51-year-old Sanjay Sahni has given 30 years of his life to Beauty Palace — a jewellery company spread across two three-storeyed shops in the same lane of Ambala City’s Dashmesh Market. Founded by his father Kundan Lal Sahni in 1987, Beauty Palace specialises in all kinds of artificial jewellery including special items for Punjabi weddings like Chooda, Kaliren, and Mukhabba. Clocking a gross turnover of over `10 crore, Sahni gets customers from Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Uttaranchal, and even a few NRIs — all finding their way to his shop in Ambala for their wedding-related shopping. “Women who grew up in Ambala but have now settled in Delhi, Mumbai or even abroad, come to Beauty Palace once a year and shop for items in bulk. Earlier we would be wary of getting really expensive jewellery, thinking it won’t sell in such a small town. But you’d be surprised at the number of interested buyers,” he says.
The star of Haryana’s wedding district
Sahni buys jewellery from manufacturers based in Mumbai and Kolkata, and claims his team keeps itself abreast of the latest designs. But the real reason behind his success, he says, is the healthy atmosphere. “In 1987, my father hired three workers to help him. They are still with us, handling important roles in the shops now. We have a staff of 70-80 people at present, and nobody has left us since joining. They treat Beauty Palace as their shop and ensure the customer leaves the store happy and satisfied.” Sahni is planning to expand and set up another store on the Ambala-Chandigarh highway.
The Indian wedding market, estimated to be over `100,000 crore, is largely unorganised. Most players either don’t have the budgets or the inclination to become national players so they create a stronghold in a small region. Even in metros, high-end jewellery and apparel stores co-exist with small shops. The latter pull in SEC B customers in urban areas looking for wedding jewellery and clothes.
The wedding pros of Mumbai
Magic Mirror, a store headquartered in the western suburbs of Mumbai’s Santa Cruz area, is a name often recommended for imitation jewellery shopping. 28-year-old Vallari Shah is an NGO trustee, a writer and a communications professional, who shopped from Magic Mirror for her budget wedding in Mumbai’s Arya Samaj Mandir. “We know it’s a part of customer service when they say ‘your daughter is like our daughter so this is like our own daughter’s wedding...’ but what makes them seem genuine is that they treat you equally respectfully whether you buy one ring, one set, or several,” she says.
Shah sounds particularly impressed with the owner Pratik Motilal Gada’s knowledge of wedding jewellery and ambitious expansion plans. “He wants to turn Magic Mirror into an experiential brand, convert the terrace into a coffee shop and build a play area for kids so that parents can shop easily. He showed us pictures of celebs who are closet shoppers of imitation jewellery and have visited his store to shop for several high-society weddings.”
Oh! Calcutta’s weddingwallahs
There are stores that have attained ‘celeb status’ in a city: Adi Dhakeswari Bastralaya (ADB) — a multi-storeyed saree shop headquartered in the Gariahat area of South Kolkata is one of them. The USP of ADB, we hear, is its promise that you’ll find every type of saree for a wedding or any other occasion, under one roof. The popularity of this shop that heavily advertises on regional TV channels, print, and magazines, has prompted competition to adopt part of the legendary store’s name to ride on its popularity bandwagon. But the connoisseurs can easily distinguish between the original ADB and those trying to cash in.
Located in Gariahat is yet another old shop — Kimbadanti — this one famous for wedding apparel and accessories for Bengali grooms. “The place is almost synonymous with sentiments,” says Soumya Sinha (32), a Kolkata-born software professional working in Delhi. “The price, the authenticity, and most importantly the traditional variety you get here is hard to find what with all the Manyavars around,” he adds.
For the Anglo-Indian population living in the Purasawalkam area of Chennai, London Stores is a go-to place for buying wedding gowns, veils, wreaths, and other accessories for Christian weddings. “People know that even if London Stores doesn’t have a particular design, they’ll make an effort to find it out for you. And it’s not even a wedding shop as such, yet the Anglo-Indian community has been relying on them since 1995,” says Karen Souza, who got married in Chennai and works as an operations head at a consulting company in Bengaluru now.
These and many such small-time shops are making it big in their region, almost reminding us of ‘Shaadi Mubarak’ of YRF’s Band Baaja Baaraat fame. Now to see whether they’d be able to emulate the latter’s fictional upward trajectory in the real world, especially with the advent of dozens of startups trying to make inroads into this huge and prospering unorganised business.
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