Romancing Roopam


Multinationals can come and go, the big guys can flex their muscles with an all-India presence and national advertising but there are some brands in India which have impacted the collective consciousness of the buyers that in spite of just a solitary store, they are still known across the country and globally too. Mumbai’s Roopam is one such store

With a humble beginning in 1968, today the brand is a hit with its target audience which includes NRIs too. Their annual sale literally is no less than a stampede with customers vying to have their shopping bags to the brim. Sharing bits from the yesteryears, Viren Shah, Roopam says, “Roopam is the brainchild of my father – Raichand Korshi Shah. He started the brand borrowing money from my grandfather. This was in 1968.  The name has its origin in Sanskrit, meaning beautiful image.”

Shah’s grandfather had come to the island city at the age of eight. He worked for a local store before setting up a brand for stationary, files and notebooks under the name ‘Prabhat’.  Says Shah, “Roopam began with as a 500 sq.ft.  store and since my involvement it gradually expanded. Today we occupy a space of 30,000 sq. ft. across six levels.”

Roopam in a way has become a landmark in the bustling neighbourhood of Crawford Market. Citing the initial challenges, Shah states, “Challenges were not too many initially as there were very few stores in our league which could possibly compete with us. Things are different now with the advent of a malls and stand alone stores. The earlier roadblocks that we faced were on the lines of having a healthy debate with the family whether to spend lakhs on advertisements which they gradually then got accustomed to having witnessed the results. The advertisements helped us to reach our target audience not only in India but also helped us get a good chunk of NRI clients.”

Elaborating on Roopam’s advertisement campaigns, Shah says, “Our advertisements formed a part of our milestone years. Specially our advertisement campaign – Catch me, if you can where ours was the only store to have an advertisement done abroad every year. We were the first to get a permission to shoot at the Universal Studio in USA and even at Sun City in South Africa. In fact, post out Sun City shoot, the destination has become a tourist destination for Indians. Post that, we shot at Las Vegas, Bali, New York and other exotic locations. Our most recent advertisement has been shot at the Santorini Island in Greece and we also shot in Switzerland.”

According to Viren, from 1984 onwards, Roopam became a household name due to its advertisements, woolen department and franchises and branches across India. Gradually the brand expanded and opened Roopmilan Sarees at Marine Lines and Dadar in Mumbai. Roopam then had franchised outlets at Bandra (Mumbai), Delhi, Pune, Kolhapur, Dubai, Mauritius, Australia, USA and South Africa.

Though now except for Mauritius, all the other outlets have shut shop. Explaining the reason behind the discontinuation of the outlets, Shah explains, “Some of the franchise terms got over and some franchises’ did not do well as it was difficult to handle operations from Mumbai. The only operational franchise as of date is at Mauritius. We are open to having a franchise network abroad but not in India.”

Citing the USP of Roopam, Shah says, “We were always number one for woolens and this was primarily because we would sell woolens throughout the year and not just restrict it to the winter months. This brought in a lot of clients for us who would travel abroad.”

The brand managed to carve a niche for itself with an international clientele through their advertisements in Hindi Movie Cassettes which went all over the world. Roopam early on associated itself with designers, namely Rocky S, Neeta Lulla and many others. Shares Viren, Devdas costumes were made at our Roopam factory and they were designed by Neeta Lulla. I designed and gifted clothes to Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson and also Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton during their visit to India.”

As the brand grew, it expanded its product category as well to include a host of other merchandize other than apparels. Says Shah, “Well this decision was of my younger brother – Jiten Shah who felt that with a space of  about 30,000 sq.ft we could be a one stop destination for everything under a single roof. It has been seven years since we have diversified our product category. Besides our wedding and woolen specialty for family wear, today we have a wide range in the category of imitation jewellery, night wears, kitchen-wear, new born babies and accessories. In fact, our toy department is one of the largest in Mumbai.

Shah proudly claims that the success of Roopam is due to the strings still being held by the family. He says, “With our sales service, brand, goodwill and specialty department, we have kept the momentum going in spite of the stiff competition from other brands in the malls and on the high street. But I can confidently say that for woolens, traditional wear, toys and newborns, we are way ahead of others.”

Keeping pace with the growing ecommerce craze, Roopam has managed to carve a niche for itself in that space as well. Explains Viren, “We are doing excellent online business of traditional wear from abroad with delivery within just a couple of days post the order is confirmed. We tailor the garments as per the measurement.”

Commenting on the changing market dynamics and consumer preferences, Shah says, “Today, consumers do not want to waste time in purchase, they know their taste well in advance and do not bargain. Growth of retail in India is inevitable. Almost all international brands are available in India today. But somehow I do feel that the pace we have set for ourselves is fast and we are aping the West thus ignoring the ground reality and peculiarity of the Indian market and consumers. The issues that we face in the country include lack of infrastructure, cost of overheads and margin. We need to keep in mind that the buyer in India and the Indian conditions are not similar to what we find in the Western countries.”

Zainab Morbiwala
Penned it for STOrai 7th Ann issue


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