Simran Lal: Your employees are the best brand ambassadors
The chief executive officer of Good Earth talks about crafting a business strategy, building and contemporizing the Good Earth brand and finding her feet from one family business to anotheras the creative director of Nicobar
She begins with a disclaimer: “Managing my money isn’t my strongest point. I consult a bunch of wealth managers to manage my money."
Yet Simran Lal’s one-point agenda to “grow my business" shows a talent for tactical and thoughtful moves. In the 15 years during which she has been chief executive of Good Earth, a company her mother Anita Lal started 21 years ago, Simran Lal, 46, has added layers of branding, expansion and strategic collaborations. The company closed the financial year 2016 with revenue of Rs150 crore.
Good Earth’s brand equity lies in high-end, high-quality products across the fashion, interiors and lifestyle space that contemporize the crafts heritage of India.
Lal, who grew up in New Delhi in what was “not a conventional business family", recalls regular visits to the Crafts Museum, the state emporia, potters’ villages and Delhi Blue Pottery studios, and cultural centres. “My interests lay in a combination of archaeology, Indology, languages, art history and architecture," says Lal, who studied art history at Bangalore University, and went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York before taking over the reins of Good Earth in 2002.
“When I joined Good Earth full-time, I found my mother’s passion lay in the design aspect of things. The company itself spent a lot of time dwelling over the look, feel, shape of things, researching historical sources for authentic narratives, and rightly so," says Lal.
The logical move then was to look at the business side of things. “Starting out, I didn’t think it was my forte, but I thought, it’s our company and this is my challenge. Let me throw myself behind it," she says.
In the years that followed, Good Earth gradually expanded from two stores—Kemps Corner, Mumbai; and Ambawatta Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi—to 12 across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Jaipur, and Istanbul in Turkey, in the process creating a distinct identity as a luxury retailer of Indian craft and design.
In 2005, Good Earth opened its flagship store in Raghuvanshi Mills, Mumbai—a 20,000 sq. ft space spread over two levels with experiential settings. “It really catapulted us into the luxury space," says Lal.
In 2007, Lal spearheaded the opening of the store in Delhi’s Khan Market, a smaller, intimate space with a lot of character. Lal’s timing was flawless—Khan Market was emerging as the window to the world, “a market that was visited by everyone who visited India or New Delhi".
Lal was quick to realize the need for an online presence. “When I joined Good Earth, the digital space was just picking up, yet it was so fast-paced, and I must admit, I struggled quite a bit to get that right." After two half-successful, nascent website versions, the Good Earth “web boutique" was launched in 2013.
Considering how much of the stories behind Good Earth’s products is based in the visual and material culture of India, Lal sensed a scope for the brand to move in a knowledge-based museum space. In 2015, Lal collaborated with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, to put together an exhibition titled The Fabric of India. Led by curators Rosemary Crill and Divia Patel, it showcased the textile history of India. Good Earth partly sponsored the show, its products were retailed there, and it continues to have a space in the museum shop, enabling international exposure through a prestigious channel. “It was our 19th year, going into the 20th, and this opportunity came our way. I could take it or leave it. But I felt it was a step towards building up Good Earth as a thought leader," says Lal.
In 2016, Lal along with her husband, Raul Rai, set up Nicobar, an interiors and clothing design brand with a pared-down, casual-chic aesthetic—a contrast to the more ornate and opulent aesthetic of Good Earth. “As if our lives weren’t hectic enough," says the mother of two boys, aged 8 and 9. What is it like to work with family? Lal admits to “being lucky" that all three of them—she, her mother and her husband—are in sync when it comes to their vision for the brand. “Of course, we have different working styles, but the values are the same," she says, values that include a passion for Indian heritage, the need for “authenticity" in their products and branding, and creating a supportive work culture for their employees.
She believes in hiring good people and taking care of them because employees are ambassadors. “They are simply the best brand ambassadors of our company," she says. At the Good Earth headquarters studio in Delhi’s Mehrauli, a beautiful leafy complex, one is likely to spot people working on an outdoor patio, sketching motifs and patterns inspired by, for instance, the era of Tipu Sultan (a Good Earth dinner set titled “Golkonda" drew from the history of Mysuru).
“Consider the amount of time your company’s employees spend at work every single day. It is their life, it defines them too. This is where they earn, learn and make friends," says Lal. “Growing your business includes taking people along with you as you grow. That is possibly my biggest learning."
Name: Simran Lal
Designation: Chief executive officer, Good Earth, and creative director, Nicobar
Education: Product design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York
What is your money mantra? Though managing money isn’t her strongest point, her one-point agenda is to grow her business.
Name: Vikram Lal
Net worth: $7.3 billion
Source of wealth: Motorcycle manufacturing
Education: Engineering from Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany
Brief: In 1966, Vikram Lal, the patriarch at Eicher Motors Ltd, started working in Eicher, then a tractor-maker founded by his father Man Mohan Lal. Last year, Eicher opened its flagship Royal Enfield store in Milwaukee, US, the home of rival Harley-Davidson. It launched the much-anticipated Himalayan adventure bike in 2016 and followed it with its first Australian exclusive brand store in Melbourne, among other stores. Son Siddhartha, who runs Eicher, is overseeing the company’s global expansion from London. Vikram’s father founded a tractor shop called Goodearth Co. in 1948; a decade later he partnered with German firm Eicher, renaming the business Eicher Tractor.
Source: Forbes Rich List