Let me come back to the days of our jewellery business. We had to confront a lot of realities in the market while opening our showroom in Palakkad. It was the gateway to a host of opportunities. That was what led us to Palakkad – the district bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Palakkad was a small town in those days. The place was devoid of swarming crowds and huge concrete structures. The people of Palakkad depended on Thrissur and Coimbatore for anything and everything. Palakkad was like a household that always depended on its neighbourhood.

Coimbatore wasn’t strange to them, as any place beyond Walayar had a Tamil flavour. For the people of Palakkad, it was akin to having the same affinity towards a relative’s house. The consumers of many shops in Coimbatore were from Palakkad.

The people in the western parts of Palakkad preferred Thrissur to Coimbatore. The Pooram and Vela festivals further cemented their ties with Thrissur. What brought them close to Thrissur were the captivating sights of the majestic elephants and the riveting sounds of the melam where they often lost themselves.

Business in Palakkad lost its sheen when the populace split up in two and went to Coimbatore and Thrissur. It was no wonder that Palakkad had only small shops.

While Palakkad thus stood as a satellite town of Coimbatore and Thrissur, an earth-shattering incident occurred – bomb blasts at Coimbatore in 1998. In all, 58 people died in the 12 explosions that occurred within a radius of 12 km at eleven places. Around 200 people were injured. The impact the terrorist attack that shook the nation had on the industrial and economic sectors of Coimbatore wasn’t at all insignificant. Post the explosions, Coimbatore gained a risky and uncertain image. People were terrified of going to the place. Soon, the flow of people from Palakkad to Coimbatore ebbed.

The people of Palakkad, who always depended on Coimbatore, began shopping in their hometowns. Palakkad soon became a beehive of commercial activity. This was most clear in the gold jewellery business. All the small shops in the area began buzzing with action.

This sea change had a cascading effect on our showroom in Thrissur. Soon, crowds began thronging our shop too. The people of Palakkad who came to our showroom were literally “inviting” us to their place. Here began our chapter in Palakkad. We employed the same time-tested business tactics in Palakkad too: a huge showroom with ample car-parking area and vast stocks of material. It was meant to create a gigantic impression on the minds of the people. We needed only one-tenth of the space to showcase ourselves as bigger than the biggest showroom in Palakkad. But we started in a big way. We were certain we could create marvels in that huge showroom.

But we underestimated the people of Palakkad. Folks who came to Thrissur to purchase ornaments were financially very well off and had great expertise in buying and selling. It was not so with the people who went shopping in Coimbatore. Their temperaments were different. The treatment they demanded, customer service, billing, discount – all were entirely different from the people who came to Thrissur. It was something we failed to realise in the beginning.

We changed our strategy when we realised the two different traits of the consumers from the Palakkad region. For around a year, Ramesh concentrated only on our showroom in Palakkad. He stayed in Palakkad for weeks together, gently setting aside his mother’s request to come home daily. He constantly interacted with the people. In fact, within a year, Ramesh became a native of Palakkad!

The lessons we imbibed from the Palakkad experiment helped us in no small way in our future endeavours. Though it was our second showroom, the lessons Palakkad taught us come to the fore whenever we open a new showroom. We set out to script history in the lingo we picked up from Palakkad.

“Go as local as you can” was the lesson Palakkad taught us. In marketing terms, it is known as going “hyper-local”. It means we should fashion our business style according to the likes and dislikes of the locality. Rather than selling what we have on our hands, we must try to understand what the people want and sell that to them. Trying to sell what we have won’t work. We must keep a tab on what sells in the market and plan a sales strategy after gauging the mindset of the people. We obtain a winning formula by understanding the market trends and including some of our methods in it

Know your consumer thoroughly – that’s what is needed. Simply put, most Punjabis prefer to have rotis over rice. Whenever we open a new shop, we don’t compete with the big names in the business. Rather, we compete with the lesser-known shops in the region. This is the first lesson we learnt from Palakkad. Be hyper-local as much as you can. Be it the staff, stock or campaign – all of it must have a local flavour. We must become one with them.

We went to Palakkad as Thrissur natives. But when we were convinced of many things in Palakkad, we became natives of that region. If we don’t have this realisation, we will always be outsiders in that area. We must become one among the locals to dispel any feeling of alienation among the customers.

With footprints from Palakkad, we went to Perinthalmanna. It made things easy for us. We only had to implement the lessons we learnt in Palakkad. Soon, we became natives of Perinthalmanna too. With that, Kalyan Jewellers became a name to reckon with.

I had earlier hinted at certain trends we had introduced in the gold business. Among them were the ways and means to win over the confidence of the customers. Let me elaborate on them.

The gold business was a disorganised sector when we entered the field. It never had a unified structure. 99 per cent of the business was in the hands of small players who lay scattered here and there. The business practices too were varied. There were only one or two big brands.

Traders, in those days, formulated their strategies exclusively to reap profits. Consumers never mattered to them. How could one do business without giving due consideration to the buyer? We were surprised. We had two options before us. Either be with the small traders and do business in their style, or have our way and bring the disorganised sector under a unified umbrella

The first option wouldn’t work out. For we had our point of view. The consumer was important. So, the only way out was to change the system. That’s why we started cleansing the system by making sweeping changes. The carat analyser, BIS certificate and finding out the purity of metal by melting it were all part of that cleansing process.

We were trendsetters. So, it was no wonder that the others had to follow suit. Till then, the small traders were cashing in on the ignorance of the consumer. Maybe they too were ignorant of the right practices. We taught the consumers many things – from how gold is made to testing its purity.

What do traders normally do when they have a chain of shops? They advertise by proclaiming the greatness of their shops. We never did that. Rather, our campaigns were to teach our consumers a thing or two. It was akin to an education programme. Thus, we could create a huge impact on society.

Small traders were forced to toe the line when consumers began questioning them regarding the purity of gold and BIS certification. Traders who sold their stuff according to their whims and fancies at prices of their own choice had to face uncomfortable questions from the customers regarding their pricing. Thus, the gold trade began to have a standardised form.

We strived to fill the hearts of the people with Trust. There must be an element of Trust in whatever one does. This is our credo. We conducted a survey on the inauguration of our showroom in Palakkad. “What’s the factor that draws you to Kalyan Jewellers?” was the question. We were eager to know what factor led the people to our showroom – was it the pricing, customer service or the wide range of jewellery? “We have full faith in Swami,” said 90 per cent of the people.

That’s the moment we realised the value of the word that leads us: Trust. The people trust us. They trust what we say. It is not a simple thing. Our next challenge was to cement the trust the people reposed in us. The campaign highlighting the purity of our jewellery was part of that challenge. We had blazed a trail. Seeing the trust the people had in us, other traders had no other option but to follow the same example in their business. The impact it made was tremendous.

Excerpted with permission from The Golden Touch: The Iconic Story Of Building Kalyan Jewellers, TS Kalyanaraman, Penguin India.