About 25 years ago, a third-year student of D.G. Vaishnav College for Men borrowed a lakh and fifty thousand rupees from his father to start his own business at a 400 sq.ft. rental space on Second Avenue, Anna Nagar.
In its first year, Hi-Style had a modest turnover of about Rs. 7- 8 lakhs.
Today, that business operates from over 1,20,000 sq. ft. of space across ten stores in Chennai, Puducherry and Coimbatore and generates an annual turnover of Rs. 70-80 crore!
“I will buy my first business class ticket when the annual turnover of the business touches Rs.100 crore,” says R. Kiron, the fashion entrepreneur.
One of the biggest premium multi-brand outlet chains in the city is a one-man show. “I didn’t know the potential when I started out. We could only furnish half of the store.”
It was in June 1986 that he first set up shop with denims and fabrics when he realised that everyone who bought fabric also wanted them tailored instantly. Initially, he sourced it out to a tailor in Purasaiwalkam for a small margin but seeing the demand, he decided to invest in a tailoring unit.
“I didn’t know much about tailoring. I bought a domestic machine. Tailoring gave me a lot of revenue that within five years, I had 50 tailors and 30 machines. The seasonal demand for school uniforms was so high that we had to turn down orders. In the early 1990s, brands began to emerge and soon, I had stocks of about 30 different brands.”
Today, Hi-Style stocks over 500 brands. In 2010, the chain won Most Admired Regional Independent Fashion Retailer of The Year (South Region). “We were the first in the city to stock Levis. Even though located in Anna Nagar, we were number one in denim sales in the city in terms of volume. We were the highest selling shop in shop counter for Levis nationally for three to four years,” adds Kiron.
What were the factors responsible for this phenomenal growth?
“There were no stores in Anna Nagar when I started Hi-Style. The area was an extension of the city back then. People had to go to T. Nagar to buy clothes. So when we targeted the youth, we became like the cool hangout in Anna Nagar and within a few years, we started getting people from all over the city,” explains Kiron.
As a kid, he used to hang out around Fountain Plaza because Egmore used to be the fashion capital of the city. “The collections we had and the fits we stitched catered to the youth.”
Within 10 years, Hi-Style grew into a 6,000 sq.ft. retail store and Kiron realised he had to scale-up operations.
It was only in 1998 that he went in for a loan to take over a 13,000 sq.ft. stand alone property opposite his flagship store and it became a one of its kind fashion store in Chennai. “We had an open tracking system. The clothes were never kept in covers. We started shop in shop counters, dedicated space for displaying brands and started merchandising.”
The new store caught the fancy of the locals while the old store diversified with two more brand variants — Men’s Mart, an economy segment fashion store and Tailorz, that continued catering to those who still believed in getting clothes stitched.
By 2005, that store doubled its space by taking over the adjoining building and expanded to 25,000 sq.ft. and once he launched Diva, an exclusive store for ethnic women’s clothing, also on Second Avenue, in 2007, he realised he had to take help from his wife, Vijayshree to manage the business.
Over the last five years, Hi-Style has opened 10 new stores including stores in Arcot Road, Mogappair, Aminjikarai, OMR, Puducherry and Coimbatore with over 2,000 buyers walking in everyday.
“We are now looking to stabilise and open one more store in Vadapalani. I am looking for more properties to add another 50,000 square feet in the next year,” says Kiron.
Going by that, his business class ticket isn’t too far away.