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India's retail king tells his story


BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Kishore Biyani, the current pin-up boy of Indian retail, has been many things at many times. The varied roles he has played have included those as a trader, a failed film-maker, a dance festival organiser and, now, famously as an innovative retailer.
Having made Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Central resounding successes, Biyani has tried to tell his story with this autobiography. The book is interpresed with quotes and anecdotes from academicians, former colleagues, investors, business partners, family members and batch-mates.
With the success of stonewash fabric I had tasted blood. I started to desperately look around for something new. A few of my elder cousins by that time had started their own trades.
These were mostly around plastic, corrugated paperboards and packaging. I worked with them for some time but it could not sustain my interest. It was good to learn about new businesses but none of these had the mass appeal I was looking for. I wanted to try out something that would reach out to maximum number of people in the country.
Over the next fifteen years, I kept looking for a beachhead to realise my dream. It was the early Eighties and there was a distinct sense of optimism.
The young and energetic Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was in many ways ushering in the first wave of liberalisation. I felt that this was the time to try different things, new things. I started looking around for big deals that could be ideal for the 'new' India that was emerging.
Much to the displeasure of my family and well-wishers, I got my hands dirty in multiple businesses all at the same time. Some of these businesses were moderately successful but most of them had to be closed down after a few years.
However, in some way or the other, each of these businesses contributed to my understanding of customers and formed the foundation of what is today our company.
One of the first things I got involved in was launching a brand of fabric for men's trousers. I named it WBB. It was a simple abbreviation for the three most popular colours for trousers those days "" White, Blue and Brown. Yet, it was smart, catchy and unique. Come to think of it, what else does one need?
I would visit small textile mills around the city and buy fabrics that I liked. Then I would try to sell these to garment manufacturers and shop owners in the Kalbadevi area. Readymade garments hadn't really become popular till that time.
People bought fabric and got it stitched at a tailor's shop. The major fabric brands used to be Vimal, Raymond and Bombay Dyeing but some small brands like Cliff, Double Bull, UFO, and Buffalo were also there, that sold trousers.
There was a particular gentleman whom we used to call Ahmedbhai. He was the owner of the Cliff brand. His office was in the Shah and Nahar Industrial Estate in Lower Parel.
For months I would drop in at his office and spend hours waiting, before he called me in. It was a frustrating experience. That was the time I promised myself that no one would have to wait outside my office and waste his time.
I also used to regularly set up my own stall at various textile exhibitions and fairs across the city. Apart from getting in touch with potential customers, it was a good way to keep a check on what others in the industry were up to.
These fairs were usually hosted in large hotels. But often I didn't have the money to pay for the high fees. I would then rent a small hall or a shop just outside the hotel and wait for people visiting the fair inside to drop by on their way.
Those were truly trying times. But I was fortunate enough to have the unstinted support of two family members. My wife, Sangita came with me to these exhibitions and that was huge encouragement. And my younger brother, Anil too started helping me in whatever I was doing. Anil in all ways fits into the classical definition of the younger brother. He has full faith in my abilities and never hesitated to join me whenever I needed his help.
Author Kishore Biyani with Dipayan Baishya

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First Published: Sun, April 29 2007. 00:00 IST