David versus Goliath: How family-run jewellery retailers take on corporate chain stores

India has a history of family-run retail jewellery stores spread all over the country, with some of them having been in the business for over 100 years. These jewellers have to face stiff competition from corporate-run jewellery chains, which have deeper pockets and more media reach. R Sugandha finds out how the former are facing this challenge

Post By : IJ News Service On 21 September 2021 4:46 PM

In 1910, Pannalal Durga Prasad Jewellers opened their first jewellery store in Kanpur. Today, the fifth generation of the family runs the store, which now goes by the name of P B Society Jewellers.“In 1975, we exported silver, and in 1979 we exported 6 kg of gold jewellery from India to Kuwait to Al Jinnha Jewellers. This was the first gold jewellery export of the country,” explains Mahesh Chandra Jain of P B Society Jewellers.

The store is managed by Vedika Jain, a 22-year old management graduate from Boston, along with her mother, Karuna Jain, with Mahesh Chandra Jain being her grandfather. “Vedika could have done anything she wanted. But she decided to join the jewellery business, and recently, successfully conducted a wonderful outof- store jewellery exhibition. It got an excellent response and the sales were astronomical,” beams Karuna.

“It was a new experience for me and I was given full freedom to do as I pleased in running the business. It has indeed been a beautiful journey. I learnt a lot of new things, brought in my own ideas into the business and under the able guidance of my grandfather, I was able to manage the business well,” says Vedika.

Combating challenges
Success stories of such family-run businesses can be found in all parts of the country. Take the case of Chandigarhbased Talwar Jewellers. In 1954, Tarsen Lal Talwar came from Hoshiarpur to the nearest city, Chandigarh, to start his own jewellery business under the name of Talwar Jewellers. He charted out a road map which is being followed by the third generation of his family, namely, Rajat Talwar. “In those days, there was no significant hallmarking system.

In 1975, we exported silver, and in 1979 we exported 6 kg of gold jewellery from India to Kuwait to Al Jinnha Jewellers. This was the first gold jewellery export of the country Mahesh Chandra Jain, P B Society Jewellers

Despite that, all the gold that we sold was of 916 purity. So, today, we do not face any problems buying back our jewellery because we are assured of its purity. We never mixed gold, even though there were no regulations. We bought back jewellery bought by the earlier generations from our store, and we have noticed it had 92- 93 per cent gold,” says Talwar.

He recalls an incident when late at night, a man came to their store in desperation with a gold ornament sold to him by another jeweller. He wanted to buy a new ring for his wife in exchange for that old piece. “The man was nearly in tears, and I gave him the ring at a loss, in exchange or his old ornament. I ensured that the client was happy. We always place clients first – customer satisfaction is our prime philosophy in business,” explains Talwar.

Vedika could have done anything she wanted. But she decided to join the jewellery business, and recently, successfully conducted a wonderful out-of-store jewellery exhibition. It got an excellent response and the sales were astronomical Karuna Jain, PB Society Jewellers

Tackling competition from corporate-run chain stores

“When chain stores came up, they actually helped family-run businesses. People started coming to smaller stores, because the large chain stores made substantial profits at the clients’ expense. Corporate advertisements helped, because Indian clients like to compare jewellery prices, and when they did that, they realized that family-run businesses offered the same piece at a lower cost. Advertisements of corporate giants remind people about the fact that they need to invest in gold and people immediately rush to their family jewellers to buy jewellery. So, in fact, their advertising campaigns work in favour of smaller stores,” explains Rajat.

When chain stores came up, they actually helped family-run businesses. People started coming to smaller stores, because the large chain stores made substantial profits at the clients’ expense. Corporate advertisements helped, because Indian clients like to compare jewellery prices, and when they did that, they realized that family-run businesses offered the same piece at a lower cost Rajat Talwar, Talwar Jewellers

During the total lockdown for nearly six months in 2020, Satish Kumar Keshri of Hira Panna Jewellers, Patna, Bihar, told his son, Shekhar, that staff salaries should not be deducted. His actual words were: “Why should you deduct salary for a few months of no work when these people have given nearly 25-30 years of their lives to you,” recalls Shekhar Keshri, who now looks after the business.

Says Keshri, “Nearly 70 families are dependent on us, and therefore, we paid all our staff members in full for all months of the lockdown.”Currently, the company has two stores in Patna -- one store was started in 1981 and the other in 2003. Transparency in dealings, purity and pricing, excellent services all went into building a strong brand value for the store in the city.

He recalls an incident which took place last year. A bridegroom’s family had placed an order for an engagement ring of a larger size during the short span of time when the lockdown was lifted for a few days. “Later, the lockdown was re-announced, and on the day of the engagement, the store was closed.They gave me the ring and asked me to redo it in a smaller size. So, I had to contact the karigar and get the modification done and we hand-delivered the ring to the client’s engagement venue,” recalls Keshri. “Clients’ interest and requirement is paramount, and any jeweller who is able to meet such needs of his clients has no fear of any competition. Corporate-run stores may not be able to match this kind of service,” he adds.

“When we opened our second store in 2003, hallmarking had been introduced in India, though it was not mandatory. All the same, we have always been using 916 purity. All over the world, people have come to buy jewellery from us. Now we are catering to the third generation of our patrons. ‘Pride, Purity, Trust’ is our motto,” Keshri proclaims.

By virtue of the trust Hira Panna Jewellers has garnered over the years, it is able to meet the increasing competition from corporate-run chain stores easily. “We introduced diamond jewellery in our store long back, and it was at a time when people in Patna used to buy just plain gold jewellery, and yet we were able to do good sales in diamond jewellery -- all because of the trust placed in us by our patrons,” recalls Keshri.

“We got an eight-seater airplane, two lucky couples were flown up in the sky for their engagement – all of this was sponsored by Hira Panna Jewellers. This unique idea made national news and was covered on TV as well. Therefore, it is evident that it’s not only the corporaterun jewellery stores which can afford bigger campaigns. Their campaigns may cover the whole country – but ours are unique and make news all over the nation,” he adds. Keshri’s daughter, Shraddha, is all set to join the business now. She has completed her management from the USA, and plans to introduce e-commerce and expand the export wing.

Competition can be beaten with tact

Sunder Jewellers, Chandigarh, is yet another family-owned business that has dealt with competition pretty well. “Competition needs to be dealt with effectively, and with caution. One has to adapt oneself to changing market trends, demand and supply situations, government norms, and the demand of the time. A detailed and nuanced study of market conditions is extremely important, and jewellers like us, we know the pulse of the customers and we adapt accordingly,” explains Mahender Khurana of Sunder Jewellers

We introduced diamond jewellery in our store long back, and it was at a time when people in Patna used to buy just plain gold jewellery, and yet we were able to do good sales in diamond jewellery -- all because of the trust placed in us by our patrons Shekhar Keshri, Hira Panna Jewellers

Corporate stores have a buy-back policy wherein they send the product for verification and after about a week, the client gets his money back, and that too, after several deductions. People mostly sell gold when they need money urgently, if such clients are asked to wait for 8-10 days, they will be disappointed. “Whereas family-run jewellers like us do better in this regard. We can give the client back his money immediately because we understand he is in urgent need of cash,” explains Khurana.

Local jewellers are well-known in their area, and since the owner is the face of the business, the faith element is higher in family-run stores. In case of companies when buyers have to buy from sales staff who are not authorized to take all the responsibility of the product and its quality, the client’s trust is compromised. “Customers therefore prefer our kind of stores as against corporate stores,” Khurana says.

A detailed and nuanced study of market conditions is extremely important, and jewellers like us, we know the pulse of the customers and we adapt accordingly Mahender Khurana, Sunder Jewellers

Of hardwork, determination and right decisions
In 1960, Late Jamuna Prasad Keshri founded Ratnalaya Jewellers in Patna. The company has been in the jewellery business for the last 100 years. Jamuna Prasad Keshri passed away at an early age, and thereafter, the store had to be closed down for seven to eight years.

Nagendra Keshri, his son, reopened the store at the age of 17, and resumed the business. “I joined the business in January 2014, when we were working on traditional lines. We had one store at that time. Right from staff training to quality of work flow, I had to re-invent everything. Although I joined the business quite recently, I always used to observe the business dealings during the vacations when I used to come home from school,” says Saket Keshri, son of Nagendra Keshri, who looks after the strategic development front of the two stores.

There was no system in place while running the business. The owners always had to be present, they could not take any days off from work. In their absence business used to suffer. “So, when I took over, I introduced new business policies like separate departments, running the business with new systems in place, and a better work flow. Earlier, we were a team of 15-18; now we have 74-75 persons.

Most of our employees are young and energetic. Now, work is more effective. I don’t have to be involved in the day to day working of any of our stores – though I visit both stores, I focus more on future growth prospects. I also am developing an android and iOS app for e-commerce,” says Saket.

He faced a major challenge in 2015 when the company introduced new systems. The older staff members were resistant to change and getting them to adapt to the new systems was challenging. “But today, everyone is happy and business goes on smoothly, even if we are away from the store,” he adds. 

When it comes to competition from large corporate-run retailers, he does not worry too much. “I do not think we have any reason to worry. Primarily, because we have been in the business for 100 years and everyone around knows the quality and purity of our products. Jewellery-buying is related to trust, and time is a crucial element, which cements this trust. Also, as a family-run business house, we can adapt the products and services as per the need of the client in no time. Permissions are easily procured and implementations are easy. Established jewellers get the benefit of having served the same family for generations. I am the third generation of jewellers, I also cater to the jewellery buying needs of a third or fourth generation buyer – whose grand-parents or great grand-parents have bought jewellery from my grandfather,” informs Saket.

To conclude, family-run jewellers have some distinct advantages over corporate chains, and they don’t seem to fear the competition much. 

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