of the week!!
Before I begin with what I have to say about my Journey, I compliment the entire Rodinhoods team for tirelessly building up such a vibrant and enriching community. I am Sanjeev Bhatia, Founder & CEO of Bhatia Mobile & HSL Mobile. I am an entrepreneur from Surat and very rarely I comment on a public platform about my journey as an entrepreneur. I particularly felt like sharing my journey and learnings on Rodinhoods that has been unconditionally enriching thousands of entrepreneurs for years.
The title of this story may sound a bit filmy but that is exactly the how it has been. My father Mr. Harbans Lal Bhatia was a celebrated businessman in the city of Surat. With a successfully running textile manufacturing looms and wholesale business, we were a very well-to-do family. In 1986, my father met with an accident that made him bed-ridden for almost 3 years. He was hospitalized in Delhi for treatment and there was nobody capable enough to take care of running the business back home. When he returned after 3 years, he was handicapped. He realized that his business was bankrupt with a mammoth loss of Rs. 80 lakhs in 1989. We had to sell off our personal properties to repay the debts.
Being handicapped, my father was eligible for a PCO/STD booth allocated by the Government. He started a PCO/STD booth when I was 7 years old. We rented a small shop where father used to run his PCO/STD booth and my mother started a Juice Center. That’s where my journey as an entrepreneur started.
I used to manage the juice center along with my mother. As I recollect, we used to sleep 2:00 AM in the morning, wake up at 4:00 AM to visit the fruit market and leave for school at 7:00 AM after setting things up at the center. It was the survival struggle that made us work so hard and tirelessly for 5 years like this.
We started selling watches and also invested in a photocopy machine to add some extra income. With the evolution of urban culture in Surat, we felt the increasing demand for gift items. Which led us to start a gift articles business. I and my younger brother Nikhil used to travel to Delhi to purchase the stock. I was 12 years old then.
As mobile phones became a famous phenomenon among the rich class, demand for mobile accessories also started increasing and we realized that we should add a vertical for the same. In 1996-97, we started a mobile accessories business which was the turning point in my journey. Tremendous response in the accessories business inspired us to start selling handsets and we started up our first mobile store in 1998 named ‘Bhatia’s Mobile’. I made my first visit to Hong Kong in 2002 at the age of 20 and bought a stock worth Rs.1.5 lakhs, on which, I made 100% margin.
This inspired me to take even a bigger plunge. I borrowed Rs.14 lakhs from the market and visited Singapore at the age of 21 and bought a bigger consignment. Unaware of the customs laws, I had never imagined in my dreams that the entire stock could be seized at the Mumbai airport on my way back to India. And yes, my entire stock was seized and a case was filed against me. Immediately my face was there on all the newspapers terming me as a young smuggler of the town, thanks to the way media works!
And that was the biggest turning point! The news coverage made me famous in town, overnight and sales increased by 7-folds from that day onwards. Very soon ‘Bhatia’s Mobile’ became famous as one of the biggest independent mobile phone retail stores in Surat. We started getting customers from the outskirts of Surat and also from nearby towns such as Vapi, Valsad, Billimora, Bardoli, Vyara etc. The business was growing day by day with the telecom revolution.
By the year of 2003, we had 3 stores in Surat – all running successfully. We have always been very reasonable in terms of pricing. Our pricing is mostly the lowest in town and we go an extra mile in serving our customers. In the case of damage of their handsets, we give them a standby phone and our staff visits the company service centers on their behalf. Only Bhatia’s Mobile provides such extensive customer support in Gujarat. With increasing business, I decided to expand with 2 more stores in 2006 and Bhatia Mobile became the largest mobile retail chain in Gujarat then.
In 2007, we realized that the business from the adjacent towns had decreased because of the new entrants in the local markets. So we decided to open a few stores in those towns as well but bandwidth was a bottleneck. So we came up with a franchisee model. Within 2 years, the number of stores increased from 6 to 25. Marketing has always been close to my heart, just like my father. We used to do marketing exercises right from 1986 for our juice center by sponsoring Bajaj Scooter Spare-wheel Covers. With aggressive marketing and credibility built over the years for the best customer service in the market, our business was growing by leaps and bounds. We opened 25 more stores in subsequent 2 years and we had total 50 stores by 2010.
In 2012, we realized that franchising was getting advanced and required more cost per store. We decided to continue the expansion with Company-Owned Stores. In 2012, we had 85 stores out of which, 65 of them are company-owned. Today, we stand at 95 stores across south Gujarat, employing more than 1000 people with a turnover of Rs.200 Crores. This journey couldn’t have been possible without the support of my father and my brother. My father has been managing the marketing and advertising while my brother manages the back-end operations.
My ultimate vision is to be able to provide smartphone technology to as many consumers as possible and hence we began with our own brand “HSL Mobile” in 2014. The idea behind launching in-house brand was to be able to make quality handsets available at highly affordable prices.
We are also getting into eCommerce very soon with an entirely different model. With the strong supply, bulk buying power, stock holding capacity and robust distribution & service infrastructure, we feel that we can add value to the market. Our eCommerce outfit shall be exclusively for mobile phones and accessories at highly affordable price. We are trying to break the basic barriers and bridge the gaps that exist in the marketplace model which depends largely on sellers with very little control over the quality and service. Our venture is going to be entirely self-funded and fully backed by our retail stores for inventory, delivery and service support.
I have been fortunate to learn some key lessons of entrepreneurship very early in my life and I thank God and my parents for the same. Also, I have been blessed with such a strong support from my brother, his contribution has been instrumental throughout the journey. My father was recently awarded by the Hon’ble President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee for being functional and actively involved in the business for more than 25 years despite of his disabilities.
I would like to conclude my first post here with a small message to young entrepreneurs.
Sheer hard-work and 1000% dedication is no less an enabler than a funding. Keep your eyes wide open for opportunities around, you might just click a million dollar idea out of random. Don’t lose faith, everything happens for a reason and you will definitely be able connect the dots in future.
Wish to contribute more articles very soon.
First Published on: Jan 27, 2016