UNLIMITED IDEAS = PRA`WIN` CHHEDA

Nikhil Ballal

KYT – Tell us something about your
childhood.
PC – I was born in a business family in
Kutch (Gujarat). In my village there were no
newspapers and radio. I studied in Gujarat
till seventh grade and completed my further
studies in Mumbai, the credit of which I owe
to my sister-in-law. I was the most loved child
in the family. Sometimes my family members
were worried for me as I used to spend long
hours dreaming, wondering and gazing at the
mountain peak. I can say that it was since my
childhood days I was fond of colours and
designs. May be my liking for such things
triggered the bug in me to become an
apparel retailer.

KYT – Mumbai is known as the city of
dreams. So how was your life in Mumbai
and did it help you to realize your dreams?
PC – After completing my schooling till
seventh grade in Gujarat I came to Mumbai
for my further studies. My school in Gujarat
was different from the one in Mumbai. It was
slightly awkward for me to be a part of a
school where girls and boys studied together
(smiles). I was an average student and initially
had some problem with the English language.
Later on I started liking all the language
subjects and especially Geometry. Till date I
can’t comprehend Algebra (laughs).
After the SSC exam, I opted for Arts. The
word is so misleading that I thought of it as a
drawing or painting or a photography course.
Within a few days I realized I am in a wrong
stream. The next thing on my agenda was
getting an admission in JJ School of Arts. I got
there and successfully completed my course. I
also tried my hand at photography and did
wedding photography for a year. I was in so
much love with this profession that I went to
Singapore to just buy the best camera
(smiles).

KYT – How did you traverse the journey
from a photographer to a retailer?
PC – I enjoyed photography and wanted
to pursue my career in it. But in my community,
business is preferred over art. Also the fact
that I was from a business family, it was
almost inevitable that I should be a businessmen
too. I would spend hours gazing the
Benzer store in Mumbai. I dreamt of starting
such kind of store in Thane.
As I told you earlier that colours and
designs attracted me a lot, I made up my
mind to start a business that will be closely
associated with these things. Therefore, I hit
the ground with the saree business. My
brother Hansraj Bhai opened his first store
‘Kajri’ in early 1980s. I looked up to him and
wanted to be a successful retailer myself.

KYT – There were already many
retailers in the saree business. How was
your experience first up?
PC – As is the case with every business, it
was a tough start for me. There were no
customers for the first week in ‘Hastakala’
which was started in 1994. For ‘Hastakala’, I
approached suppliers from cities like
Bangalore, Kolkata, Jaipur and Banaras to
supply their sarees. It was before this that I
actually started with my business when I
bought ‘Milan’ in 1991. It was the same year I
got engaged. The wheels of my life started
rolling in full flow.
My brother was afraid on seeing my first
failure. May be the customers in Thane were
not willing to shell out Rs.5000 for a saree I
felt. I offered an altogether different style of
sarees through ‘Hastakala’. To dust off the
failure I resorted to aggressive marketing.
Whatever I had studied in JJ School of Arts
was put into use by me. With the help of my
nephew I put up the hoardings of ‘Hastakala’ at
strategic locations. I hardly had any knowledge
of English language then. We just wrote
on hoardings dare to visit our shop once. My
efforts reaped fruits when I had my first
customer, who made a magnificent purchase of
Rs.45000. Since then there is no looking back.

KYT – Today you have more than 25
shops in Thane. How could you manage
such a feat in this short span of time?
PC -After establishing the ‘Hastakala’
brand of sarees I gained confidence and was
not afraid to start multiple retail outlets. If you
see minutely, the name given to each of my
shop is unique and meaningful. One of my
shops is named ‘Cotton Bazaar’. Then my 27th
shop was named ’27’ (smiles). There is a lot of
thought given behind the advertising of the
retail outlets. I also believe in employee
empowerment. Typically, it is the employee,
who is given the opportunity to manage a
shop. I have made them so capable that they
independently manage the outlets. Thus I
believe that you can become a successful
business men when you cultivate a breed of
entrepreneurs along with you.
I never faced problem of employee
retention. Since my childhood we are always
on the giving side. I grew old seeing my
mother feeding villagers food, curd,
lassi,butter and chaas. Today also we practice
it. I have instructed my wife to offer sweets to
our workers when they come to our home. This
gesture makes a great difference! At night
when they go to bed they remember us by
chewing a minute particle of sweet which was
stuck in their tooth. This motivates them to come
to work with more vigour and zest. It creates
loyalty among them for the brand.

KYT – What was your biggest failure?
PC -There is Metro Junction Mall in Kalyan
(E). After my initial success I aspired to speed
up my business by leaps and bounds. I
decided to purchase four stores in the mall to
seek more business and expand in Kalyan.
Though it looked a rosy picture from outside, it
was not the real case. The mall manager was a
South African and there were many discrepancies
between the manager and the retailers.
The back office was not functioning efficiently
and I got plenty of negative vibes. Therefore I
decided to close those outlets and had to incur
a huge unavoidable loss.

KYT – We know that you like travelling
around the world to learn about their retail
industry. What are your observations?
PC – The retail market is organized in
European countries and USA, unlike India. They
give a lot of importance to the name and logo
of their retail shops. The kind of advertising
and marketing that is done by them is unique
too. In every three years, there is a show for
retailers named ‘Euro shop’, where retailers
from all round the world come together and
share their experiences. Many suppliers are
also a part of this show. After venturing into the
stationery business, I also attended a show
‘Paper world’ in Germany. These shows are a
great learning experience. They have helped
me a lot in my business and facilitated the
business growth.

KYT – What are your hobbies?
PC – In my free time, generally I read
something, nothing specific. I am also fond of
photography and love to capture colourful
and beautiful pictures. Apart from that,
travelling is what I enjoy. I like to explore
different places around the world. It is only
through travelling that I can expand my
horizons of retail business and sow the seeds
of new business ideas.

KYT – Who is your role model?
PC – Mahatma Gandhi inspires me a lot.
What I admire the most of Gandhiji is his
determination and perseverance. Every
entrepreneur should have a fire in the belly to
achieve success and I can say that this freedom
fighter evokes the hunger for success in me.

KYT – What is your appeal to the young
and budding entrepreneurs?
PC -Being an entrepreneur is like a white
canvas. You can draw anything and everything
on it. Every day is a new day for us. There is
always a room for improvement. Though the
amount of risk involved is the maximum for any
businessmen, my advice to you is to take it in
your stride and I am sure you can reach great
heights. The golden words that always ring in
my head – ‘Never have a doubt, have
confidence in yourself. Whenever you doubt,
you fail’. Don’t shy away from failures as they
are the building blocks of your success. Also
the type of industry you wish to enter, assure
that you thoroughly understand the intricacies
of the market and business.Our country needs
many more smart and dynamic entrepreneurs
like you, so let’s come together and make our
mother India proud.

KYT – What are your future plans?
PC – As you know, I have also made a mark
in the stationery business and I plan to expand
it further. I would also be coming up with an
‘Art store’. The idea behind such a store is that I
feel that today’s generation has become
completely money-minded and their life is
turning colourless. With an ‘Art store’ I would
love to celebrate art and encourage today’s
youth to focus more on drawing, painting and
other different forms of art. India is a culturerich
country. Therefore as the responsible
citizens, it is our duty to preserve the grand
heritage of India.
Pravin Chheda owns Hansraj Group of
Companies. Few brands under his belt are
Hastkala, Aaraa, Streewest, Zoo, Maya, 27,
Cotton Bazaar, Silkline, Mango, Kazari, Oorja,
Milan and Nakshatra.

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