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It Pays to Stay Focused

Sar taj’s success holds an important lesson for us all. It pays to stay focused ... Stay true to your core

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Sartaj Tailors in Pune is a tailor with a difference. They only do alterations. So when someone needs that kurta to be tightened just a bit at the hip, or the length of the trouser to be shortened 3/4th of an inch, they know where to go. 

Sartaj started off as a hole-in-the-wall operation in the crowded basement of a shopping centre. And as the business grew, he took over space next door, and then the shop next to that and then after a while, the next one too. Today they employ 22 tailors, and they even have a swanky road-facing air-conditioned shop in the same shopping centre. And they still do only alterations. No frills. Good service. Great value.   

When we think of Indian entrepreneurs, we don’t really think of businesses like this one. We don’t really celebrate a Sartaj like we might a fancy new fintech business or a cool new app developer. He won’t feature in that cover story on the top ten hottest startups. And won’t ever be in the running for that entrepreneur of the year award. But maybe we need to celebrate the ‘Sartajs’ amidst us. And we can all learn a lesson or two from them.

Sartaj is a testimony to that old dictum that great businesses start with trying to solve a real customer problem. Everyone likes to wear well-fitting clothes, but readymade garments, by their very nature, don’t quite make the cut. If the waist is right, the length is off, if the collar is right, the shoulders droop. So the choices for customers are straightforward. Wear ill-fitting clothes. Or get them altered. And alterations aren’t easy. The neighbourhood tailor is fast vanishing, and you always feel a bit of a cheapo walking into a tailor’s shop with that guilty look, having to request for alteration. And it didn’t help that the tailor would make you wait while he attended to his real customers – the folks wanting to get something stitched. Sartaj makes it easy for you to get the alteration done. While you wait!

And even as you wait for the job to be done, you will often find a customer walk in with a request to get a dress stitched. And they will turn the customer away, politely informing her that they only do alterations.

You can imagine what might have happened if Sartaj was a business like the ones you and I are familiar with. Diversification would have been the mantra! Consultants would have advised us that we were leaving value on the table, and not quite maximising customer lifetime value. Young MBAs would recommend moving up the value chain. You get the drift.

Sartaj’s success holds an important lesson for us all. It pays to stay focused. Own a niche. Stay true to your core and don’t get distracted by diversification opportunities. Learn to say No. Sartaj could have picked up some extra revenue a few years ago by diversifying into tailoring. But I doubt he’d have been as successful – and as well-known today. Being a specialist, staying focused, has helped build a fantastic business.

I am sure there are many Sartaj like businesses all around us. Success stories that no one talks about. Hidden gems. Unsung heroes. If you are looking for inspiration and advice, you only need to look around.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Prakash Iyer

Iyer is an author, speaker and leadership coach , and former MD of Kimberly Clark Lever

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