The 17-year-old help-boy didn’t show a moment’s hesitation when he discovered a pouch of gemstones at one of the jewelry shops in Dhaka. He promptly reported it to the owner, who promised to give to the trader who had left it behind by mistake.
Impressed by the boy’s honesty, the trader gave him a small share of the gemstones and asked him to start something of his own. This was way back in 1921, and the boy was Maran Chandra Sen, who then started his own business – today it is known as Senco Gold and Diamonds, the Kolkata-based company that clocked a turnover of Rs 1,400 crore in the last financial year.
Between the years when Sen started dealing in precious stones and would travel around in Dhaka on a bicycle in the 1920s, and today, when the company has 75 stores all over India, lies the entrepreneurial grit and dedication of three more generations – Prabhat Chandra Sen, his son Sankar Sen, and the fourth-generation entrepreneur, Suvankar Sen.
“We have had to prove ourselves many a time,” says Sankar Sen, Managing Director, and Maran Chandra Sen’s grandson, “My grandfather had to leave his credibility and goodwill behind in Dhaka after the partition and had to start from scratch from a small shop in Bowbazar in Kolkata.” Later in the 1960s, his son Prabhat Chandra Sen had to again rebuild the brand after the family split, and he was given a new shop to start with.
“At 40, he had to start his life all over again,” says 31-year-old Suvankar Sen, Executive Director, Senco Gold and Diamonds. Senco Gold and Diamonds always remained committed to its promise of being honest and transparent with customers.
“Now you have BIS hallmarking and monitoring agencies for quality benchmarks. Back then, only jewelers knew what they were selling,” says Sankar Sen, adding how his company has never compromised on the commitment that it must return the value of money for its customers.
“When you do that, people know that you are an honest company. It may take time, but eventually, they know,” he says with confidence. Sankar Sen admits his heart wasn’t in the family business initially, but picked up the slack since he was the only son of his father Prabhat Chandra. “I love to paint and wanted to settle down in Paris and spend my life there as a painter,” he says, with a tinge of regret, but quickly recovering and adding how the world of jewelry design and its craft took care of his artistic bent of mind. He admits it was the creative part of the business that kept him in the business.
“The most charming thing is that every handmade piece is unique, and I love the way it makes a woman looks beautiful, with the earrings sitting perfectly in her earlobes, and the neckpieces adorning her neck,” he says. Sankar Sen’s son Suvankar, on the other hand, was quite keen on joining the family business. A management graduate, Suvankar has been instrumental in rebranding the company from “Senco Gold” to “Senco Gold and Diamonds.”
He explains, “We have always made diamond jewelry, but I felt we needed to highlight the same in today’s times when the demand for diamond jewelry was rising and we didn’t want to bracket ourselves as selling only gold.” The company chalked out a pan-India strategy and received a funding of Rs 80 crore from venture capitalist firm Saif Partners. Last year, the company also made a move to retail its products online through Amazon.
Apart from maintaining the brand’s credibility and building on it further, the entrepreneurial streak displayed by the Sens through the generations has helped Senco become pan-Indian. While Maran Chandra Sen successfully moved the business from Dhaka to Kolkata, and his son Prabhat added more Senco shops, Sankar Sen ventured out and explored the franchisee route in 2000 – one that has helped the brand grow by leaps and bounds.
At present, out of the 75 outlets, 39 are franchisee-owned. It wasn’t just about a new business model, however. Sankar had to ensure that the brand equity and credibility is not diluted in any way. For this, he traveled all over India and vetted the idea with people who felt might be interested in it. “While some liked it, most mocked the idea,” he recalls. But he was persistent and the first franchisee outlet opened in Durgapur, West Bengal, and more followed.
As the brand continues to make giant strides towards penetrating the pan-India market, Suvankar wants the growth to give a boost to the struggling art of handmade jewelry.
Alongside, he wants to see Senco Gold and Diamonds become one of the top jewelry brands in India and global also. Although Suvankar draws his inspiration from his father, he also admits they are also at loggerheads at times. But then, it’s all in the family.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (March 2016 Issue).