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GOOD GOVERNANCE

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In a market where the conventional path to growth is opening new stores, Manubhai Jewellers focused on optimizing a single location’s business potential. This location has operated since 2001 and has recorded a CAGR of 25% in the last five years. In a candid conversation with Soma Bhatta, Sameer Sagar, Director of Manubhai Jewellers, shares the pivotal decisions that have shaped the brand’s high performance.


Manubhai’s transformation is based on the principle that everything can be improved. Sagar aims for an AAA rating, the highest performance standard set for the organization across all business areas, not only in profits. He discusses the importance of seeking the best outcomes for all stakeholders, the art of questioning his own authority, and the need to always keep the big picture in mind, even in the face of potential sales opportunities.

Q: Manubhai Jewellers came into existence in 2008. Tell us the backstory of the firm’s formation.

A: I hail from the Soni community, which primarily consists of goldsmiths. Back then, my grandfather used to supply gold jewellery to TBZ, our only customer. My father ventured into retail as Om Jewellers, along with a business partner, in 1993. They parted ways in 2001, rebranding ourselves as Om Jewellers –Westend( as the store is located on the western end). In 2008, we again rebranded as Manubhai Jewellers to avoid identity issues with our ex-business partner’s namesake, Om Jewellers in Mumbai.

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Q: How did you start your journey of getting the business on a high-growth trajectory?

A: 1999, I got into business, and in 2008, I started retail under the banner of Manubhai. We have always been shy about dealing with customers. That inherent limitation pushed us early to build the organization instead. 2013, we started overhauling the system. The lack of structure made the experience of operating the business relatively poor. We framed processes and methods so that we could manage the business without being involved. It laid a solid foundation for the company to grow profitably. I ultimately got off the shop floor two years before COVID

Q: There is buzz that Manubhai is one of the highest-performing stores in the Borivili catchment. What turning points in the brand’s journey have led to such success, mainly as you never directly interacted with customers?

A: Looking back, in 2012, we decided to block cash, which had many positive implications for business. We don’t do bill splitting. We follow regulations to the tee. The effort needed to manage the money was diverted into business. It allowed us to double down on data, which revealed many inefficiencies. The idea of working transparently as per regulations led to more governance. While most companies have tax or finance auditors, they don’t audit their systems. We introduced internal and external audit control systems for compliance and processes. In most companies, the owner becomes the auditor, creating loopholes beyond his measure. No area of our business is inaccessible to auditors.

Q: You are highly active on LinkedIn, often writing interesting pieces on how organizational success is linked to people-centric policies. How did the importance of HR emerge so significantly in your mind?

A: We have stopped seeing the business as something we have to run and have started to see it as something we need to manage to ensure that leaders do their jobs well. So, part of why we are more active on LinkedIn is that we need to attract the right talent as we grow. New people need to know about the brand’s and promoter’s value systems.
Besides, for us, the human quotient in business is the highest. We treat our vendors, customers, and staff alike. From a business lens, you start seeing value in keeping everybody happy. If stakeholders are happy, the business will grow.

I’ve seen many jewellers who offer insurance and medical, which, to my mind, is the most basic. Beyond that, we must respect the authority, allowing them to see growth more transparently

Q:How did you bring about the culture shift in the organization from a family-run business to a process-based, performance-driven company?

A: We have created a culture—processes, systems, and structures—that encourages everybody’s input. We have a code of conduct textbook about behaviour management; we have instilled the idea of equality in working relationships. We don’t play favourites and don’t let people play favourites—performance matters. Growth is driven by their performance rather than by the number of years they have been in the organization.

Our teams have their profit targets, and our staff drives the gross profits, making our systems super productive and transparent. Our staff also manages the inventory; we are not involved in buying. We have regular SPMs—sales, production, and marketing meetings. We have worked with many international and local HR consultants to bring about this change


Q: You recently opened the second store in Thane. Can you explain the choice of location and how the brand is performing?

A: Thane was an experiment. We wanted to see whether we are genuinely a community-agnostic company and how we perform in a completely new and unknown market. Thane is not a culturally dominated space; it has a sizeable mixed-migrant population. Are we able to cater to a diverse market? It was also an experiment to see how our system is equipped for expansion.

The team delivered the new store precisely 25 days after taking over the shop. We were simply guiding the team from time to time. Having said that, everyone had to push themselves to deliver on such a tight deadline. In the future, we think 60 days will be a reasonable time for us to prepare for a new store opening.

Q: How has the new store in Thane performed?

A: People discover us online; we have a solid digital presence. Customers do their homework, and business picks up as long as you service them well. We are now working on bettering our product mix. Curating designs for market-specific rather than community-specific requirements has been a learning process.

We derive our learnings from the customers who walk in. It is a sort of test model for working in an unknown market. The tiny experiment that we’ve done has been successful and has made us a little bit bolder.

Q: How do you gauge the business sentiment in the market, and what are your observations?

A: I think all retail markets are maturing. Loyalties are thinning, and one-on-one equations will slowly fade away. Brands that rely on low-pricing models, discounts, and promotions will find it hard to survive. I don’t want to come out as a naysayer; I know it because I’ve been on that road. It’s a bottomless pit.

In the end, what value do we offer the customer? The value is in our discount. Some people will only come in for the lower prices; when you stop that, they will stop buying from you. It’s value erosion for everybody, including the customer. Eventually, it translates into lower business standards in every aspect. A business needs healthy margins for profits and reinvesting in growth, R&D, marketing, and more to create value for itself and its customers.

Q: As you mentioned, you have learnt some hard lessons about offering discounts. What were the learnings?

A: We have tried giving 50% off on making and even 0% off making charges. But it was like charity; 100 people lined up outside the shop. I used to give tokens for entry to the shop when we had this 10-day sale. So one of the things we don’t do is offer discounts. When you start doing successful discount promotions, there is a surge in business, and then there is a drop, which gets deeper every single time. Now, you need another high dopamine. So, it’s not a good cycle.

The other aspect is that the brand has to be aspirational for the team. By this, I mean they must feel good about working with the brand and take pride in the value it offers to the customer. The brand needs to see how the value proposition transfers to the customer.

If the brand is positioned as a loss leader or how Walmart is positioned as a discount brand, there is nothing wrong with that. Those brands have their segment. However, resorting to discounts to spike sales is ultimately self-defeating.

Q:Many jewellers are exploring different market segments under various banners. What are your thoughts?

A: This is the age of specialists. The new customers want to deal with brands that know their job. It’s interesting to see how restaurant brands are evolving. Similarly, the jewellery market is also getting organized as a new generation of customers emerges. While many segments are attractive, entering, into every space is difficult. The entire team has to service the business, and in every sense, the management, the corporate and the financial bandwidth; every muscle has to function.

Q: Are you working towards being an omnichannel brand? Is that an ambition?

A: At the moment, we are optimizing offline stores. We must see where we get higher returns from a resource return perspective. Omnichannel happens in the sense of discovery.

Our customers are not asking for an omni experience at the moment. We will gradually build our capabilities. We are showcasing goods online. But sales are happening at the counters or over video calls.

Q: What strategic shifts have helped you shape the brand and its success?

A: Digital has created an intangible value, which is enormous in terms of brand perception. It allowed us to present ourselves more fashionably, something youngsters could relate to.

We started early and have dabbled with many successful digital promotion formatsThat’s why I believe that jewellery should be the highest in terms of fashion positioning. Finally, it has to lend value to the fashion quotient of the woman. We measured this perception primarily through customer feedback. It worked well for not only new customers, but also the old customers who need constant validation. At this stage of the brand, when it’s matured, I feel it’s time we again start with offline promotions.

Q: How has the performance been over the last decade?

A: We have been recording double-digit growth with 80% repeat customers. In the last two and a half months, we received hundreds of five-star organic Google reviews. In the previous five years, we have recorded a CAGR of 25%.

Q: What are your future growth plans?

A: For a business to sustain itself, it is essential to keep growing. We enjoy the process of whatever it takes to develop; people, too, feel the energy. When business is static, it’s also very monotonous. It sets boredom. But we are mindful of growing profitably. We don’t have lofty plans to open 10 stores in the next few years—expansion is on the cards—but we are moving according to market conditions.

Q: What is the most critical pillar of your business success?

A: We never get pushed or driven by external factors. We take a more assessment-based strategic approach to the business. It’s essential to crack the product market fit. Jewellers ultimately need to define the customers and define themselves. So, even if 10 people are enquiring about a certain kind of product, we don’t run to introduce the range. We are saying ‘No’ to a lot of business. It’s essential to do that and stay true to who you are and how you have defined and positioned yourself

Q: What is your advice to those looking to transform their family businesses into more professionally run organizations?

A: I think you burn, you learn, and you keep on moving. Be persistent. You cannot say that it is a perfect model because retail is very dynamic. So, what you care for today can be utterly redundant tomorrow. Our transformation is built on the fundamental premise that anything and everything can be improved. We aim for AAA in all areas, not just profits. We take a holistic view of things.

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