TS Kalyanaraman, chairman and managing director of Kalyan Jewellers, was not exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The only business asset he inherited from his father, TK Seetharam Iyer, was a textile store in Kerala’s Thrissur district. Starting out as an apparel store in the ’90s, Kalyan’s entrepreneurial journey has made it one of India’s largest jewellery chains.
The shift to jewellery from textile was triggered by customers. “A lot of our customers did their wedding shopping from our textile store. At one point, some of them suggested we start a jewellery showroom, too. By then, my family had earned the trust of a lot of customers, while in jewellery retail there was no standard for purity,” recounts Kalyanaraman. Inspired by his customers’ goodwill, he opened his first jewellery store, Kalyan Jewellers, in 1993, in Thrissur, and redefined the way ornaments were sold.
At 4,000 square feet, the store was about 10 times the size of an average jeweller back then. But, more importantly, it stocked readymade ornaments. “In the early ’90s, jewellery was a made-to-order business. Since I began in the textile business, I asked myself: ‘If a shirt or a saree can be sold readymade, why not jewellery?’” says Kalyanaraman.
The retailer operated just that one store for the next seven years. But by 2011, Kalyan Jewellers was in every major South Indian city, with the exception of Chennai. “For Chennai, I wanted to do what I had done in 1993—the store had to be done in a certain style and scale,” says Kalyanaraman. In April this year, Kalyan finally opened a store in the southern metropolis. Spread across 40,000 square feet, the showroom stocks about 600 kg of jewellery at any point and registers a footfall of 700 on weekdays and 1,200 on weekends. Kalyanaraman claims it is the largest jewellery store in Asia, adding that Chennai is touted to be the world’s biggest jewellery market.
Kalyan Jewellers operates 72 retail stores in India and 13 abroad (ten in the United Arab Emirates and three in Kuwait) and has set a target to scale this up to 100 by the end of next March. The company also has plans to open six stores in Qatar by the end of this financial year.
The person behind it
Kalyanaraman comes from a family of priests and ministers of the maharajas. “My great grandfather, TR Ramachandra Iyer, was the first to enter business in our family when he started a textile mill [Sitaram Mills] in 1908 in Thrissur,” says Kalyanaraman. Sitaram Mills was subsequently acquired by the state government and continues to operate in Thrissur.
Kalyanaraman, who has a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Calicut, never dreamt that Kalyan Jewellers would grow beyond his hometown. But, given that his father had set up five textile stores for each of his five sons, Kalyanaraman decided to adopt the same approach for his two sons. Thus, in 2000, he opened a second store in Palghat, 70 km from Thrissur. “It was a milestone for me. I wanted to start a second showroom and put my younger son there,” he recalls.
Today, Kalyanaraman, 64, has a net worth that is a shade over $1 billion. He ranked 87 on Forbes’s list of 100 richest Indians in 2014.