- Your business was started by your grandfather/father, what made you continue with the same?
The original business started way before India’s independence and was run by my grandfather Jivanbhai Gajjar. He set up the business and gave it the popularity it enjoys today with his determination and sheer hard perseverance. My father Ramnikbhai Gujjar took over from him and dedicated his entire life to its growth and success. Around three to four years back, after having given more than 50 years of his life to the business my father wanted to retire. Unfortunately with no male heir, he was unsure about the future of the business and thought that he might have to shut down the enterprise completely. This is when I stepped in and after much convincing took over the reins of the business from my father with a promise to keep it alive and growing. Like any loving father would do, he too agreed to handhold me till I got a hang of the actual running of the business. It has been three years since that day and there has been no looking back or regrets.
I was against the idea of shutting down something which took years of hardwork to build. Additionally we are a well known name in the city of Porbandar and our firm is also prominently featured in the list of places worth visiting in the city. How could I let that kind of fame just slip away! I have also seen the days and nights of planning, strategising, designing and sometimes actual physical labour that my father and my grandfather put in to bring Raashi Creations to its current state. It would have been a tragedy if we had to shut down.
- How much and how far has the business evolved since your grandfather’s/father’s time?
Before we started this business, we were mainly into padlocks and brass hand pump. Then the Maharaja of Porbandar, Natvarsighji, impressed with our workmanship insisted that we begin making articles of silver, and that’s how our family entered this business. We made photo fames, trays, writing sets and then moved on to make cigarette cases, cigar boxes and so on. There is an interesting story also about how my grandfather gifted Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru a silver cigarette case with gold inlaid map of India when he first visited Porbandar for the campaign of the first public election of India. This cigarette case is still displayed in the National Museum, New Delhi to this day. Late Prime Minster Mrs Indira Gandhi has also gifted a cigarette case made by us with the maps of India and USA engraved side by side on the top of case to JFK. The Indian Government has also gifted a special size cigar box with Russian and Indian map engraved on it to Russian Prime Minister Kruschev, which was also made by us.
Over time we have evolved ofcourse! So while we still work with geometrical shapes, our motifs now include new concepts, designs, inlays, colours and such. We try to incorporate as many new techniques as possible while working with our material now.
- Where are your artisans from and how do you source them?
Our artisans too are from families associated with us since my grandfather’s time. This is their traditional profession and the skills are handed down from father to son and so forth. So our workers or karigar are settled in Porbandar and come from a family of artisans. However their numbers are dwindling and currently we have only a few artisans left with us. As with modern times, the sons are no longer interested in doing what their father’s did. We do provide training and other benefits; but it is the hard truth of life.
- As the daughter who has married into another family, how is it that you are handling the business?
Actually this part was not very difficult decision. I come from a family of four daughters and so a choice of a son taking over was not there in the first place. When my father decided to retire, we sisters had a discussion and I was the obvious choice to take over. With two sisters settled in the USA, one busy with her own work and me being in Ahmedabad which is fairly close to Porbandar, it made sense that I take over the reins of running the business. Although I had to convince my father; my husband, children and in-laws were very supportive and it was easy for me to take over. I do have my father to guide me, so that is an added advantage.
- Being a mother to two grown up children and a home maker and a business woman; how to manage your time? Do you have any secret formula?
Managing time is not difficult now that the children have grown up. Also since my office is located close to my home I can sneak in and out as I wish. Seriously though, once the children leave for their school and collage respective I am able to utilize my time for promoting my products on social media. Post lunch, I go to my office and focus on the day to day handling of the business. The key is time management and I am now able to manage that much better than when I started.
- What do you see for your company in the future? Are your children interested in the business and what do they bring to the table?
Although times are tough and getting skilled artisans a challenge, I do see the business growing in the future. Thanks to Social Media, I have been able to market and promote my products faster and further. Additionally since our products are unique and make for sophisticated gifting, people who see our products and buy from us once keep coming back for more. I always have repeat cliental and word-of-mouth publicity.
I do hope that my children carry on my family’s legacy, but right now I do not want to burden them with such a big responsibility. My daughter however has shown an inclination and does help out in designing and giving helping tips occasionally.
- How has been a part of a network benefitted your business?
I am part of MompreneursIndia and another network in Gujarat, and believe that being a part of a network has its perks. Networking and connectivity is much easier when you are a part of a group. Word spreads far and wide when you network and use social media wisely. Now I don’t have to travel the world and yet people from Mumbai, Delhi and the South are aware of my portfolio of products.
- Now that you are aware of so many new ways of doing business, what would you do differently in business had you known all these earlier?
Life is full of opportunities if we have an open mind. I’ve come to know many ways of doing business now and I would focus on the present rather than thinking about missed opportunities or doing things differently in the past.
- What would you like to tell other women who are taking over family business?
Women in this era must try and do some kind of work. Work may be small or big, but the effort and focus should be 100%. There is no such thing as “I can’t do this or that”. You have to catch the bull by its horns and you will be surprised by you own capability. Above all, working gives us knowledge and experience teaches us how to tackle different situations and personalities.
We concluded our short interview with soft spoken and talented Sonal Shah with a positive note to all women that they have to approach life and everything that is thrown at them with the “Can do” attitude. You can view Raashi Creations here.