Jyoti Aswani, the brain behind Priceless and My Kingdom, shares her business fundas with PRIYADERSHINI S
My Kingdom is Priceless. For Jyoti Aswani too. The lady behind the two concept stores in the city, ‘Priceless’ and ‘My Kingdom’, Jyoti’s is a story of a homemaker who has gently and steadily morphed into a tough business woman. Her gentle demeanour, quiet confidence, and soft speech seemingly at odds with her present profile. Thirty years in Kochi have rooted her here far from the Karachi of her grandparents and Kanpur of her parents. Now a die-hard ‘Kochikari’ she came here as a young ‘bahu’ into the city based Aswani family who were the first ITC dealers in the State, diversifying later into textiles and now with her inputs into multi-brand retailing.
Being a part of a business family that has many firsts to their credit, Jyoti never speaks in the first person. It is always the family that did whatever it did to grow and diversify into their elegant entrepreneurial presence.
When and what made her take to the rough and tumble of enterprise while she was ensconced in pampered love and comfort. “There is always ‘khalbali’ (buzz) in my mind to do something different,” says Jyoti softly. Working part-time to relieve her father-in-law from work in the afternoons, early in her business career, she learnt the ropes of the trade from scratch. “I started initially with training the staff, which I learnt from the trainers for Raymonds.” She moved on to the material side learning about the product, “from the mill stage to the finished product.” She recalls her learning days when how the drums of fat that accumulated after the processing of sheared wool were a curiosity, only to learn that the by product is used in cosmetics.
Today Jyoti is the brain behind the first factory outlet in the city, ‘Priceless’ and the style store, ‘My Kingdom’, both stores retailing brand products ranging from prêt a porter to cosmetics, footwear, and luggage. “The factory outlet was a concept that we were inspired by from our travels abroad. Factory produce that’s redundant are sold at these outlets. They are not seconds in any way except that they are a season late,” she informs, pointing that to be the reason for the marked down pricing.
‘My Kingdom’, a concept store, is really Jyoti’s baby as she felt a vacuum in the city for a kid’s store. “But it has diversified into retailing other products like home furnishing and apparel jewellery.” Jyoti keeps a strict eye on pricing as she believes that to be one factor that will have the customer coming back. She who has been watching the changing trends in clothing and shopping of the Kochiite says that it was difficult to bring in a new trend earlier. “It was rejected at once. But now it’s a different scene.” What she always felt from the start was that people in Kerala have always been quality conscious. And she keeps that in mind when sourcing the products for the stores.
The Raymond store was their flagship outlet and remains so, at least in her heart. “I learnt everything there.”
Jyoti ventured into full time business after her two sons had grown up and moved into higher studies. “I have done my duty,” she says, reiterating that her family and husband have been very supportive of her ideas and work. Hard work is the only criteria she feels brings success. “I have walked the lanes and by lanes of small towns and big cities to source good products.” Initially Jyoti would travel 20 days in a month establishing contacts and selecting products. With growing confidence and a sound sense of marketing Jyoti launched her own label, Diva Jyoti, when she along with the manufactures ventured into a bit of contemporary design with an eye on the price factor.
Along came expansion plans in ‘My Kingdom’, where she stared Kidzee, a playschool and then a magazine for children, ‘Heart beat’ “It’s all come from the fact that there was a demand for such things,” she says revealing how clued up she is on market forces. “Yes, if you are in business you have to keep your ear to the ground,” and does that mean that the ‘kingdom’ has preceded the kitchen. “Oh no, I can cook well and I make both Sindhi and Kerala food. Kadala and puttu is staple breakfast for us.”
Learning Malayalam was not easy but Jyoti has mastered it. She reveals a special family trend in the business that she is proud of.
“Do you know that the salaries to the staff are paid by the family members themselves. It is never distributed by the staff.” The last four days in the month is when this whole exercise is carried on by Jyoti when she meets the staff of some outlets personally, talks to them about their family and hands over their salary. “It is a very satisfying employer-employee exchange and has kept us all together for so many years.”
With growing competition, a sluggish market, she remains calm, which is her unmistakable trait. She simply gets tougher when the going gets tough. “The effort has to be doubled,” she says happy that her elder son has joined the business.
She looks forward to a daughter- in- law to share her responsibility and her younger son too, to join in when ready.