Sheela Kochouseph Chittilappilly shares her experience as a business entrepreneur during these trying times
She has been an inspiration to many especially in Kerala, for she started her journey as an entrepreneur when people would have chosen to retire. Within a short period of time, her handwork and determination paid off and she proudly strode into the 100 crore club with her brand, V Star. She admits it wasn’t easy and she had to face many challenges before she could successfully establish herself in the field of business. The pandemic that struck havoc across the world took its toll on Kerala too, with entrepreneurs struggling to survive amidst restrictions and a dull market that was recuperating from the effects of the lockdown. But the brand V Star once again recognised the opportunity and strategised to sail through the pandemic. Ritz is in conversation with the Founder and MD of V Star, Sheela Kochouseph Chittilappilly who tells us how, as an entrepreneur, she tackled the issues created by the pandemic.
Interview: Riya Sonny Datson
The pandemic hasn’t been easy on anyone. How did the lockdown affect an established brand like V Star?
Like every other business, we were also affected by the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. We have had to shut shop all through the lockdown and our stores at the malls remained closed for a longer time. Sales came down drastically but the expenses remained high. It was definitely not easy.
What were the main challenges you faced?
Unlike in other parts of the country, in Kerala due to high Covid numbers, for a long time, we were open only three days a week which meant that the footfall inside the store was higher during those days. This was a cause of concern as we were putting our customers and employees at risk. Apart from that there were strict covid protocols to be followed like having limited number of staff during working days and restricting the number of customers at any given point which adversely affected sales. Though our revenue dipped, salary and expenses like rental and electricity still had to be cleared, which was very challenging. But being in the inner wear segment worked to our advantage as people needed the product everyday. When compared to other products in the clothing and fashion segments, we performed slightly better. I am glad that the restrictions have been pulled back and the market is open now.
What has been your strategy to sail through this pandemic?
When Covid started almost two years ago, our office and production units had to be shut down. We had stock of raw materials, machinery and workers but we couldn’t utilise our resources as the markets were closed. But then, we realised that there was a growing demand for masks. I had a couple of masks that I had bought from Vietnam during one of my trips and I handed them over to my design team as a reference. Soon V Guard and Wonderla reached out to us and requested that we make masks for the employees and that’s how we started the production of masks. We made around 14 different varieties of masks.It was a boon for us as we could make use of our raw materials, use machinery that was lying idle and assign work to our employees and the design time. Eventually we became the leaders in the mask segment. We even exported masks and did sales worth INR 4 crores. I had decided that I would continue production only if we could sell masks throughout South India and thankfully it worked. We also cut down our expenditure in terms of rentals and credit to suppliers. We reduced manpower and trained our team to multitask so that we could utilise their talent and skill to its full potential. In a way, the pandemic has brought in positive changes in the organisation as well. We did manage to open over five new showrooms amidst the pandemic. It surprised many that we had chosen to move to a bigger showroom in Kochi during trying times but we had belief in our products, our customers and the market and things are looking up now. Though expected sales didn’t happen last year, things have improved.
At a personal level, what kept you motivated during difficult times?
Not being able to travel and meet my family was one of the most difficult things for me but I decided to use my time in the most fruitful way possible. I brushed up my hobbies and skills in painting, gardening and flower arrangements and I must say all that has helped me to stay positive and channel my energies into things that are beautiful and creative.
What is your biggest takeaway from the lockdown?
I have come to realise that no matter how bad the situation is, we will eventually find a way out if we are determined to perform. We need to stay positive and find solutions than focus on our problems. We should also keep our team motivated during a crisis as it is the team that is behind every successful brand. We at VStar are working together to innovate and come up with new products. We are expecting a good growth this year.