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How Sukanti Lal Saha turned a small saree shop into big textile retail group

All I can say is that the key or the strongest pillar of this supply chain management has been strong ‘human relationship’, says Saha Textile Founder

Kanti Lal Saha, Founder, Saha Textile
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Kanti Lal Saha, Founder, Saha Textile

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From Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH), South Asian Journal of Business and Management Cases to Harvard Business School - a number of leading B-Schools and management institutes are finding merits in researching on the business model and success story of this group (primarily a Saree brand and weaver and now offering a complete range of sarees, bluse, mens garments, home furnishing, jewellery) from West Bengal that has, over a period of three decades, emerged as the largest integrated textile group and one of the largest retail stores of textile in eastern India, with own large format outlets in Kolkata, Barasat, Agartala (Tripura), Silchar (Assam) (few more are coming).

As most of the management institutes aptly identified, Sukanti Lal Saha (popularly known as 'Kanti da'), the owner and master weaver of 'Saha Textile' never proactively plan for innovation; instead, situations compelled him to think to take the out-of-the-box path. Speaking to Bizz Buzz exclusively, Kanti Lal Saha, narrates his fascinating journey and his business model - yet another rags to riches story, for sure.

Being studied, analysed and featured by the premier B-Schools and management institutes of the country and the world is no mean an achievement. How do you look into this?

Honestly speaking I never look at such things. I always prefer being grounded and focus on my work and building next generation.

How did this fascinating journey begin?

It was not a fascinating beginning at all. It all began very modestly. Back in 1986, at Barasat, in the northern fringes of Kolkata, I started with a 175 sq ft saree shop - Saha Textile, with only two persons. That was the time when I had to come out of the job, I had been doing at a shop owned by my relatives (step-brothers). I somehow managed to accumulate initial capital from my savings and the support of the family.

In my early days of business, I acted as a traditional retailer in the supply chain structure. I used to purchase the products at wholesale price from the intermediaries at Burrabazar, a famous trading market for Saris and other textile products in Kolkata and then I used to sell them from my store at Barasat.

Then I began to import products from different parts of West Bengal and also started scouting for good products from other parts of the country all by myself and tried to measure the feasibility of offering products at my store. Realising the demand of the South Indian fabric in the local market, I started importing from there as well.

Eventually I set up a full scale organized unit through integrating the processes from material procurement to final production. Over the years, it has become one of the largest organized retail shops generating large scale employment, offering various product lines and innovative customer benefits.

Almost all the B-Schools and management institutes, which studied your model, talk about the unique value chain and supply chain management that you have created utilizing the efficacy of manpower and made distinctive signs of progress…..

I don't know about this management jargons and parlances. All I can say is that the key or the strongest pillar of this value chain or supply chain management has been 'human relationship', our relationship with the weavers, customers and other stakeholders. They are like my extended family. Consider the name given to our outlets - "Aamaar Baari" (My Home). Whenever someone steps in, he or she should feel at home. Each one of them should feel it is their home.

What are the innovative management principles you have adopted and practiced over the years that led to this huge success?

Before I answer you, I must say unequivocally that success has never been my focus. I always wanted to contribute to the social development of the marginal sectors. I always wanted to give back to the society.

Now to answer your question, after few years of beginning, more particularly after the devastating fire incident at our shop, I realised that if I procure directly from the weaver or producer, the quantum of loss would be much less. I redesigned the supply chain structure partially for my retail operation. As a starter, I hired some weavers in the adjacent district of Nadia and Murshidabad. I could sense the importance of the self-production line from a different perspective. It allowed me to innovate the production line. I prefer exploiting the power of humans to achieve creativity, the fact that machines could increase productivity notwithstanding.

While focusing on value-based innovative offerings for the customers. We thought of blending the cultural heritage of Bengal in our offerings. We now offer 15-odd different brands and we have re-created various products, having a rich cultural and ethnic heritage. 'Saha Textile' has therefore emerged as a brand, with a dash of ethnicity and Indianness.

Hope you remember our campaignline or tagline: 'Utpadan Aamader, Aamrai Pari!' (We produce ourselves, so only we can!)'. Actually, by integrating the entire supply chain from production to retail (there was no intermediaries), we were able to set a lower price margin. The integrated supply chain also mitigated the inventory risk.

Then, as our flagship store was located at a distance of 40 km from the heart of Kolkata, we arranged free pickup and drop facilities for potential prospective buyers and eventually built a 'guest house' for the outstation buyers and provided complimentary lodging facilities.

We also induced traditional Bengali sentiments into the saree business by arranging cultural events associated with weddings and festivity, even at customer sites.

I can also go on talking about our innovative HR principles and practices. Our HR practice his driven by the firm belief that the organisation must stand beside the people who spend longer time of the day and best part of their lives with the and for the organisation, by all means. I have this mentoring and counselling session with each one of them on weekly basis (if not daily).

What about promotional and branding strategy?

I have all along been very reluctant to spend in the usual advertisement methodology. Some 16 years ago, we could convince a local television channel and organized a paid promotional show on the offerings of 'Saha Textile', marking the beginning of ordering through telephone calls. Mind you, that time, telemarketing was at its nascence.

Subsequently, with the increasing digitization, we forayed into Online Store, Facebook Lives, YouTube Channel and other social media platforms to reach out to the younger generations. We also keep sponsoring events like 'Kavi Sammelan' (literary fests by the poets) and felicitating the veteran poets. Such events give mileage towards making our presence felt among the educated classes in Kolkata. We did something to mark the birth centenary of former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 'Bangabandhu' Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman. Then as we speak we are working on something interesting on two great authors of Bengal - Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay and Ishwar Gupta, both of whom hailed from the district, we are headquartered in.

So, what's next?

Business will run, the way it has to. But my focus is on building a generation of bright young Bengali businessmen, who in turn would give back to the society.

Ritwik Mukherjee
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