Kapoor speaks about his journey, from setting up shop in 1994 to pan India expansion and his plans to go global.
Days of struggle:
I was a first-generation entrepreneur and I did my schooling from St Bede’s and my B Com from Loyola. I worked as a sales executive for a few years. I used to attend sales calls wearing just an ordinary pair of trousers, a shirt and rubber slippers. During one call at an apartment, I was barred by a watchman who pointed to a signboard, which said, ‘No Dogs or Salesmen Allowed.’
I realised the world judges a book by its cover. The next day, I got myself a pair of shoes, smart clothes and a tie, and I breezed past the watchman, who didn’t even recognise me. That was the first learning, before becoming a personality, you had to wear one personality. My own experience inspired me to set up a tailoring unit to offer the youth a smart alternative to office wear, and of course it also helped me earn my next square meal.
So, Derby was started with a two-machine tailoring unit in 1994. As I did not have a godfather, I worked on the trial and error principle. At that time, I used to spend close to 10 per cent of my revenue towards advertising. As I could not afford a landline, I used to advertise using the number of a PCO owned by a blind lady.
I introduced a scheme called Dial an Outfit, a disruptive marketing strategy. As a tailor, I used to get four or five orders every day. But when I started advertising, a lot of people would call the PCO and order for measurements to be taken. This way I doubled my customer base through push marketing.
Taking the big leap:
When our customer base grew, I realised there was an opportunity in the men’s wear space which was dominated by the likes of Louis Philippe and Allen Solly which were offering western fits. With my experience in tailoring for Indian body types, I decided I could start my own label in 1998, that suited the Indian customer and I opened an exclusive outlet.
By 2002, we had six stores in Chennai and by 2008, we had a presence in AP, Kerala, Gujarat. By 2010, I realised my customer base had aged with me and we rechristened the brand as Derby Jeans Community, men’s fashion label. In 2011, we had gone national and had 25-30 stores in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. But we were running stores in major malls and we started bleeding cash heavily.
And our regular customers felt disconnected from the new denim centric approach. We decided to call our franchise partners and cut our losses, by shutting down the stores. It took me three years to make good the losses. I sold one property after the other, including my own house, which I did not tell my wife. Once I had paid off all my debts, I turned my focus and decided to put people ahead of me.
That was when we came up with a mission statement to create 1,000 successful first-generation entrepreneurs through franchising Derby Jeans globally. Today, we have as many as 70 successful and profitable franchise partners, with 50 of them being in Tamil Nadu and the rest spread across AP, Karnataka, Kerala and Punjab.
The new wave:
E-commerce is certainly the future. However, in the readymade garment space, e-commerce occupies less than 3 per cent as the industry banks on a three dimensional, feel good emotional connect with the customers. People opt for e-commerce due to discounting, which is a brand-killing mechanism. If brands keep discounting, they will be unable to recover their cost, or even pay their employees.
A few years later, they are forced to shut down. Having said that we have developed our own e-com space, and have created an international site with geo-tagging for global customers. By 2025, I foresee our 1,000-franchise target to be divided into 600 outlets in India and 400 abroad.