The Tale of Changemakers

No matter they own an average business or a family run stable empire, a changemaker can come from anywhere and through his actions and thoughts, inspire many more generations to come. They are the risk-takers at the onset, they are survivors of tough times and on their own accord, they change the rules of the game. Floroscent speaks to some of the pioneers of change who are literally diamonds in the rough and unveils the sparkling as well as not-so-sparkling side of the gems and jewellery industry and with that, spells out how these leaders set a precedent as the changemakers.

The gems and jewellery industry is revered as one of the significant contributors in the nation’s economy. Year after year, individually every business in this industry shows upward movement in its growth chart. Not to mention, the sparkle and glamour attached to it. From the surface, it may look that everything about jewellery is as stunning as it seems. But when you get to the root, you realise just like every other business, there are fair share of ups and downs and threats and opportunities, here too. Each entrepreneur who takes the plunge, fights all the odds, emerges winner at the end of the day and above all, brings change through his actions, is an inspiration for not just the gems and jewellery aspirants but also youngsters who wish to take the entrepreneurial route. After all, it’s no cake walk to be a jeweller.

Leaders in their own right

Whether they start from scratch or take over a family business, every changemaker has a unique journey that inspires generations to come. One such inspiring figure is K Srinivasan, managing director, Emerald Jewel Industry India Pvt Ltd, Coimbatore who is the first generation jeweller and today, boasts of 33 years of rich and varied experience in the field of jewellery manufacturing. “I started handmade jewellery manufacturing in 1984 in 10×10 room but today, the Emerald group has about 5,000 employees with seven lakh sq ft buildings. It houses state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities equipped with latest technologies in a sprawling above 22 acres premises,” he adds. Kudos to his sheer grit and hard work!

But if you think, it’s easy for someone who takes over the family business, then Piyush Patel, director, Dharmanandan Diamonds Pvt Ltd, journey will surely change your perception. He literally grew up in the surrounding where his family dealt with diamonds but he too had to start from scratch. “I was always keen on joining the family business alongside my father and brother. But when I too started in 2003, I was made to sit along with the workers in my father’s workshop to develop an in-depth understanding of diamonds. This further fuelled my fascination with the stone,” he shared.

Since the time he joined the business as global sales and marketing head, the company has expanded to various regional zones which has given the company a competitive advantage over others.

Unwavering focus on their goals

The first thing that you would notice about these changemakers is their clarity of thoughts. They are very sure of what their objectives are – whether long term or short term. With that set goal, they layout not just their immediate but also five-year plans. On asking about his next two-year plan, without mincing a word, Patel replied: “I believe in sustainability of our business. We plan to grow gradually as we did in the last five years.”  

Whereas K Srinivasan wants to be at the top of his game – “Our main motive is to become the number one jewellery manufacturer in the world and we are marching towards that goal. We are hoping to double or triple the productivity and profitability in the next five years and in the immediate future, we are entering into silver jewellery and utensils in a big way.”

Creating their own path

Changemakers set new trends for others to follow and that’s what Jignesh Mehta, founder and managing director, Divine Solitaires, business profile spells out. “Normally, if you see laboratory reports, you get information on triple X i.e. cut, polish and symmetry of diamonds but we went beyond that by guaranteeing that every diamonds can have hearts and arrows cuts. It is a property which is immensely valued in most of the overseas market like Macau and London but nobody has brought it in India in a systematic manner. So, we introduced that into our system and across the country, we are selling each and every diamond with hearts and arrows cutting,” he added.

Even Raman Solanki, director, Sangam Jewels N Gold LLP, can be credited for popularising trade shows and exhibitions in the gems and jewellery industry. “Back in 1993-94, we were the first companies to showcase our designs in all the exhibitions. At that time, jewellers were not aware of the exhibitions and how they help propel our business. Apart from us, only a few manufacturers were present at the India International Jewellery Show (IIJS) at that time. It was even tougher to invite clients to the show. Later, many more companies join. Even today, we participate in most of the trade shows. In fact, twice in a year, we go to Italy to learn about the international market trends and upgrade our systems,” he informed.

Talking local, thinking global

Eyeing the global leadership, changemakers also take pride in their roots. “The 93 per cent of world’s diamond are cut and polished in India and hence, the most valuable brand of diamonds should also be coming from India. We should be proud of what we are doing as Indians and we should be able to make a mark on the global platform. We are ready to take on the big boys of diamonds worldwide. I want to see more brands coming from India. The next 10 years is the time for Indian brands to make a mark on global level,” beamed Jignesh Mehta.

However, Rajesh Lakhani, director, Kiran Gems Pvt Ltd, emphasised on how with hard work, Indians can definitely become the global leader. “We are still a developing nation. On the global level, we compete with the brands of the developed countries of the west. To be at par with them, we have to go the extra mile. For that, we count a lot on our youth. My only advice to them is that the dynamics of business in the west are different from ours and ‘now’ is the time to work harder and make a mark,” he urged.

 

Hard times create strong businessmen

Like others, the changemakers too have their fair share of challenges in their journey. But their assumptions, beliefs and interpretation of a challenging situation place them above the rest. While some cite the recent demonetisation as the rough patch of their business others still consider the 2008 recession as the biggest blow to their trade. “We were stable, confident and went ahead and imported the rough diamonds, as we were confident that the market will bounce back and there would be demand in the future. Even during this tough period, the thought of laying-off staff did not occur to us and see today, we have the best team on board,” shared Rajesh Lakhani.

But DD Karel, director, NM Karel & Sons, New Delhi, emerged as the true blue changemaker when he did not let his personal loss affect his business ambitions. “The initial few years when we were struggling to set up our business in Delhi were the toughest time for us. What added to the injury was my father’s sudden demise. At times, it would be very demoralising and depressing too. But as my father always taught me, come what may, keep improving manufacturing operations and finance management, we continued our struggle following the same principle and till date, it’s the way we function. Serving quality continues to be our single-most motto until today,” he revealed.

Keeping finger on the pulse of customers

Customer is king – no matter how cliché it may sound but it holds true across businesses and which is why, changemakers take efforts to develop insights into their customers’ business. As per DD Karel, today’s customers are well-informed and they are well-aware of the national and international trends. “Moreover, they do not mind learning more in the process. They are open to exploring different options. In turn, we too are keen on sharing our acquired knowledge of new techniques and designs with them. It’s always a pleasure to help our customers make an informed decision,” he added.

K Srinivasan is of the opinion that understanding the latest trends and knowing what customers exactly expect, is key. “By providing world-class products with lightweight, good finish, correct purity, fabulous design, it becomes easy for us to strike a chord with the customers not only in India but also overseas,” he added.

Jignesh Mehta literally steps into consumers shoes to create customer-friendly business proposition. “Around 2005, we found that the consumer confidence was very low in diamonds. Ambiguity over quality and pricing always deterred them from buying diamonds. Consumers thus turned their gaze to cars, smart phones and holiday packages while diamond and diamond jewellery slipped lower on their priority list. So we conceptualised the idea of branding diamonds and we formed Divine Solitaires in 2006 and offered assurance beyond what was available in the industry at that time. Now, we provide our consumers with more advance and consumer-friendly certification to our brand of diamonds and diamond jewellery, as compared to others.”

That apart, Mehta also introduced a mobile application for consumer to check live prices of diamonds in Indian rupees. But what sets his company apart is the buy-back offer and upgrade on the prevailing prices. “Customer can go to any Divine Solitaires store in the country and get 90 per cent cash back under the prevailing price. It let the buyers to enjoy the diamond for their period of choice and then, get almost double the price through buyback. Through upgrade facility, it is 100 per cent,” he explained.

Success mantra

Every business follows certain ideology that works for it but changemakers set the ones that go a long way for any business across industries, generations and scales. Attributing the success of the company to its manpower, Patel said: “My strength or rather the company’s strength is the vast manpower we have. Our employees are the foundation of our business. We do not utilise this resource, rather we satisfy them. A happy employee makes a happy and profitable organisation.”

On asking Raman the same question, he replied that he just continue to do what he is doing and never go for a change, all of a sudden. “Change has to be gradual. We try to be cautious of the market and government policies. We think twice before we take our next step. At present also, we are studying the market trends, especially after the introduction of GST and accordingly, launch new products in the future,” he added.

But for Rajesh Lakhani, it is the uncompromising business ethics that has propelled his business to a new height. “We were the only company who followed the KYC norms for a very long time. But now, all the big major companies are keeping strict KYC norms,” he claimed.

Guide for budding entrepreneurs

For budding entrepreneurs, DD Karel goes on to advise: “Offer the best to your customers, adopt ethical business practice, be honest to your business and have a disciplined approach. But most of all, never worry about critics. If you do right, everything falls in place on its own.”

Since the inception of diamond manufacturing in India, continuous developments took place, pointed out Piyush Patel. “Technological advancement is the greatest followed by education, marketing strategies and labour empowerment. Now is the time of knowledge. As much you know your product and business, the more you can pass it on and continue the legacy,” he updated.

In step with time

Times change, markets evolve and with that, requirements need to be upgraded. To keep in step with these changing dynamics of the industry, a good chunk of the profit is invested in studying ways to improve their operations and then, implementing them. “We visit various jewellery and technology exhibitions/ fairs/ shows, internationally and nationally, to buy machineries and technology that are a cut above the rest. Apart from this, we have an in-house R&D department which continuously introduces new technology,” informed K Srinivasan.

Raman Solanki opined that accepting the change helps overcome challenges. “When machines came into the picture in 1990-95, our business was hit badly. Instead of letting it get to us, we adopted the change. At that time, we were amongst the first few who invested heavily in technology and imported new machines from abroad to set up a manufacturing plant. After that, we started designing only products that were in demand and discontinued the outdated ones. Prior to that, during 1980 to 1985, we went through the same situation wherein we took stock of our product line and closed other products and solely focussed on manufacturing chains,” he revealed.

Kiran Gems is reaping impressive returns from its e-commerce efforts, thanks to its extensive online inventory and strong reputation in the market as a leading and premier diamantaire with international reach.  “More than 65 percent of our sales happen online. As our e-commerce platform is user-friendly, comprehensive and easy to navigate, our online customer base has grown significantly thereby enhancing our brand recognition,” revealed Rajesh Lakhani, director of Kiran Gems Pvt Ltd.

Along with the detailed information on each diamond and supporting these with high definition pictures and videos, Kiran Gems’ website has an automated system that proposes inventory based on clients’ purchase history. The company’s digital inventory can be accessed through mobile apps (Android and IOS) and New Arrival Stones lists are sent to customers every week.

Always optimistic

As usual, the changemakers are positive about the year 2018 too. But with the entry of single brand retail stores under FDI in India, the business will be challenging as they have advertisement power to position the brand easily, opined K Srinivasan. “The demand will be more, as buying capacity may increase and advance technology will be introduced in jewellery that will attract the millennials. Loose stones business will go up because diamond jewellery and colourstone jewellery sales are continually increasing. The price of raw material cannot be predicted, as it fluctuates. Since it will be easy to buy international brands and as well as domestic brands, there is a possibility of the sales figure going up,” he predicted.

According to DD Karel, in the short term, supply is like enough competition and less of quality concerns while in long run, dwindling skilled workforce may put pressure on supplies. “Moreover, the demand at present seems good but there are two kinds of pressure. Negative pressure coming from changing consumer preferences whereas positive pressure due to growing middle-class with increase in purchasing power, growing rural incomes and of course, growing population of youth that accounts for increase in matrimonial sales,” he added.

People are quite upbeat in 2018 and the year will be a launch pad for many Indian companies on the global level, predicted Jignesh Mehta. “For any company, whether Indian or global, targeting the Indian consumers, 2018 is going to be extremely interesting year,” he concluded.

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