If Genesis and Basics have become Chennai's nationally known menswear brands, it's because of Suhail and Hanif Sattar's can-do optimism. T. KRITHIKA REDDY talks to the brothers behind Hasbro Clothing's success story
A t the Basics Life showroom in Citi Centre, there's an air of cool optimism. Just back from the launch of their 50th standalone store in the country (in Tiruchi), Hanif and Suhail Sattar defy the image of snotty-nosed corporate honchos who love to flaunt their fussy tastes. Simple and soft spoken, the hard driving boys from the backstreets of Aminjikarai have crossed the chasms, made inroads into the South and are now designing Hasbro Clothing's national roadmap with 25 new destinations by March 2011.
Sattar-days are here. But the diligent duo is not willing to party. “Twenty-five new stores in a year means 50 per cent of our 20-year journey! This is the inflection point in our business. With retail scaled up in a big way, there's a lot to do. And, ours is an end-to-end multi-tiered operation — from manufacture to retail,” say Hanif and Suhail.
Art of the start
The story behind the seams of Genesis, Basics and ProBase is one of passion turning into a profession. Fascinated by design, the two took the plunge into the hurly burly of business at a young age. “Suhail was in school, and I had just finished college when we set up our tailoring unit and supplied men's garments to top retailers in the city. After a point, we noticed a number of people wearing our clothes bought from retailers. We could neither take credit for it, nor rake up profits like the retailers. That kindled the entrepreneurial fire in us. We wished to connect directly with the customers. Brand Genesis (catchphrase “best kept formal”) was born in a 400 sq ft showroom in Prince Plaza in 1992. Any business is full of variables and imponderables. It took us a while to find our feet and get some capital into the banks,” Hanif, the older sibling, reminisces in an unemotional tone.
Profits spurted, and Basics, the line for the young-at-heart, was launched. The duo had got the basics of brand building right. Soon, Basics overtook Genesis in sales and it was time to make fresh forays. A playful ProBase came next. “Today, we have 17 categories under these three brands.” The lines include suits, shirts, trousers, jeans, tees, jackets and accessories such as ties and caps. “Upcoming is our line of shoes. The idea is to complete the men's wardrobe,” they smile.
Aggression tempered with conservatism has been the Sattars' strength. “For any brand to grow, it has to be current. And to be current, change is imperative. If you don't change, the customer changes you! You have to shape up or ship out. We hit several crossroads, and charted our own careful course to pass the hawk-eyed scrutiny of today's consumers. But, we are afraid of taking huge risks. Our approach has been cautious and conservative. Perhaps, we would have done more business if we were bigger risk-takers,” explains Suhail.
All fired up!
Even while the company was making leaps, nemesis came in the form of a raging fire that brought down Hasbro Clothing's huge establishment. “Our entire infrastructure was ravaged.” But the ensuing downturn didn't lead to despondence. “It was time for us to review our business — from research and merchandise to retail and communication. When we started out we were doing what we believed in. Somewhere in between, we realised we were only trying to catch up with the Joneses. We redrew the lines, spruced up everything — from back office and brand logo to window dressing. Things began to fall in place like the Rubik's Cube from January 2009.”
Today, the 60,000 sq. ft. factory-corporate office in Maduravoyal turbo-charges Hasbro's onward journey. Merchandise is sent out to not just the 50 exclusive stores, but also the 700 points of sale in India and a couple abroad. “We are buying huge into advertisements and also working out promotional activities through social networking sites and in-store events. The new-age customer is a moving target. We need to keep pace.”
Though fabrics and pricing are pluses that set the brands apart in a cluttered market, Hanif believes their greatest strength is the research and design wings where everything from yarn development to visualisation of the end product happens. “Today, a product is driven by technology and trends. So the onus is on these two teams,” he smiles.
As first generation entrepreneurs who struggled with huge insecurities, both swear by Andrew Grove's book “Only the paranoid survive.” With a quiet confidence, the directors of the Rs. 25,000-start-up-turned-Rs. 75-crore turnover business say, “We've built our finances over time. People believe we are successful, but we feel we have a lot more to do. We are too small to be big, and too big to be small.”
Hasbro is an acronym -- H for Hanif, S for Suhail and Bro for brothers
The numbers 029 figure in our lines. It's actually the pincode of Aminjikarai from where we started
We are the best of friends, but we agree to disagree most of the times
Hard work, financial discipline, vision and openness to change