Meet the new generation of family business4 min read . Updated: 13 Feb 2020, 09:49 AM IST
From garments to biryani, these decades-old enterprises in Bengaluru’s historic market are getting a helping hand and technology push from younger members
It took one handcart and two loaders to stop traffic on DS Lane, the hub of Chickpet’s wholesale textile market. Bikers and pedestrians waited for heavy bales to be unloaded and the cart cleared from the narrow lane. Inside Sha Lalchand Jeevraj & Co.’s office, workers unpack bales, verify and put them away for storage while owners Prakash Pirgal and his son Rajesh deal with paperwork.
This has been a recurrent scene for over 70 years, ever since Prakash’s father set up shop in the historic market after winding up a family business in Tarikere in south Karnataka. “It is in the blood," says Prakash, nodding to his son Rajesh, 32. It is also a nod to his grandfather, who left his home in Pali, Rajasthan, over a century ago to start a textile business in Tarikere.
Commerce rules in this part of Bengaluru, where narrow lanes teem with businesses selling anything from buttons and metal to yards of cloth, and some of the family-run outposts like that of the Pirgals have the next generation pitching in quite enthusiastically.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur ever since I finished Class X," says Rajesh, who finished his MBA in 2011. He didn’t have a startup in mind but the continuation of the family business.
Rajesh worked for his father part-time and later spent time at an American consulting firm to learn employee dynamics and corporate culture. “In family businesses, everything has to be done by the owners. In a corporate setup, there is a hierarchy," says Rajesh, who heads a division that sources and supplies kurti material.
Moreover, money is good, says Karan Lunia, director of KR Electricals, which was started by his father and uncle in the 1970s. Lunia finished his MBA from Ohio University in 2009.
The harder part
Family-run enterprises come with their own set of challenges. Rajesh, who got the new division when he joined in 2013, recalls his negative outlook about the company’s main business, blouse material. He feared dwindling demand as more youngsters were choosing Indo-western kurtis. What he didn’t expect was the blouse market to multiply four times in the past five years. “I am happy that I was proven wrong and I realized the importance of doing groundwork," says Rajesh.
Lunia says he was toughened up by his MBA abroad. “I had never been away from my family. Then I broke my leg and walked with crutches for three months. I think I got the strength to make tough decisions," he says. When Lunia returned, he realized the business was catering to a host of customers—from fickle retailers and traders to a handful of industries.
Six years ago, he and his cousins convinced the elders to streamline business along four divisions with more focus on industries. “Now, all the divisions have grown. Earlier, the group used to make ₹4-5 crore annually. Now it is ₹120 crore," says Lunia.
Rebranding is another exercise that many youngsters undertake. B.K. Manish, who drops in at New Govinda Rao Military Hotel in Cottonpet daily after college, runs a nascent Instagram page for the hotel, which was started more than 100 years ago. “We have got many new customers because of social media," says 18-year-old Manish.
Akshita Chajjed also knows the advantage of painstakingly updating her textile business’s Instagram handle with colourful fabrics and elaborate trousseau designs. But the bigger battle of perception happens at the shop on Avenue Road, near Chickpet, when she meets wholesale and retail traders as head of sales and design. “Some are supportive while a few are like ‘What do you know? You are just a woman’," says the 24-year-old with a diploma in fashion designing. She knows she has to be firm and work hard. “When you are successful, people shut their mouths."
Her mother, Rekha, realized this when she started the textile business 15 years ago. “Nobody supported her. Not my father or her in-laws, till she became successful," says Akshita.
Rekha belongs to a generation of women who had to brave different set of odds to make a mark.
Kiran Lunia, 51, still remembers making quiet entrances in the evenings to her family’s office, and later at her husband’s sewing machine business in Chickpet. “I was always ambitious and wanted to do business. But it was a big no-no to go to the shop back then," recalls Kiran, who is Karan Lunia’s aunt. As the industrial sewing machine and spare parts business took off, the couple opened a grand showroom in residential Rajaji Nagar.
“It was a big change, at least for people from the Marwari community to whom Chickpet was the hub of business," says Kiran. There are not too many young women following the paths of Kiran and Rekha. “But I see a lot of youngsters starting their own businesses," she says.
Akshita wants to start her own luxury retail label but she isn’t sure whether it will remain in the family in the long run. “If my future in-laws allow me to work with my own family, then it will work. Otherwise, it will have to be my own label," she says.
College student Manish hopes to rope in food bloggers and influencers to improve the online presence of the hotel, which specializes in naati (rustic) Karnataka meat dishes and breakfast biryani. He also wants to pursue his other passion and become a police officer. “I think I will be able to hold a job and help run the business," he says.
His father Kishore Kumar agrees as he believes running an affordable food business isn’t easy in times of price rise. “Cost of production has gone up as we make our masalas in the pure naati style," says Kumar. However, he hasn’t raised prices of dishes to avoid alienating customers.
Rajesh Pirgal and Karan Lunia, meanwhile, are hoping to grow their family business further.
The writer is a Bengaluru-based journalist.