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A man with designs

A Shyam Ahuja Dhurrie. Photo: Special Arrangement

A Shyam Ahuja Dhurrie. Photo: Special Arrangement  

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Fifty years ago, Shyam Ahuja launched his brand of dhurries. He talks about what his plans are and why quality is more important than price.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Shyam Ahuja was the first and last name in floor decor. This was the man who reinvented the dhurrie up from being an underlay for carpets and rejuvenated the moribund art of dhurrie weaving. His flat woven rugs, woven in the softest pastels and the sharpest prints, adorned many homes first across India and then the world. Mostly, these were the homes of the elite. The hoi polloi watched and waited for the annual discount sale when they could actually acquire a Shyam Ahuja.

The eclipse came suddenly, in the early Noughties, and the label fell below the public radar. Suddenly, the witty and memorable Shyam Ahuja adverts went missing; one had to look hard to find the iconic dhurries. Now, the man and his wares are back. He is based in New York but selling everywhere. Shyam Ahuja, the man who transformed the dhurrie, continues on his odyssey.

As you look back from the 50-year milestone, what is your primary emotion?

Primarily that, for all of 50 years, I did it my way. I work from my heart. I was not distracted by India shining or India dimming, the boom or the bust. I did not change my line of business. And you know what? In my next life, I would like to do just this… with some tweaks!

Shyam Ahuja rugs once carried a certain cachet. Do they still have that exclusivity in these days of affordable kalamkari dhurries , cotton and wool rugs?

In the overseas markets and among the haut monde, the Shyam Ahuja brand has gone from strength to strength. The elegance and subtlety of a pastel Shyam Ahuja dhurrie are unsurpassed. But, yes, in India, the brand has taken a hit not because of the glut of kalamkaris or wool rugs but because the mass potential of the market dictates that poorly designed rugs are available at amazingly low prices. May be we have been too low-key in our advertising. But then, our collections are unique and not for everyone. Ultimately, it’s all about top quality.

What, in your opinion, sets a Shyam Ahuja dhurrie apart from the rest in the market?

In a nutshell, four essential attributes: colour, quality, service and reliability. We are still the best of the best where dhurries are concerned, whether of cotton, silk or wool weft. We specialise in custom work; we dye custom colours. We have looms capable of weaving rugs that are 50 ft wide and without a seam. We do wall-to-wall carpeting and undertake installations in any part of the world. Look at our archival history: we have woven Aubusson dhurries in 103 colours.

Who comprise the majority of your client list today: the loyal long-time customer and their kids, or walk-in customers?

In India, we still have our old loyal customers, not too many walk-in customers. Understandable; by and large, we are not into bargain sales. I do not have the mindset of a trader. I like to say that though I cannot sell a 100 pieces to one customer, I can certainly sell two rugs each to 50 different customers. Overseas, we only sell to recognised decorators, designers and architects. No retail or department stores or catalogue houses for us.

Yes, I am expensive but quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. Then again, price is subjective; we are considered expensive in India, not in New York and Europe despite my prices being marked up significantly higher.

Are you a hands-on businessman or have you grown enough to now let others manage things?

Today, my business is handled by my grandson Aditya. Luckily his creative tastes and mindset are similar to mine. Aditya has able support from senior staff with 30 to 40 years of experience. It is a tight team. I am at work five days a week. As long as I am not a nuisance, I will continue working for the Shyam Ahuja brand.

Are there certain places where your products sell better than others?

Our products sell better in New York than anywhere else. Maybe NY likes what Shyam Ahuja has to offer. May be we are able to tap the market better because both Aditya and I live here.

Anything new on the Shyam Ahuja anvil?

Well, at the end of the day, we are Shyam Ahuja, made in India. Our dhurries tap into India’s rich craft heritage. Though I am proud to be a dhurrie man, being branded as a dhurriewala is a handicap in India. The point is: Shyam Ahuja has more to offer than just dhurries. There is a huge variety of cotton, silk and linen fabrics; there are soft furnishings like bed, bath and table linen; there are scarves, stoles, batuas

We have factory outlets in Mumbai and Delhi to cater to the price-sensitive customer. We offer significant discounts on some products. Aditya plans to gradually open more factory outlets in places like Chandigarh, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. This is Shyam Ahuja 2.0. Keep looking out for us; we aren’t going away any time soon.



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Printable version | Jun 23, 2018 12:36:45 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/a-man-with-designs/article5905088.ece