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Entrepreneurial Drape Across the Nine Yards Weaving a digital story for Nalli

By Punita Sabharwal

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Lavanya spent most of her childhood in the ancestral home, which was right above the flagship Nalli showroom, in Chennai. The store was set up in 1928 by her grandfather. Though he had two sons and two daughters, it was Lavanya's father, the eldest son, who actively took part in the business. Sharing one of her childhood memories, Lavanya says, "Most days after school, I would finish homework and go to the store where my grand would be working every single day."
There would be a queue of suppliers who would come to meet him and a loyal set of customers enjoying a chat while business would be happening.
Lavanya's father had started the expansion with their first store in Delhi in 1991. When asked if she was aware of what the brand's value was before she joined, she asserts, "As I got older, I realized how big the business is. Not just in terms of revenue but also by its name."
Lavanya joined the business at 21, when Nalli was already a popular brand. Prior to it, the organization never saw a woman joining the business. For the first six to eight months, she kept shadowing her father before starting to work more independently. Being a computer engineer, she brought a completely new perspective to the traditionally run business. She started staying in different cities, wherever their stores were, for a couple of months, to understand the functioning of each store. She observed that marketing and buying were being conducted separately at each store and suggested de-centralization of the entire process to get better rates. She further launched a sub-brand and a private label targeting the younger customers.
In 2009, she went to the US and to pursue MBA from Harvard. She says, "I was out of the business for seven years. After my MBA, I joined McKinsey." In 2014, when she came back, she joined Myntra as a Vice President of the revenue team. Later in 2016, she re-joined the family business. At present, Nalli operates 35 stores including one in Singapore and two in the US and it also has its e-commerce division. At a turnover of Rs 680 crore, Nalli continues to remain a family-owned business and has been refusing any external investment. Lavanya says, "Today, we are at 35 stores and in next five years, we will be 100 stores. And then we'll reach Rs 1000 crore in a few years," she says by concluding,"As there are no national players in the saree market it acts to our advantage." Lavanya is all set to take the brand to the full nine yards.

(This article was first published in the June 2018 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Punita Sabharwal

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur India


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