Monday, November 18, 2013

The Corporate Connect- Mr. Asgar Khorakiwala

The members of the Corporate Relations Committee (CRC) of SIMSREE had an enriching interaction with Mr. Asgar Khorakiwala an entrepreneur who runs Akbarallys Furniture. In this interview he discusses his family history, commencement of the business, challenges faced and values that helped him go up against all odds.

Mr. Asgar Khorakiwala comes from the reputed family which owns India’s first department store -Akbarallys. The family has a remarkable history. In early 1897, Mr. Akbarally Ebrahimji had bought a small 30-square-foot space near Bombay’s Gunbow Street to start a “department store”, selling a range of items, like imported articles, toiletries and biscuits. In the course of its operations of more than 100 years, Akbarallys has established itself as a brand known for quality and integrity.

The Interview:

CRC: Sir, could you tell us how this business started?
Mr. Khorakiwala : In 1984, my family had a place near a store vacant. We wanted to start a new business here. I played a key role in determining which business we would undertake. In retail; the options were Electronic Goods, Footwear, Furniture, Fabric and Travel. After doing market research, weighing all the options available and understanding the intricacies of the businesses, I decided to go ahead with Furniture manufacturing and retail.

CRC: How has been your journey so far and what were the challenges that you faced?
Mr. Khorakiwala: At its commencement, I expected a good start because of the strong brand name of Akbarallys. But to my surprise, it didn't pull customers. So the smooth start that was expected didn't materialize and I had to think about the further course of action. After a few days there came an excellent opportunity which speeded up everything. The firm got a contract from a television manufacturer to supply wooden casings for their television sets. There was no upper limit for the supply and we could sell as much as we could produce to the TV manufacturer. This went on for a few months. The TV Company went bankrupt. This stopped the continuous orders and work. The payments for previous orders were also pending. It was a tough time for the firm.

CRC: Sir, how did you overcome these challenges?
Mr. Khorakiwala: In this period, we concentrated on the core business of Home Furniture. We managed to get the money from the TV Company. The business ran just fine with some orders from retail customers. But this alone couldn't have helped the firm to survive and grow. We decided to offer total home furniture package with the best quality. The package we offered was expensive. But due to the values that our business follows, people trusted us. Within a short time the package became very popular and resulted in a perennial supply of orders.
We introduced a lot of variety in home furniture with unbeatable quality. This strategy helped the business grow. We expanded our manufacturing facility. After this we entered in the office furniture business. There also we gave turnkey solutions to many customers. But the main focus is still home furniture. Now we have three furniture retail stores in Mumbai.

CRC: Sir, please tell us about the furniture industry.
Mr. Khorakiwala: In India, the furniture industry has few big players. Most of the players are small manufacturers. The transactions in the retail furniture are small, so there is a lack of accurate official record of all the transactions. This makes it difficult to understand the volume of the industry. But yes, the industry is large and promising. Organized sector is growing in the industry but at present its share is quite small.

CRC: What are the marketing strategies that have helped Akbarallys Furniture?
Mr. Khorakiwala: The furniture brand was built on three core values, Transparency, Ethics and Quality. This created loyal customers. Only print ads were used for promotion. This promotion ensured demand large enough to completely utilize the available manufacturing facility. We modernized our shop display. The home furniture package that we offered was displayed in the shop. It would have occupied a space of around 220sq.ft; which would have been difficult to display in an overcrowded city like Mumbai. So we developed a miniature model for all the merchandise. The total set now occupies only 75sq.ft of area and also gives the customer a real feel of the product. We conduct exhibitions in Goa, annually. This has helped us garner orders from Goa also.

CRC: Sir what is your message for budding entrepreneurs and MBA students?
Mr. Khorakiwala: Business has many uncertainties and unforeseen challenges. An entrepreneur has to work on his toes. The scenario can change drastically, he has to adapt to the changes and evolve with the new circumstances. Values play an essential role when one thinks of long term. Only strong values can retain the customers.

CRC: It has been a pleasure talking to you, sir. Thank you for spending your valuable time with us.


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