On the 50th anniversary of GRT Jewellers, founder G. Rajendran looks back on how it grew from a small showroom to 25 branches across South India

As I step into the Usman Road branch of GRT Jewellers, a pleasant fragrance of rose water and sandalwood, mixed with incense greets me. On one side, a priest loudly chants prayers while employees are busy offering laddu to the people present. It feels like a wedding hall, or a temple.

It is only a delightful coincidence that Akshaya Tritiya falls on the same day as GRT Jewellers’ 50th anniversary. After all, the festival and gold go hand in hand.

At the conference room I meet G. Rajendran, the founder, and his two sons, over a cup of strong, delicious coffee. The first thing that strikes me about them is that they are dressed similarly. Rajendran, 72, started his career as a humble gold appraiser at the Chennai Central Cooperative Bank (formerly known as the Madras District Cooperative Central Bank Ltd). After advising on gold loans for years, he decided to start a small gold retail store thanks to the relentless encouragement of his mother, Mahalakshmiammal. As a first-generation businessman, Rajendran had to dig into his own savings to set up the store.

“In 1964, our first showroom in Chennai measured less than 500 sq.ft. and the rent was Rs. 100. This was at a time when the Gold Control Act made things hard for us,” says Rajendran. Although the situation eased out once the Government relaxed the rules the journey to where they are now wasn’t easy. “Enormous goodwill from customers is what has sustained us; there is no turning back. Enakke kanavu kaandra madhiri irukku (It feels like I’m dreaming),” he beams. Going on to build a bigger showroom in 1979, GRT is now a household name in the jewellery business and is one of the largest retailers of platinum jewellery in India.

Rajendran and his sons have climbed their way to the top thanks to their clear vision. “Service to customer, more value for money in terms of quality, and designs are what is important,” explains G.R. Radhakrishnan, the younger son.

Giving back to society

For a brand that has been in the business for 50 years, the company has a surprisingly low media presence (in terms of the people behind it). Radhakrishnan clarifies, “We’re not media shy; but we want the brand to do all the talking.”

As much as focussing on building the brand, the company also invests in giving back to society by setting up schools, colleges and trusts.

In a city like Chennai where there are numerous jewellery showrooms, how has GRT managed to stay afloat? “Competition is always good. And we have never shied away from it,” says G.R. Anand. “Our diversification into the hotel industry is one of our biggest milestones.”

So what’s in store for the next 50 years? While Radhakrishnan is excited about gaining a strong foothold in the South Indian gold market and in the e-commerce space, Anand thinks the next 50 years is too long a time to predict. “We’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go.” And what do they consider as their biggest achievement? “Being called ‘family jewellers’. We feel good when many generations of one family come to shop with us and being part of all their happy moments,” says Rajendran.