A rise from grassroots
Dr M Kiran Kumar, the chairman of Lalithaa Jewellery Mart Pvt Ltd talks about how he runs one of the leading jewellery chains in South India for over 36 years now
If you consider education to be the main criteria for success in business today, hebelies it as a fifth-grade dropout. If ancestral wealth is seen asthe criteria, he belies that too, born as the eighth child in a poor family.
Dr M Kiran Kumar, the chairman of Lalithaa Jewellery Mart Pvt Ltd, the maverick who runs one of the leading jewellery chains in South India for over 36 yearswith presence across 23 outlets, the latest being the showroom at Kukatpally, Hyderabad which opened recently.Let's hear about his inspiring past, in his own words.
"I always say, tough life turned out to be my teacher.I joined the jewellery trade as a child worker at age twelve, since formal education was out of question.
That's probably why I am able to understand the hardships of the common man better than any other jeweller. After several years of experience in jewellery manufacture, I pledged the only jewel my mother was wearing, her bangles,to start my journey as a businessman.
Soon,I started supplying jewellery to a number ofshowrooms in South India. Over the years, my firm A K Jewellers earned the trust of all the leading jewellery showrooms in the south.
Those days, I used to sleep for hardly three to four hours a day. It was only work and travel, all days of the week, turning me to a complete workaholic, a badge I carry to this day," says Kiran.
1999 was a turning point in his business career. "Lalithaa Jewellery, the showroom I was supplying to was on the verge of closing because of financial issues.
I had good relationship with its promoters and wanted to help them out. I also didn't want the outlet to be closed after being such an iconic name in Chennai.
I bailed them out by buying the showroom. It was a wilddecision taken with no great strategy or road map ahead. I was well heeled then but wanted more challenges in life."
"Though I was well established as a wholesaler, I knew very little about retail and the initial years were a big struggle. In wholesale I used to sell 10 kgs on an average every day, but here I was struggling to sell even one kilo a day," he shares.
"I wanted to turn it around. I observed customers closely and catered to every little need they had. My team and I developed insights by practical experience and slowly grew the business. I introduced 916 BIS Hallmarked jewellery in Lalithaa.
I cut down the value addition charges significantly. Though the unit margin came down, overall sales increased by leaps and bounds, so did our customer base.
We spread our wings to more cities in South India thereafter. I also introduced the Lalithaa way of helping customers check if they got the best price, by offering to give the estimate slip and mobile pic. of any jewel they wished to buy," he adds.
My advice to buyers is simple: Don't pay more than you have to, for any jewel. It's hard earned money you pay. And money isn't easy for anyone.
Excerpts from an interview:
What's the main reason you offer jewels for such a low price?
To me, customer is god. The food I take, the dress, I wear, the car I travel by, the home I live in – they are the result of my customers' patronage.
I would like to be true to the money they pay me, by offering them the best in jewellery for the lowest prices possible.
What makes jewellery retail unique?
Good question. You can't explain the attachment families in our country have for gold.
They don't buy it just for ornamentation, there's something beyond that. That's why I personally don't treat it just as a business.
Have you ever felt bad because of your poor formal education?
At times, yes. But sometimes it's also a blessing.I find most educated people over analysing things and finding it tough to take big decisions.
In my case, I just go with my gut feel and take even big decisions in a split second. It has worked for me most of the times.
What's the change your 'estimate slip and mobile pic.' formula for checking prices brought?
A big change. People are a lot more aware of high Value addition charges now and have started to question this unlike before.
What's the reason for you to appear in your ads? Is it to cut down on budgets?
You can say that.After all, I only return such money saved to customers in the form of low value addition charges. But there's a vital point you missed.
There's a lot of difference when I, with decades of experience in the field, talk about jewellery, then some brand ambassador talking about it. People have understood this difference.
What's wrong in offering gifts or freebies to customers, why are you against it?
Nothing wrong in it per se but doing it to cover up the high value addition charges is what's wrong.
Low VA charges is the best benefit a jeweller can give the buyer, everything else is eyewash. That's why I keep asking buyers to compare priceswith our estimate slip and mobile pic.
What's the simplest way to check the quality of gold jewellery?
Just check if the jewellery is 916 BIS Hallmarked, that's all.
His balance sheet is an open book, there's no big secret
♦ Buying a car was long cherished dream. When I realised it, I couldn't believe it? I still remember that night, when I went to my car half-asleep and sounded the horn just to check if this was true!
♦ I travel widely all over the world, but I still struggle in airports to write my name and nationality. Why, even counting rupee notes is a challenge. Either I tell more, or I tell less. So much so that I stopped counting! But luckily, I am quite good in calculating profit and loss accounts. I thank God for that.
♦ Wherever I open a new showroom, I ensure preference in employment is given to the locals there. We provide free lunch to all our staff in all our showrooms and factories.
♦ Just like how I keep saying money is not easy, I also believe success is not easy. One needs to work hard.
♦ Memes on me amuse me. I enjoy them.