Traditional ways of running a business, especially those dealing with high value items like jewellery and textiles, depended largely on building a strong goodwill – be it through trust, personalized attention or loyalty. The entrepreneur running the business evoked such brand loyalty that, even today, one can see the traditional names holding sway over modern brands because of their trust factor. But, when faced with the need to expand and scale up their business such personalized supervision by the entrepreneur at all stages is not feasible. This is where a marriage between personalized business service and professionalism is needed. One such promoter group that has attempted to make this marriage work is the Chennai-based G R Thangamaligai (GRT) Group.
“Job satisfaction for our employees, creation of a legacy, creating a brand and taking it to the next level – these are the things that matter the most for GRT group”
The traditional method
In the jewellery business, considering the value of transactions, trust is king. GRT Jewellers in Chennai established this through personal relationships, as is vouched by their six-decade long run in the industry. Started by G Rajendran, the store is a household name, commanding a presence in the heart of Chennai’s T. Nagar region.
“The jewellery business has t be personalised. The owner has to be approachable; any customer at any point can ask to see the owner at any point. This makes delegation difficult,” explains GR Ananthapadmanabhan, Managing Director, GRT Group. This very basis made expansion through branches a challenge, and GRT made do with two branches, each handled by Ananthapadmanabhan and his brother GR Radhakrishnan.
The need to always be present at the store had tied Rajendran’s hands till his sons took over, and then the firm took to expansion into other businesses. After some successful and unsuccessful forays, GRT has found its footing in the hotels and hospitality business and started GRT Grand Days in Chennai in 2001.
“The hospitality business, by contrast, requires professional touch. No customer asks to see the owner or the Managing Director. Many a times, a manager is good enough, or the GM at the most,” explains Ananthapadmanabhan. Except for ensuring quality of services and ethics, the owners found that their day-to-day involvement in the operations of the hotel was not required. So though, initially, they were there to ensure systems and processes were in place, and to learn the ropes of this business, they found delegation made far more sense than tight control.
Taking the next step
Itching to expand the jewellery business, they had been restraining themselves because of the question – how can you offer personalised service if you cannot be available at your branches?
The solution presented itself to them with their successful running of the hotels business, where GRT today runs eight properties and is going to add one more soon.
Drawing a leaf from the lessons learnt in the hotels business, the brother decided to add more branches. Today they manager 10 branches, five in Chennai and one each in Tirupati, Hosur, Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and Bangalore. The lessons learnt in the hospitality business on delegation and professionalising are being applied to this segment too.
The owners had to carefully manage two factors – that of trust and freedom granted to professionals – to make this expansion succeed. “We have learnt that combining business acumen with professional skills can produce the desired results effectively,” he adds.
“I am in review meetings throughout the day. I am told this is what professionalising means. We’ll have to focus on growth and delegate several of our day-to-day operational activities.”
Implementing the key learnings
One of the key offsprings of this marriage between personalised business and professionalism is the introduction of systems even while presenting a unified face to the customer. “In the backend, we are introducing internal audits and checks and balances so that I am not checking every bill personally,” he says.
At the same time, they are also aiming to retain the warmth that their customers identify with. Therefore, training is very important – both ways. GRT trains its experienced hands, who have worked with them for 30 years, to train them to handle showrooms independently, which includes taking price related decisions.
At the same time, the new recruits at the floor level with a background in sales and marketing and are trained in customer care the GRT way. “Anywhere one goes, the customer should get the same treatment, the same service as in our flagship showrooms,” explains Ananth. At the floor level, GRT recruits locally.
The key to GRT’s success have been quality consciousness, variety and the service orientation. At any showroom, these are expected to remain the same. Certain functions like media planning, IT, purchase and quality have been centralised to ensure these.
With the capability now to manage more than 2 showrooms, GRT is all set to expand its business further. However, Ananth says modestly, “More than number of showrooms, I would like to think that it is the number of jobs we create that would be important – job satisfaction, creation of a legacy, creating a brand and taking it to the next level – these things matter more.”
Delegation was the most difficult lesson to learn. But having learnt that, GRT group now believes the sky is the limit.