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.

We’re getting ready to realize our export ambitions

Fueling our growth with business knowledge

When I joined the business in 2008, we wanted to extend our distribution network. So I began seeking out retailers within a few hundred kilometers of our Panipat factory. It was a struggle to find stores to stock our products. We then decided to take a more systematic approach and explore government tenders and tie-ups with corporates and retailers.

The business really took off after we became a supplier to Walmart India’s Best Price Stores (now a part of Flipkart Wholesale) in 2017. You can now find Arch Fab bedsheets, mattress covers, cushions, chair pads, box cushions, and other items in Best Price stores right across India—giving us a presence in a host of new states. The association with Best Price has another benefit, too: it helped me keep ahead of market trends and understand how market dynamics work. I also became more aware of the value of complying with industry standards, and this led to great improvements in our business management and culture.

Maybe it’s because I have an engineering degree, but I’m a great believer in hands-on learning and a great admirer of technology. Acquiring new skills demands your time, focus and patience. Blending your hard-won knowledge and experience with the latest technology helps you develop new things for a better tomorrow.

The Vriddhi program brings you valuable knowledge and the chance to exchange ideas with your fellow MSMEs. Thanks to the program, we’ve learnt more about the importance of an efficient value-chain system in our business and gained new understanding around business management and new product development. We’ve also been guided to adopt relevant best practice and digital technologies to help us improve our business operations.

Coming through the crisis stronger than ever

This was all brought into sharp focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. Like many companies, Arch Fab found it difficult to fulfil our pending purchase orders due to the lockdown. I was feeling pretty stressed. Then the Vriddhi team reached out to me. They shared knowledge of markets and value chains, and this guidance proved invaluable during the crisis. They even organized webinars that offered advice on the financial schemes and government programs that could support us.

With the support of Vriddhi and a desire to help India’s anti-pandemic efforts, Arch Fab began to manufacture health and sanitation essentials such as disposable shoe covers, face masks and gloves during the lockdown.

The clarity of purpose and the guidance that we received from Vriddhi at this crucial time benefited our internal operations as well as sales. It helped us set an example for others. We have aligned our systems with Walmart’s, and we can now focus on innovation.

The pandemic encouraged us to accelerate our digitization journey and explore the e-commerce channel for sustained growth and business continuity. With the help of the Walmart Vriddhi team, we will now strengthen our marketing on Flipkart. We will also expand our product portfolio and focus strongly on exports.

A bold leap helped my team survive the pandemic

Our company Sagar Asia specialises in aluminum ladders, aluminum extrusions, wind tower internals and aluminum aircraft docking and helicopter maintenance. My father set up the enterprise in 1977. Thanks to his able leadership, today we are one of the leading manufacturers of aluminum extrusions both in India and abroad.

As global economies plunged, it was time to change the course

With a healthy annual turnover of over Rs 100 crore, everything was going well for us. But the unfortunate outbreak of the COVID-19 turned the course of events for our business. Like several other industries, we also took a severe hit. Since our product mix caters to very specific demand for height access, most of our regular customers are from the retail sector and original equipment manufacturers in wind and aviation sectors, there was a sudden plunge in demand as retail was closed and airlines were not allowed to operate for a long time.

The pandemic is by far the sharpest turning point that our business has ever faced. Apart from operating costs, I was more worried about the well-being of our employees. Giving up was not an option. So, I decided to take some bold steps.

I was quick to realise that there was huge demand for sanitization products in hospitals and offices. I thought that our expertise in aluminum products could help us build products that would be needed during the pandemic. Our research and development team is very strong and quickly sprung into action.

With more contemporary solutions, we tapped into new markets

Within a few days, we decided to begin manufacturing aluminum disinfection tunnels and contactless disinfection stands. These can be easily set up outside factories and offices, and employees can walk through these sanitization tunnels to enter the workplace while sanitising their attire.

We also quickly developed another aluminum product — contactless COVID-19 testing booths. We have provided these booths to the state governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to help them ramp up their testing capacity. This product is ensuring the safety of medical workers who are working at hospitals and collection centers in various parts of the states.

Our long standing association with Walmart has helped us expand our business pan-India. For instance, through Walmart we were able to receive orders from places which would have otherwise been difficult for us to reach. Their HoReCa channel has also helped to reach the right customers in a short period.

Now that we see the economy reopening gradually, we have also added products like contactless hand sanitizer stands and touch-free aluminum door openers to our catalogue. Our R&D team is working tirelessly to build products that are the need of the hour.

Entrepreneurs never stop. They take one challenge head on, tackle it and get ready to face the next. That is Sagar Asia’s story.

Our special heroes are corona warriors too

I am the founder of Society for Child Development (SfCD). Our employees are specially-abled individuals, who create unique products such as organic Holi colours from temple flowers which are supplied under the brand name Avacayam. They also create beautifully designed pouches and pencil cases from leftover cloth procured from fashion houses and textile companies.

The business model is simple– what is waste for another company is a resource for us.

Before I started SfCD, in the early 90s, I was working closely with the parents of differently-abled children at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences as a clinical psychologist in the genetics unit. There I realised that we needed to equip these persons with better economic opportunities. So I set up SfCD to empower them with the right skills and opportunities.

Walmart Best Price is our biggest buyer. Our longstanding association with the company has helped us grow as a business and scale up our capacity of production. And this association gave us the courage to tide over the pandemic too.

The pandemic posed unprecedented challenges for us

When the country went into lockdown, only essential items were allowed to be sold. And the demand for our regular products fell drastically. In fact, due to the travel restrictions, our employees couldn’t even come to the institute as they were dependent on public transport.

But I couldn’t give up on my family. I wanted them to stay engaged and keep working.

We made the best out of what we had

I realised that we had collected surplus cloth throughout the year through donations from fashion houses. I decided we could make masks out of the cloth.

Our members worked from their homes to make masks and we made sure that their livelihood wasn’t impacted by the crisis.

We also partnered with GiveIndia, an online donation platform, to supply essential PPE products to persons with disability. This is our small contribution during the pandemic. SfCD has also received orders for 35,000 masks from a few corporates.

We are working towards getting our digital supply chains ready. I am hopeful this will help SfCD attain new heights and open new skies for our specially-abled heroes.

Innovation was essential for my business

I joined my family business Shree Shakti Enterprises after completing my MBA from Amity University a decade ago. We have been bulk traders of steel utensils since 1956 and have also been supplying kitchenware to Walmart Best Price for the last nine years.

Every ending paves the way for a new beginning

Over these years, my father has been my biggest mentor. He too has overcome several challenges, but nothing like the impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on our business.

As India went into a nationwide lockdown in March, four of our manufacturing units in Sonipat, Haryana had to be shut down. With demand for our kitchenware falling drastically, I got very worried about my workforce and how I would support them in this challenging time.

I remembered I had seen a hand wash station that doctors use in hospitals and I thought we could tweak the model to make it work through a foot pedal instead of our hands. Convincing my father wasn’t an easy task – he discouraged from going to the factory due to the COVID-19 scare. But I still went to my factory and stayed there for a few days and built the first prototype which was set up near our residential colony.

With constant innovation, my business started gaining traction

As people started giving good feedback, my father came on board. There has been no looking back since then!

I also sent a prototype to Walmart India. With the help of their feedback on technical feasibility and commercial viability, I was able to fine tune the product. Thanks to their suggestion, I have also built a sensor based sanitizer dispenser. In fact, I have built an automatic foot sanitizer too.

For the hand wash station, I have crossed 1,100 orders and these have been set up in various government offices as well and also several private sector companies in the automobile sector. This has led to up to Rs 1.5 crore in sales during the lockdown. I also have orders worth another Rs 2.5 crore.

I am also on board the Walmart Vriddhi supplier development program and I feel this will help my business achieve even greater heights. It will be helpful to learn the best business practices to scale the MSME ecosystem and spread our wings.

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