How I built a post-pandemic saree business

Bold designs to win the market
I knew that no one in the Surat saree market had heard of me or my new brand, Maha Rudra Enterprises. Some people would think that the sensible move for a newcomer would be to prioritize putting out sarees with more familiar patterns to catch perennial demand. But I went a different way.

Rather than selling sarees with tried-and-tested designs, I focused on creating exclusive and never-seen-before designs. I also decided to manage the entire end-to-end production –literally from fibre to fabric to finished product.

Today, Maha Rudra Enterprises employs 16 people. We first make fabric from textile fibre in our manufacturing unit. This is then sent to our embroidery factory. After the production process is complete, we package the finished sarees for distribution. We are known for our unique saree embroidery. You will not find the same designs anywhere else.

Bold action in the face of adversity
The second Covid wave hit many businesses hard, forcing shops to comply with restricted business hours. I turned this adversity into an opportunity by onboarding as a seller on Flipkart in June 2021, following advice from a friend. I thoroughly researched the saree category on Flipkart Marketplace first, and discovered that no seller could match my designs. This instantly set us apart, and sales took off.

It is empowering to know that I can sustain my business on Flipkart Marketplace. We are now receiving more orders online than offline. When I began my business, only people who live close by could purchase my sarees; today, we can sell our product anywhere in India.

I joined Walmart Vriddhi after this to further strengthen my business. And I found the learning immediately relevant. Thanks to Walmart Vriddhi I was able to quickly apply what I had learned about quality checks and effective costing when my product return ratio unexpectedly increased. Today, our quality issues and the return ratio both are minimal.

From business theory to practical measures, from maximizing product quality to minimizing wastage, I’ve quickly applied everything I learned during the first two levels of Walmart Vriddhi. At the same time, I’ve maintained my original business strategy: the end-to-end production of exclusive, never-seen-before designs.

Looking ahead, we will keep our focus on sarees and bring even more diversity in our designs.

We’re using eCommerce to drive our export business

Our company is focused on the manufacture and supply of designer home furnishings, like bedsheets, comforters, blankets and bed runners, for local and export markets. We blend advanced technology with exquisite craftsmanship, and we have a reputation for luxurious designs, rich colours and a quality finish. Wholesale distribution accounts for about 75% of our business, with the remainder in retail sales.

Connecting with consumers
While pandemic disruption severely impacted our industry and our company, I’m expecting e-commerce to be an engine of business recovery. Demand is definitely shifting online; that’s where consumers and small sellers are increasingly to be found.

One thing I really value about the e-commerce platform is that it provides a direct interface with the consumer. This helps sellers like us to better gauge the market and to gain insights and feedback about our products.

The e-commerce marketplace also offers a shorter payment cycle than the offline wholesale market, which is largely credit based. I am now exploring online channels as a way to grow our business and build resilience.

Selling via online channels
After joining the Walmart Vriddhi program, we are now listing some of our key products on the Flipkart e-commerce marketplace.

There is a lot to learn when you begin selling digitally, especially with an eye on international markets. But with Vriddhi helping us gain the practical know-how of building an export business, I am positive that we will be able to tap more overseas markets in the long run.

The Vriddhi modules cover everything from consumer needs to product development to manufacturing. By applying this knowledge, we are confident that we will be able to realize the potential of e-commerce and increase sales multi-fold via digital selling in the coming year and beyond.

We find opportunity in challenge

My father was an ambitious young engineer when he started Shalimar Rubber & Plastic Industries in 1986. As was I, when I joined him in the company in 2009, with a degree in Information Technology.

 

Today, Shalimar Rubber has a staff of knowledgeable and dedicated professionals, backed by sophisticated technical facilities and global supply chain infrastructure. Together, we design and manufacture precision and custom-moulded rubber and plastic engineering components, with a reputation for quality and service. Our key market is OEM customers in Australia, North America and Europe. Exports account for 80% of our business, with 20% domestic sales.

 

As engineers, my father and I are both problem solvers. We believe that facing challenges and adapting to the new is the best way to succeed amid tough times and ensure business continuity. 

 

For example, I’ve focused on using automation to increase our production capacity over the past decade. And, of course, the past two years have brought unprecedented challenges.

 

Like many manufacturing businesses, we faced major procurement bottlenecks following the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As sourcing raw materials from China became impossible, we shifted procurement to India, with good results. Another key learning for us is the necessity to maintain a stock of raw materials to avoid disruption and ensure business continuity in a crisis.

 

Online sales are our new growth channel

In the midst of the pandemic, I joined the Walmart Vriddhi program with a goal to explore how we could further diversify the business for improved resilience.

 

Through Vriddhi, I’ve learnt a lot about different aspects of modern business, including digital sales and developing products for consumer markets. As a result, we are expanding our existing portfolio to include consumer goods and targeting online sales as our main growth channel.

 

A key challenge for us is that our products are mostly custom manufactured. We need to offer standard products to gain a share of the domestic consumer market. We have opened a new manufacturing plant in Kundli, Haryana, to produce consumer goods like rubber couplings, rubber fenders, plastic filters and plastic engineering components. And we have registered on the Flipkart e-commerce marketplace.

 

We’ve come a long way in a short time. We started with limited knowledge about the e-tail business, and it was a steep learning curve. But with the support of Vriddhi, I’m now confident that we can use online sales to increase our footprint in the domestic market and become a more diversified and resilient business.

Persistence has paid off in my entrepreneurial journey

Today, Amitabh and I run Kesri Transcontinental together. Under the brand name Homescapes, we supply a wide range of cushions, home furnishings, luxury bedding and linens to hospitality companies and large retailers in India and other markets around Asia and the Middle East. The company is now 25 years old, and we have a staff of 75 talented and hardworking people.

 

Overcoming barriers

Coming from a military family, I was brought up to appreciate the value of traits like discipline, teamwork and punctuality, along with well-developed organization skills. And while all of these are important to success as an entrepreneur, what I’ve learnt over the years is that they are not sufficient by themselves. You also need enthusiasm and persistence.

 

A traditional mindset creates barriers for women entering the business world. In my early days at Kesri Transcontinental, it sometimes felt like a struggle! The factory workers were initially hesitant to accept a woman at the leadership level. But with time and effort, things have begun to change for the better.

 

My secret to work-life balance is being well-organized and having the zeal to fulfil both professional and personal roles. I always encourage women entrepreneurs to stay the course and find ways to fulfil their dreams.

 

Tenacity wins again

In early 2020, Kesri Transcontinental was doing very well in both domestic and international markets. Our turnover was good and we were on a solid growth path. Then the pandemic struck and shutdowns reshaped the business landscape worldwide. It was hugely challenging to support employees and manage our finances at a time when our factory fell silent and customers were cancelling orders that we had already bought raw materials for.

 

Once again, perseverance was required. At Kesri Transcontinental, we took the opportunity to accelerate our digitisation journey and explore e-commerce as a channel for sustained growth. Fortunately, we were assisted in our efforts by the Walmart Vriddhi team.

 

The Walmart Vriddhi Supplier Development program has proven to be of great help to businesses like ours, with expert advice on how to access finance and increase revenue, for example. I particularly like the training modules on the user-friendly Vriddhi app. These cover different aspects of business management.

 

I’ve recommended the Walmart Vriddhi e-Institute training to many friends. There will always be tough times in business, but you will get through if you remain enthusiastic and apply yourself with persistence. Walmart Vriddhi helps us stay keen and committed.

 

For Kesri Transcontinental, business is already picking up again and we are confident of a full recovery in the near future. We are hopeful that e-commerce will help not just our company but other MSMEs like us to attract and reach consumers, strengthening the business community in Panipat and in India as a whole.

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