His biz makes a pretty picture
Rishikesh Bahadur Desai, TNN Apr 18, 2010, 09.18pm IST
HUBLI: Here is further proof of the world being a small, flat place. Memories of marriages held in Sri Lanka are now being framed in albums made in Hubli, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of a young man.
Raju Ghanshamsa Malji, a college drop-out, dreamt big and went on to build one of the biggest photo studio chains in the state. He has also set up an album-making unit that has grown 20% annually for five years now.
Raju's Rich View company has exported over 4,000 designer album covers and other materials to Sri Lanka in the last one year. And the exports cover only around 10% of the total sales.
Raju's early life was hard __ his father migrated from Gadag to find work in a textile dying factory. Raju discontinued studies after SSLC and took up a job as an assistant in a photo studio in Dharwad.
After five years, he bought a black-and-white roll camera and started Raju Studio in a rented room. Later, he set up another branch for his younger brother and called it Photospot and took loans from KSFC/ commercial banks to set up a hi-tech lab in Hubli. Over the years, he has set up five studios and labs that print around 15,000 photos everyday. His brothers manage four of the studios.
Someone told him about the Photokina international photo exhibition held in Germany. He applied for a passport, wrote to the German consulate for a tourist visa and booked tickets. "Then, I did not even know English properly...and understanding German was out of question. But I went there since I wanted to learn," Raju said. He learnt a lot by attending exhibitions and trade fairs in Japan, China and France. International exposure helped him update his technical knowledge. "This helped me sense the technological trends in the industry two years in advance," he says.
During a wedding at a church, Raju met an NRI who was going around, showing photos of his son's marriage held in Britain. While the guests were appreciating the pictures, the album caught Raju's eyes. "He told me he had bought it for around Rs 20,000. I thought we could produce albums of similar quality for 5% of the price," he said, adding he later began thinking seriously about producing albums and consulted people in the business. He imported machinery from Japan and began an album-making unit in Hubli.
"We started off with three persons, but now our headcount has risen to 33," he said. The unit produces around 100 albums with over 20,000 pictures per day. Raju's staff also supervise printing of around 12,000 photos taken in the studio downstairs.
A recent visit to China made him understand the importance of mass production at low cost. He plans to expand his unit and treble his capacity. "If the Chinese can do it, why can't we?" Raju asks, sure of pulling it off one day.