit of INR ten million for IKAN.
Upon closer review, the closest Indian city to Sri City is Chennai and the hotel room cost at approximately 150 USD per night per person and round-trip travel time is five hours between Chennai and Sri city. IKAN set up a Thirty-Six, two-bedroom, serviced apartment under the brand SENRI, bringing the daily cost to under USD 30 per night per person in record time. “SENRI” will save Toray at least 750,000 USD per annum in just boarding, lodging and travel.
The entire infrastructure including the rooms, swimming pool, gym, restaurant, kitchen, staff, workers’ uniforms, and service levels, were originally created to meet culturally – acceptable Japanese standards
A Supply chain for consumables was established that included obtaining Meat (Poultry, Beef, Pork, and Fish), Japanese garnishes, sauces, rice, and noodles that was imported from Japan or sourced from various parts of India and transported to Sri City.
The IKAN team gained an invaluable experience creating culturally appropriate and cost-effective housing solutions for Kumagai and Toray. These projects, amongst others, established IKAN as a market leader and the preferred solutions-provider for other Japanese companies and future projects.
Lessons Learnt and the future
IKAN’s DEI policy requires a 50 % staff split between men and women. Fifty percent of the “SENRI” staff are females. It was the Management’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their female staff in these remote locations. The staff were provided secure accommodations close to the property and their comforts were considered: providing air conditioning, cooking facilities, staff rations and appropriate furniture which assured quality and balance of work and life, thereby minimising attrition.
“SENRI” staff was diverse. The General Manager and the front office manager for “SENRI” were both recruited from Chennai. The housekeeping manager and her team were from Manipur, a state in the Northeast of India, where the local people have Mongoloid features. The chef for Ichiri was a Nepalese national. The five-member service team for the restaurants were from Bengal, a state in the East of India, the drivers and security team were local, making this an extremely diverse team speaking different languages from diverse Indian cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
On the 24th of March 2020, 1.38 billion Indians were locked down when the Pandemic struck. India partially opened for business by October of 2021. “SENRI” however remained operational throughout multiple lock downs and its Japanese restaurant “ICHIRI” catered to more than 100 Japanese expats under extremely strict conditions at Sri City. An exceptionally long raw material supply chain continued functioning despite all odds. As a result, by December of 2020, “SENRI” at Sri City reported a 100 % occupancy and was prebooked through 2022. SENRI in Japanese means “A home away from home.” The Japanese guests at SENRI were indeed, at home.
Simultaneously, the core IKAN DSP business was down by 70 %. IKAN made a bold decision in March 2020 that not a single employee would lose their jobs and it would ensure fair compensation for all during these challenging times. By August 2021, despite the profits from SENRI, the company’s reserves were depleted. At that point, IKAN invited another operator in India to consider purchasing the SENRI at Sri City. An agreement was reached in September 2021, and “SENRI” at Sri City was transferred to another company thus saving the “mothership” and IKAN’s core business.
The new owner changed the name of “SENRI” to their own brand, Yuhi hospitality and since January 2022, SENRI at Sri city thrives as Yuhi.