Meet the SHEROES - Varsha Bhawnani
Varsha Bhawnani, began her journey in 2005, when she laid the foundation for Vinegar export with a seed capital of 5 lacs and bought five sewing machines along with hiring seven people. 2008 was the year that marked success for Vinegar Exports as break-even was achieved, the machines were scaled up to 100 and the turnover reached up to Rs 6 crores. By then, Vinegar Exports was exporting garments to the US, Spain, Russia and Dominican Republic Today, Vinegar Exports has a strength of more than 500 employees, with a total capacity output of 50,000 pieces per month, catering to leading names like In city, River Island, Marco polo, Femi 9, Taj Sats, Celebi and many more. We talk to Varsha about venture and more-
Tell us more about yourself and what you do.
Being an MBA from Indian School of Business, the vision of having something extensive and large of my own was always present in me. The academics not only gave me a strong fundamental knowledge but also opened my mind to several business ideas. After my MBA, I got a campus placement with a private equity firm. However, my six digit salary did not give me the desired adrenaline rush which is when I decided to quit and walk on the entrepreneurial path. I brainstormed on several business ideas and eventually decided to explore my creative side through a small start-up route that satiated my aesthetic inclination towards fashion. I am not a designer but I like fashion and the exciting part is the business intelligence you need to run a fast fashion business.
What got you started with Vinegar?
My journey began in 2005, when I laid the foundation for Vinegar exports with a seed capital of 5 lakhs and bought 5 sewing machines along with hiring 7 people. The big-dream and goal was to set up a high-street brand which will be globally present. The best way to enter the industry was to understand the manufacturing angle and have clear knowledge of how the back-end works. Being an exporter to various international brands for 6 years I got a fair understanding of how the big brands work, hence took off to Spain to associate with designers over there to conceptualize and create Brand Vinegar. Vinegar currently has 3 flagship stores in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Indore. It will soon open stores in Delhi, Chandigarh and later into the tier 2 cities in the next few years by way of company owned franchising model. Also on my top priority list is markets like Singapore, Dubai and other Middle-Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. My plans are to expand internationally in a big way and Vinegar is present through shop-in-shop across Europe. We have also entered Russia and Australia through shop-in-shop mode.
What is vinegar's franchise model? How does it work?
Vinegar would like to expand through franchising route in India. It helps us penetrate deeper in the markets. Also, the franchise comes with a fair share of understanding of the market he/she is betting on and they are bound by a legal contract to follow the same standards and procedures laid out by the brand. Hence, operations and management become a lot easier. All our franchisees are Vinegar patrons and absolutely love the brand. It seems promising when people who believe in the brand want to help it expand further. The franchisees’ head for business and knowledge of the industry would be interesting attributes to look at and take inspiration from. Also their strength to foresee changes in the market conditions and be aggressive to turn it around in his favour helps the growth of the brand. Franchising curtails the brand’s capital investment and the revenues can be ploughed back for research, development and improving operations.
What is your strategy to get external funding?
External funding largely depends on whether the investors believe in the intangible assets like branding, and whether they understand the difficulties in building and managing the brand. Investors also need to understand that it takes resources and time to align the brand promise and it is important to accept the time horizon required before they can expect positive returns from their brand investments. For a fairly new brand like Vinegar, we have placed our bets on strong brand building exercises like good campaigns, PR, social media and digital out reach. We would to grow the business to a considerable size and scale before a fund eyes on us. However, we are looking for investors who are interested in long term association and help the brand to go global. Any investor looking for short term returns and quick exit will not match the brand vision and objectives.
According to you, right now what is the best way make a retail start-up work?
Creating a big brand requires strong supplier base, especially when it comes to supplying fabric or distributing your merchandise to your stores across the country. Along with this, you also need to be good at your branding skills and should be able to position your brand in such a way that it has a universal appeal and does not hurt the sentiments of anyone. You always need to keep your brand associated with your customers. Always remember that you only get one chance to either make or break your brand image. Tagging your merchandise with the right price points is also vital and make sure that your merchandise suits the requirements of your customers. More than walk-ins, conversions should matter the most for any retailer. Also, all brands are not only opening new doors, but are also expanding their online and mobile presence in a big way to ensure that the brand is easily accessible to the target audience. Consumers are now tech savvy and also prefer to shop the easy ways. This will certainly boost more brands to ensure that they have a right balance of platforms and services for their end consumers.
Message to all SHEROES out there.
I believe every woman is a SHERO. Be fearless, free-spirited, and confidently chase your passion. Be proud to be a woman!