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This woman entrepreneur helps other startups in Pune

Dina Vallecha started Virtual Expositions in 2001, which holds exhibitions for women who want to showcase their products

pune Updated: Jul 08, 2017 16:03 IST
By Namita Shibad
Women entrepreneur Dina Vallecha at her office in Pune.
Women entrepreneur Dina Vallecha at her office in Pune.(Ravindra Joshi / HT)

When a woman starts a business, it is almost de rigueur that it would be something to do with the fashion industry. Of course there are a few who venture into male dominated fields, technology, auto. But these are few and far between. So when Dina Vallecha started Virtual Expositions in 2001, it was pretty uncommon. Who would make a business out of organising exhibitions?

“But that’s what I wanted to do,” says this feisty lady. “ When we shifted from Mumbai to Pune, we bought a shop in Koregaon Park. At that time I used to design clothes and sell them, like most housewives do. Our shop was divided into three. We had a computer training class for kids, my husband Vinod, did Auto seat covers and I sold clothes. “

It was during this period that Dina felt the need to do something more. “You know I used to meet a lot of women, mothers of children who would come to learn computers, or buy my clothes and I realised that a large number of these ladies were doing something or the other from home. And they were making really good stuff whether it was pickles, jams, diyas or clothes. And I thought to myself, why can’t they have a platform where they can reach a larger market?,” says Dina.

“They were able to sell to their family and friends till then. I thought why not get them to the market where their businesses could grow. In fact, the lack of access to a larger platform was the only thing that was stopping growth for many of them. So I decided to organise an exhibition where only women entrepreneurs could display their wares.”

It may seem easy to simply put together a place and advertise and hold an exhibition, but the first and the early exhibitions were a touch call. Dina adds, “I was a ‘nobody’ in this field. I had never held an exhibition. So I had to work very hard to convince people to participate. I remember I used to go to Mumbai three to four times a week and get data, lists of women entrepreneurs and then contact them one by one and convince them to participate.”

Then came the issue of finance. Dina had to book a venue, pay for advertising and logistic support. All that was going to cost quite a bit. So she did what most women do. Borrow from her husband. “My husband has been very supportive. I needed ₹2 lakhs to do my first exhibition. I wanted to do it in a nice place and chose Taj Blue Diamond. With that money and the 35 women that I convinced to exhibit their wares at my show. I organised what we called the Women Entrepreneurs’ Show.”

Her first show was a stupendous success. Most exhibitors were happy with the sales. “ Since it was not known at all, I remember we had women come in their track pants and sneakers to Taj and after seeing the goods on display go home and come back with money.”

From that first exhibition was held 17 years ago, Dina has not had to look back.”For the first five to six years I had to do a lot of running around. I had to sell my concept to women, get them on board. But after that when the event became well known and women turned up in large numbers, I started getting registrations automatically. Nowadays my stalls get sold a month before the exhibition date.”

So what makes an exhibition successful? What is the secret of her success? “I think what has made us a success is the fact that I am very, very particular about my attention to details. I personally and now my husband and son, who have also joined the business, check every little thing. So when the exhibitors come, they are led to their stalls, the set is fully ready, no waiting or running around for tables, display materials etc. Everything is neat and clean. Everything is fully ready.

Also advertising plays a big role. You have to advertise well, without which no one will know about the exhibition. But advertising alone cannot do the trick. Once there was a clash of exhibitions. We had the WE show, Vivah and Gehana all three on the same date. Vivah carpet bombed the city with their full page ads two weeks before and during the exhibition. But sadly their show failed. What matters is also how you select your products. Early on, I could not afford to be choosy. But now, I make it a point to see what the ladies are selling. Now I get women from all over India who have heard of the WE show and want to participate.”

The WE show has grown in leaps and bounds over the last 17 years. In fact, in the last year, Dina says that she had 12,000 registrations. “We ask every woman who walks in to register, even though the entry is free. I was so surprised that when we counted last year, the number was 12,000,” said the entrepreneur.

Dina’s Virtual Exposition is now a family affair. While the family works through the year on forthcoming exhibitions , which she plans to take to other cities in the country, during the shows she employs about 12 to 15 people for a few months. “At one such show, I had a young girl who worked with me for 15 days. I did not know it, but she took all my exhibitors data and a few months, later organised a similar show. I did not know of it, but since I visit all shows, I landed up at JW Marriot. The exhibitors were known to me. They all rushed to me and asked me to help them. Nothing was ready, not enough tables, rods, or display material. And this girl had simply disappeared. I tried to get the hotel to help them but there’s only so much you can do at the last minute.”

Dina shakes her head smiles, “What they don’t understand is this business is not just about the database, it’s about giving service to your customers and their clients.”