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Going Big With Biba

Meena Bindra, chairperson, biba, setout on her entrepreneurial journeyin 1980s with a loan of RS 8,000, givingthe country its first tryst with readymadesalwar-kameez. her passionfor designing paved the way for theventure which started with 30-40 block-print suits priced at `175 each.from making her “punjabis” a hit inmumbai to dressing up bollywooddivas such as sharmila tagore, bindrashares her story in her own wordswith tripti bisht
A technopak report published in november 2012 pegged the sizeof indian ethnic wear market at Rs 56,800 crore and estimated it toachieve a 10 percent growth rate till 2015. The report also highlightedthat sarees, salwar-kameez, and kurtis were among the fastest-growingcategories in india with the size of salwar-kameez market in thecountry estimated at Rs 20,700 crore.
When meena bindra started the biba journey in 1980s introducing theconcept of ready-made salwar-kameez in india, she had no clue that hersimple idea would turn into a huge market one day. the indian women’swear ethnic retailer currently has 105 outlets in 43 cities. large-formatstores such as shoppers stop, pantaloons, lifestyle, and central also stockbiba’s merchandise. the brand has expanded its product portfolio fromsalwar-kameez to unstitched suit pieces, mix-n-match stuff, and kidswearrange (for 2-12 years) to widen its customer base
An idea stitched in time
I had ample of free time with an urgeto do something on my own. Havingthe need for extra money and holdingjust a graduate degree, I came up withthe idea to start something from thehouse only which would not requiremuch investment. I decided to make afew suits as I was always interested indesigning. My husband, who was inthe Indian Navy, arranged for a bankloan of RS 8,000 to start my business in Mumbai.
Being a stranger to the city, I bookeda cab and asked the driver to takeme to the wholesale market. I lookedaround, bought some plain fabric, andthat’s how it started. A friend thenintroduced me to a good printer whohad a big factory. I took my fabricand got the block printing done. Witha tailor in place, I managed to getabout 30-40 basic suits stitched whichwere priced at Rs 175 each. They justhad nice block prints with a cottondupatta. The absence of ready-madewear, Indian fashion industry, malls,and retailers during that time helpedmy venture. Every city had only somelocal two-three well-known retailerssuch as Kala Niketan and Roop Kalain Mumbai who had been there for30-40 years..

Initially, I was only makingsalwar-kameez or sometimeselaborate kalis. I did a design thathad 72 kalis, but most of my suitswere plain and simple. People inMumbai were not aware of thePunjabi suits that well. The citywas full of rich Gujaratis, Marwaris,Parsis, and Sindhis. They all wantedto wear suits but din’t know whatthey were called; so a lot of Parsiand Marwari women would cometo my house for these suits andsay “Mrs. Bindra, can we see yourPunjabis?” So the name for thesesalwar-kameez became Punjabis.Now wearing salwar suits isnationally accepted. I would saysalwar-kameez had a good role inintegrating the whole nation.
Lucky Break
My first exhibition was held at mybrother’s vacant fl at. With 30-40 suitsfor sale, I invited a few naval friendsand some other people. The responsewas very encouraging as most of mysuits got sold and there were a lot oforders. An interesting thing is that Ihad spent only 50 percent of my seedcapital thinking of any probable loss.I re-invested the money earned so40 became 60 suits, and 60 became100. Within 6 months, I had about500-600 suits as my stock. By then,lot of people had come to know aboutmy venture. Then I experimented tiediewith block printing, gold khadi,silver khadi, etc, which were all greatsuccess and total sell out. With myearnings, I returned Rs 4,000 to the bank.
Bollywood Merchandising
I was lucky to get a very goodclientele. My house was atCuffe Parade, Mumbai. Wewere the pioneers in Bollywoodmerchandising and contributed inthe growth of the industry. We did 12Bollywood projects. Also, actressessuch as Sharmila Tagore and AshaParikh who were at the peak oftheir careers that time shoppedfrom me. Apart from Bollywood, myearly clients included top businessfamilies such as Rahul Bajaj’s wife,who would come from Pune to buymy stuff. I had a very large fl atalmost 5,000 sq.ft. There were threebig servant quarters behind it. Iconverted one of those rooms intomy store. For almost eight to nine years, I managed most of the things on my own right from buying the fabric to designing.
The challenge for me then was notto sell, selling was not the problem,but to be able to make enough andon time. I told my tailor to get moretailors and it all grew as a chain. It wasa nice comfortable journey which keptscaling up by itself. Within a year anda half, I introduced other fabrics suchas silk and terricot with embroiderywhich went a little higher in terms ofprice and fashion but sold well.
Currently, we face multiple challenges in this space includinginfl ation, expensive real estate, supplychain, taxation issues, and absenceof GST, among others. There hasbeen only a 20-25 percent increase inproduct prices in the last 18 monthsas markets cannot absorb any moreprice increase.
Going Wholesale With ‘Biba’
Before entering the wholesale market,I had to give a name to my venture,so I called it Biba. Mumbai’s two bigretailers, Sheetal and Benzer, thenopened their stores and approachedme for selling my suits. The entry into the wholesale market kept my business growing by leaps and boundsas the two retailers started placinglarge orders. By large I mean 100 suitsin 1 design that time was a large order for me.
There was a competition betweenthe shops also. Benzer was my mainbuyer but when Sheetal approachedme Benzer placed a condition thateither I could only supply to themor part ways. It was a very toughdecision I had to take because at thatpoint they accounted for 70 percentof my business. However, I decidednot to restrict myself to one buyerand parted ways with Benzer. I do notregret it. It did not affect my businessmuch for the simple reason that Istarted concentrating on Sheetal andother shops.
Key Learnings
Before Biba happened, I could never visualise that women spend so much money on clothes. Coming from a service background, I used to think ifa woman has bought my suit she willnot buy another one for atleast twoto three months. Contrary to this, Isaw that women were big buyers whoalways wanted more. Another learningis that you have to be very fair with allthose you deal with. I myself put it topractice, be it my tailors, customers,or anyone I dealt with. I never had theattitude of “forgotten once sold.” If anyof my customers had a problem witha suit I was always ready to replace it.I also learnt that wrong locations andbetting on a wrong product were the mistakes to watch out for
Turning Point: From Wholesale To Retail
Major breakthrough came due to ourown retail when we started openingour own Biba shops and it became awell-known brand. We were the fi rstbrand to initiate the shop-in-shopconcept in 1999 when we startedselling from large-format retailerssuch as Shoppers Stop, Pantaloonsand Lifestyle. It has been almost 25years since I started supplying to theShoppers Stop.Our fi rst store was launched in 2004in Mumbai. It was a big turning pointfor us. Suddenly from wholesaler,we became a brand. So, instead ofpromoting Shoppers Stop, which we were doing earlier, we were nowpromoting our own brand
Today, the youth is ready toexperiment. There is also a lot ofglobal infl uence. Indo-Western orfusion wear is in. Women now like towear tunics with trousers. They eitherwant a very ethnic look, for example,long anarkalis, or casual Western wear.Also, more variety in fabrics is nowavailable with a lot more blending.Earlier dull shades were in, such asbrowns, earthy hues, and metalliccolours but they haven’t come back.Now it’s all about vibrant colours.
Merchandise Mix
An average salwar-kameez of Bibacosts `3,000. The starting price forits average mix-n-match kurta isaround Rs 899. Over 90 percent of Bibais fashion business. Knit churidaris a core product of the brandavailable in 16 colours for Rs 399.Bulk of Biba’s business is salwarkameez.The average bill size at itsstores is around Rs 2,500. Biba targets30- to 35-year-old women as its keycustomers.We will now be adding a formalline to be worn for evening parties orformal occasional wear, though notfor weddings, and will also have a fewoptions in lehangas under formal line.
Metros Versus Tier Ii & Iii
There is a huge business opportunity,market depth, and a lot of aspirationfor brands in tier II and III cities.We are looking for a second outletin Patna and have also openedalmost 4,000 sq.ft. fl agship store inBhubaneswar. Metros account for 70-75 percent of our business. In the nexttwo years, the fi gure is likely to dropto 55-60 percent. An individual outlettakes 12-24 months to break-even.Investment per store is approximately Rs 2,500 per sq.ft. or RS14-15 lakh
For our upcoming stores, we mostlyprefer malls in metros, but in tierII and III markets we opt for highstreets. We are very selective in termsof the catchment area, right market,and location so as to sustain over a8-10 year period.
From Not-So Profitable Stores To Customer Delight
We have both very profi table and notso-profi table stores which are not lossmaking. Wrong locations and productmix and no involvement of localteams which run the store are criticalaspects that hit the business. Customerinteractions are conducted tounderstand the problem on customer,product or front-end staff problems.During this journey, we have shutaround seven to eight stores whenmalls were shut entirely or they werenot picking up. The reason has always been a mall or location issue, not that everyone was doing well except us.

We also conduct mystery shoppersexercise across our stores at least fourto six times a year. The exercise teststhe standard operating procedures(SOPs) and provides feedbackon quality of interaction with thecustomers. The intent is to havealmost 80-85 percent outlets alwaysdoing it for customer delight. A lot of shop visits by our people from headoffi ce is another way of keeping acheck on the stores.

Biba today is led by Meena andSiddharth Bindra, the mother andson duo. Meena Bindra is still quiteinvolved in designing, which meansapproving the designs, colours, cuts,etc. On the other hand, SiddharthBindra, Managing Director of Biba,plays a major role in giving a pan-India presence to the brand.
Going Forward
Talking about Biba’s future plans,Siddharth Bindra says: “At somepoint, the brand can extend intomultiple products, but for thenext three to four years, the ideais to stay within apparels cateringto women across income andgeographies. We have just enteredthe luxury segment through “Indianby Manish Arora.” So now we havea brand over Biba. We are alsolooking at brand below Biba which will be a value brand. For this, wewill be happy to invest in an existingbrand if we can fi nd it, but if wedon’t fi nd anything we will finallyhave to create it ourselves. Ouraim is to be a RS500 crore turnovercompany by the next year and`2,000 crore turnover company insix to seven years. The company isexpecting to continue growing at 35percent CAGR.
Our target is to open 100 morestores in the next 2 years. In thefi nancial year 2014-2015, we also planto enter the international market.Examination of markets such asSingapore, UK, South Africa, MiddleEast, and America has already begun.Any country with a large South EastAsian diaspora will be considered forour global foray. We will join handswith a local partner either through afranchisee or JV format.
On customer front, we plan to getinto a loyalty programme in 2014.The sizing created by my mother isstill a benchmark in the industry asthere used to be no sizing earlier. Ourofferings such as XL and triple XLhelp us win loyal customers.
”According to him, Biba will havemultiple strategies to achieve itsset objectives including creation ofbrands and products for all incomecategories. The company will focuson creating unique offerings specifi cto a brand. The brand has identifi ed100 cities within India where it canretail from. Even out of the 43 citiesit is present in, many are underrepresented; so while Biba has17 stores in Mumbai, Chennai hasonly 3 outlets. The existing 43 citiesalso offer much more opportunitiesto grow.

The company is focussing a loton the e-commerce platform bypartnering with sites such as Jabongand Myntra, among others. Biba isnot getting into e-retailing directly asit wants to focus on its core activity.The contribution of e-commerce atthis stage is 1 or 2 percent beingthe fi rst year of activity; however,Siddharth expects online retailbusiness to contribute 5 percent of Biba’s turnover in the next three to five years