When none of the women in her family had stepped out of home for work or business, Ina Chhabra bravely charted new territory and today runs Sai Melamine Crockery, employing 200 workers and churning out a turnover of over Rs 3 crore.
When Neeraj Chhabra and his wife Ina moved to Bengaluru along with their two little children in 2001, they were leaving behind a stable life in New Delhi to start afresh in a new city. From a 14-room ancestral home and the cocoon of a joint family, they moved to a much smaller rented accommodation and had to learn to face life as a nuclear family. But Ina adapted fast and while bringing up her schoolgoing children, she also joined her husband’s button business.
Neeraj had established the button factory — ‘Ina India Limited’ — in Bengaluru’s Hoskote Industrial Area. The reason behind the move from New Delhi was sheer common sense. Tirupur in Tamil Nadu used to be the hub for textile manufacturers and till 2001, buttons for all garments used to come in from the northern part of the country. A supplier from a South Indian city greatly simplified the logistics and reduced time and cost for the buyers.
Neeraj and Ina bagged their very first order worth a hefty Rs 3 crore from a leading brand. The couple tackled the challenge of delivering the order on time and soon Ina was the only woman in the competitive button industry dealing with big brands like Madura Garments, Arvind Mills, GAP, and Tommy Hilfiger.
While working with the button manufacturing unit, Ina realised the potential of melamine crockery. The button business was becoming stable and Ina started collecting information on crockery manufacturing.
Ina managed to get the seed capital and set up Sai Melamine Crockery in 2006 on the premises of the button factory. Fifty-one-year-old Ina says,
Though my husband and I are from a family of business people and bureaucrats, none of the women of my generation used to work. But I had made up my mind to have a successful business of my own and somehow managed to tackle all the impediments in my way despite my lack of experience.
Melamine crockery is made by compressing melamine powder in hydraulic machines. Her team consists of 200 employees, most of whom are women. Operating the machinery requires some amount of physical strength. However, that doesn’t deter the women working for her, who join the men in all segments of the manufacturing unit.
Today Ina’s factory produces 300 dinner sets on a daily basis and 10,000 dinner sets a month, with an average monthly revenue of Rs 25 lakh that goes up to Rs 70 lakh during festive seasons, especially Diwali.
Ina would initially supply to the unorganised sector, i.e. retail outlets, but she soon started catering to a few B2B clients like Country Club, The Chocolate Room, and various other restaurants in Bengaluru. From the beginning, it was a profitable venture for a small-scale business unit.
Ina’s focus on B2B clients has resulted in a deal with Spar Hypercity, marking her foray into a more organised client segment. Total, D-Mart, Big Bazaar, and Metro became customers of Sai Melamine with a sales team of just one salesperson. Ina also invested in more automated machinery and hired more manpower so that to the production capacity could match the demand. She was also particular about personally designing new moulds to cater to changing tastes. The competition from domestic manufacturers was intense but the main challenge was from the ‘Made in China’ products flooding the entire marketplace.
Ina’s reputation in the industry is so well entrenched that even some of her competitors consult her for design and creative inputs. She has come a long way from the newbie of the initial days whom many vendors assumed they could take for a ride.
Ina’s daughter Arushi has taken after her and started Sunday, the spa. There is pride in her voice when Arushi says, “My mother’s ‘ghar ke nuske’ and her knowledge of home remedies easily facilitated the launch of a care-based spa. We primarily use organic products and natural plant extracts to cure doshas for holistic wellbeing.”
Ina Chhabra is a beautiful combination of ambition and grace, a woman who did justice to practical matters while striving for her idyllic dreams.