Gaurav Rathod, Director, Cello Group, is a third generation entrepreneur steering the 60-year-old family business. Here, he relates in his own words his journey in the company, role in its diversification, what he makes of future prospects and why his primary focus is on glass
BUSINESSMAN, BY BIRTH
I was born into a family that already had two generations of entrepreneurs. My great grandfather started with bangles and footwear in the early 1960s. When my grandfather came into the business, they took over a company called Cello which was doing some cool plastic work. In 1985, when my father joined and started the plastics business, Cello got into hot pots and tiffin boxes. We were the pioneers in hot pots and casseroles in India. It became an instant hit with people. Our campaign ‘Say Hello to Cello’ was a tele ad where we used to call people, and instead of ‘Hello’, we said ‘Cello’. It worked wonders for us. That’s how Cello became a household name. Post that, we started moulded furniture and got into the stationery business in early 1990.
GROOMED FOR CELLO
My journey at Cello began seven years back. From early childhood, I had been conditioned to take over the business. I used to visit the offices as a child, and developed the mindset that this is what I need to do. So even from the education standpoint, I got into finance and economics because those are the pillars of building a business. I went for my undergraduate studies to Bentley University in Boston. I then did my MBA in Strategy from Strathclyde University, Glasgow. This gave me a good standing. When I entered the business, I started out in the stationery department as an intern, learning the nitty gritty about the sales and manufacturing part. We were market leaders in stationery. Till date, Cello is the market leader though we don’t own the brand directly anymore, as we have sold it to BIC, a French company.
Next, I ventured into home appliances. It was a good extension for us because we were already in the home and kitchen space. We stuck to a niche in home appliances - just mixer grinders, kettles and induction cookers. I really didn’t want to get into everything. Cello has mass appeal, with no compromise on quality, and we give people value for money products. Seeing healthy growth in the segment, we started developing a few more innovative products. We started manufacturing our own appliances, which set us apart from other players in the market who were mostly importing. Thus we were able to charge a premium too.
INTO A NEW VERTICAL
I started focusing on a new business - our glassware business - in early 2017. It was again a very good extension for us, as we went into Opalware and crockery along with kitchen utensils. Opalware is most affordable and looks beautiful. It still has a lot of growth potential. In a year or so, I want to set up a new Greenfield project for a soda lime kind of product. We will be manufacturing transparent drinkware/glassware. In the meantime, we have started smaller businesses such as cleaners, mops, non-dust brooms, wipers – anything to do with cleaning the household. In COVID times, that gave us a surge as people had to clean their homes themselves and preferred mops over brooms. The whole country started demanding this product and we grew ten-fold in the category. As a company, we want to bring out a household bag. If somebody is setting up a new home, we will cater to all their needs at once, giving them all the products. No one in India, and very few in the world, offer complete home solutions.
GUNNING FOR GLASS
We are going to expand our glass business in a big way because we see a bright future there. Also, there is still very little penetration in India because of our preference for eating on steel, and hence room for growth. It’s slowly changing because families are becoming nuclear, and taking to dinnerware made of glass with a more premium look. For our moulded furniture, we are trying to go more local. We might not be expanding our product categories much, but we are consolidating our sales team, because we are very well entrenched in urban and semi-urban areas. The rural market of India is where real growth is going to come from in every sector. We are preparing for that, and changing our strategy to tap into those markets more effectively. We expect to go from strength to strength and increase our turnover.
LEARNING ON THE JOB
When I started out, I set out to have everything more structured and linear in the company. But I learnt that to get something done without having a buy-in from people becomes very difficult. I realized that you need to take people on board, and that’s how things get done. If your team does not have the same vision that you do, it’s kind of impossible to get anything done. I implemented this learning throughout my later years. At times, things don’t go exactly as you had thought but you have to take it as it is. Move on and try to do things better. That’s another great learning from very early in my career. It has stayed with me.
The lockdown experience: We were able to survive it because of the diversified nature of our business. Though some products did not do well as no one was going to office, people were more involved in home improvement and that created demand, as did products that aided working from home. We were able to attain about 90% of our sales volume of 2019.
Biggest challenge I faced: When we started the glass business, it was very technically challenging. Plus, we had a very big capital investment in it. A lot rode on my shoulders, and there was no room for failure. It took us 6-7 months to get everything going and arrive at a good product. It was the most challenging and also most fruitful at the same time. It made me a stronger person.
The international business: We export to some countries in the Middle East, Europe and South America. About 10-15% of our sales come from our exports. With our glassware unit, we are able to step up exports. Stationery exports continue, of course.
Gaurav Rathod, the person: I love singing. I’ve been trained in classical singing for about seven years. In the last few years, my practice has taken a backseat. I need to get back to it. I am a regular gym-going person and being healthy is very important for me.
One motto I believe in: Transparency is the best policy. With your employees, with your family, with partners - the more transparent you are, the more your vision is clear, the better.
So being transparent, being open, and being approachable is very important.
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