BIO: Post graduate degree from MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad)
Joined sales division at leading national newspaper, then spent three years working at Leo Burnett [advertising agency]. She now spends her days making sure Mumbaikars can always sip from daku shot glasses, and tell time with the 'Pandu' wall clock.
It was a series of fortunate events that led me to give up a client servicing job at Leo Burnett to start my own business - a quirky home store called Loose Ends out of a garage in Bandra. A couple of friends had already started a garage store [Barefoot], which showed me that one could start a similar venture with a small investment. Another set of friends, my classmates at MICA, had set up Happily Unmarried, which was making kitschy home products. So that was one supplier sorted. Also, rents for garages in Bandra in that year (2004) were low - I started out paying just Rs 15,000 a month.
But the main impetus to start Loose Ends came from my desire to do something different with my life, since at 30, I had already reached a point in my career where I would find it a pain to go to work. My job was not exciting me. It was not something I saw myself doing for years, and I felt it was time to switch tracks. I didn't want to go back to studying, so I looked at my alternatives, and decided to do the same thing my friends were doing, and follow in the footsteps of other garage stores like OMO. So I withdrew my Provident fund (PF), borrowed some money from my husband and a friend (Rs 5-6 lakh in all), and decided to start a home store. I always had an interest in home décor, and wasn't interested in opening a clothes store because there were already too many of those. I decided to lend funk to regular home products, and started sourcing and making my own products - even now, very few home stores do pillowcases and book ends.
A time to gamble
Since we only made a small investment, I was quite confident I could get back into advertising if this did not work out. We had also bought our house in Juhu by then, and the EMI wasn't too much of a problem when I quit Leo Burnett, since house prices were low at that time. My daughter Gia was born in 2006, but the store was settled by then, so that didn't rock the boat too much either. My husband and family were also incredibly supportive and no one deterred me - I would not have listened in any case.
The biggest challenge I faced at the beginning was finding enough digital printing suppliers for tees, pillowcases, clocks and other products. But from the beginning, the products, like Che cushion covers, 'sandaas' ash trays and 'Dabba' lamps sold themselves. We broke even in the first year, since our costs were low, thanks mainly to the low rent. I reached my first turning point in four years, when our sales plateaued, my landlady asked us to leave the garage, and rents escalated. Luckily, a store next door was available to move into, even though the rent was now Rs 50,000 a month. Even that turned out to be a mixed blessing - our customer went up three times because we could be seen more clearly from the street! Now, I again need to figure out how to grow the business. We have a choice of opening more stores, kiosks or going online. I'd love to do bigger home items like furniture too. I'm worried about my lease running out, and being asked to move at short notice, since that has happened before. If customers can't find the store, that would hurt us.
Back to school
The way I started my business was more of a passion, without any formal training, but in 2011, I was fortunate to enroll in a three-month Goldman Sachs programme, whose objective it is to empower 10,000 women entrepreneurs who already own their own businesses. This free initiative included classroom sessions and a mentor assigned to each one of us to help us with our business. We were given instruction in accounts, inventory management, and marketing, and it was of real help to me.
Today, it's more difficult to replicate what I have done mainly because costs have gone up, and also there are too many competitors out there. My advice to people is to make sure you always have an USP (mine was my own line of products). And I can't stress how much you need to budget wisely now to start your own business - remember that to cover a rent of Rs one lakh a month, you need to sell goods worth Rs two to two-and-a-half lakh, so be prepared.
If you want to do the same…
Have a scaleable model: Most people approach a business thinking 'what if this fails?'. So few people approach it from the point of view 'How will this business grow if it succeeds'. This is what I would do differently.
Don't set store by a store model: Find a way to sell your wares that does not include renting a store. Rents are too high, especially in desirable areas (Bandra and south Mumbai), and are rising all the time.
Conceive and establish an USP: Too many home stores today sell exactly the same products. For me, my own line was my USP.
Be prepared to make the right investment: You can't open a store any more with a small amount of money. To cover a rent of Rs one lakh a month, you need to sell goods worth rs two to two and a half lakhs just to cover the rent, so be prepared.
You know you're in the wrong job if….
You constantly make excuses to go to work
You use up all your leave in the first three months of the year
You wake up every morning feigning illness
You find yourself dreaming about doing something you love
From HT Brunch, April 7
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