Balancing continuity and change

Balancing continuity and change

Hanif and Suhail Sattar, co-founders of Hasbro Clothing (the parent company behind apparel brands like Basics, Genesis and ProBase), haven’t changed their core values and beliefs since they launched their first retail store in 1992. However, when it comes to defining operational strategies and goals, these fashion entrepreneurs are on the move, changing every single day

Best-selling author Jim Collins wrote this in his book titled Built to Last: “Even the visionary companies studied in this book need to continually remind themselves of the crucial distinction between core and non-core, between what should never change and what should be open for change, between what truly is sacred and what is not.”

I quote this here because as Hanif Sattar shared his 21-year journey as a fashion entrepreneur, I couldn’t help but notice some of the similarities between the stories narrated by Sattar and the points Collins makes in his book.

Hanif says, “At heart, we’re retailers and designers. We stay on top of the latest in fashion trends and deliver these to our customers. Our first batch of customers who started buying from us in 1992, come to us even today.” For Hanif and Suhail, their passion for fashion retail hasn’t changed in over two decades. On the other hand, they have stayed nimble in an ever-changing world where they had to keep up with not only fashion trends but also the advancements in the digital world. Today, Hasbro Clothing embraces YouTube as much as it advertises on TV; pays attention to selling on Flipkart.com, Myntra.com and BasicsLife.com as much as it does in its own brick and mortar stores.

The early days 

For the entrepreneurial duo, the first taste of business started in 1987 when they started a tailoring business in Chennai. “I still remember those days… We used to tailor trousers for friends, family and acquaintances in addition to supplying to several retail stores in Chennai. The first five years were like an acid test. We raised about 2.25 lakh from my uncle and the money was over in about four years,” reminisces Hanif about the early days. But it was also the time when the duo mastered the art of tailoring, fashion and nitty-gritties of the garments business. In 1992, the duo decided to take the plunge into the retail sector and opened their first store in Prince Plaza in Chennai.

Since then, there has been no stopping the Sattar brothers. They opened their second store, an upscale one with edgy interiors in Nugambakkam, in 1997 and then the next one in Colombo in 1999. The company grew aggressively and today operates over 102 stores in several parts of South India and Maharashtra. The company also started selling online, among India’s first apparel brand to do so, and backed up its wide availability with racy, to-the-point advertisements that broke through the clutter. The latest Basics’ ads have over a million hits on YouTube and its Facebook page has over 10 lakh fans. More importantly, over three million people visit BasicsLife.com.

Brand clarity 

Hanif says, “If you closely look at our store locations, you’ll realise that Basics is much larger in tier-2/3 cities than in urban India.” To put this in perspective, the company operates 16 stores in Chennai and 34 in rest of Tamil Nadu, 5 stores in Hyderabad and 16 in the rest of Andhra Pradesh and the numbers tilt in favour of tier 2/3 cities in other states as well.

However, its advertising and communication strategy is very urban, or should one say, international. Hanif says, “At some point of time, as an entrepreneur one has to decide if the brand will play to the market or should it stay true to its own character. Every brand has a unique signature; For Brand Basics, we’ll stick to our character, continue running ads in English, even if we air those ads in tier 2/3 cities.”  The latest Basics ad, popularly referred to as the “Men Commandments” ad, hasn’t been modified to suit local tastes. Hanif equates it to how a Jaguar or a BMW doesn’t change its communication strategy according to the market.

From a financial perspective, Hasbro has little to no debt and the founders keep a constant eye on cash flow. Hanif says, “I’d say it naturally comes to us, simply because of the early phase of our entrepreneurial career.” The company, now a big advertiser on TV, adopts a ‘get in. hit. get out’ strategy keeping in mind the high costs of television advertising.

The future 

While Hanif realises that the company has done really well over the last few years, the coming years is about capturing the attention of the next generation. “We think about how we should adapt ourselves to the next generation every single day. It is crucial to stay progressive. We have over 17 designers from the top fashion institutes in the country whose primary goal is to bring the latest in fashion to the Indian market,” he adds.

Hanif also realises that all plans don’t pan out as expected. He says, “If I take a closer look at one of our brands, ProBase, it has been reengineered three times till date. With this experience, we’ve also realised that if you’ve afterthoughts, it is usually not great. With Basics and Genesis, we had no afterthoughts and that really made a difference.”

Going forward, the entrepreneurial duo want to leave no stone unturned to become a serious brand to reckon with in all top States in India by 2015. They’re targeting a total of 200 stores in addition to boosting up its sales on online marketplaces. Recently, the company also launched shipping to international markets at BasicsLife.com.

Apart from all the focus on branding, fashion design and marketing, there is one other aspect that gets the utmost attention of the Sattar brothers. “At the end of the day, one of the key metrics in our business is sales per square feet and costs per square feet. The financial discipline coupled with a robust supply chain is a crucial part of our operational process,” he says, as he wraps up.


Hanif and Suhail Sattar, co-founders, Hasbro Clothing

Over the last two decades, the entrepreneurial duo has expanded Hasbro Clothing, the parent company behind brands like Basics, Genesis and ProBase, to many different parts of South India and Maharashtra. As a privately held, 100 per cent promoter-owned company, the Sattar brothers have managed to break through the clutter in an ever-crowded fashion apparel segment. Its edgy print ads, racy television advertisements and standout online campaigns have helped them sell aggressively both online and offline. Today, the company runs over 102 BasicsLife stores across the country, runs stores in Qatar, Bahrain and Colombo and has successfully made its mark in the e-commerce world through BasicsLife.com.