The handicrafts czar

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The rich and famous from across the globe spend upto Rs 70-80 lakh to buy a hand woven silk carpet from one of his upmarket, plush showrooms in London, New York, Paris, Mauritius, Dubai or back home in New Delhi, Mumbai, Agra or Goa. He used to bring in chartered Concorde flights carrying upmarket clientele for shopping at his showrooms. Some of his richest clients fly into India in their private jets to do the same. The client list is the Who’s Who of the world and includes Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, Madonna and Madeline Albright. Yet, Rashid Mir, chairman of the Rs 600 crore Cottage Industries Exposition group, better known as CIE, is surprisingly low profile.

Mr Mir’s business strategy ever since he set up CIE in 1977 was to focus on the very rich Americans and Europeans. It paid off for 24 years with CIE expandings its network to set up top-of-the-line showrooms both withing and outside India. Foreign visitors and tourists lapped up CIE’s hand woven silk carpets, kashmir shawls, paper mache decorative articles, hand woven silk and wool fabric, silver object d’art and silver furniture, gold painted marble works, bronzes, sandalwood, rose wood stone and copper works of art, bejewelled wall hangings, tapestries and rugs, silk and cotton furnishing fabrics and modern contemporary jewellery including primitive jewellery.

Rashid Mir
“We changed craftsmanship into fine art,” reminisces Mr Mir. And then came the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, that triggered a crisis in the tourism industry. As Americans and Europeans preferred to stay home, CIE was among the companies to be hit hard. Sales plummeted by nearly 30 per cent and annual revenues slipped to just around Rs 200 crore.

But Mr Mir saw a new business opportunity even in such an environment. “After 9/11, we sat down and thought hard over how we could buck the trend. We decided to change our product profile. While continuing to focus on the top end foreign clientele, we also moved down in terms of pricing to target middle class foreign tourist and the rich and upper middle class Indian clientele,” recalls Mr Mir.

New showrooms were inaugurated, specially in south India and even in overseas markets. Product mix modifications were undertaken to remain in synergy with the time. CII classified showrooms as per customers’ purchasing power. Today, CIE has showrooms under 7 brands — Saga, Private Collection, Kashmir, Miraj, Shalimar, Etoile D’Orient and GTC.

“As a result, when things started to look up after a couple of years, flights began to be overbooked in holiday season and the hospitality industry went into the overdrive, CIE was already there, waiting to welcome the discerning world traveller and connoisseur,” says Mr Mir.

Today, of the Rs 600 crore turnover, as much as Rs 450-500 crore is earned by CIE in foreign exchange. The sharp growth in sales over the last two years has inspired Mr Mir to plan a string of new showrooms, 12 to be precise, over the next one year in Dubai, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Jodhpur among other cities.

CIE’s current network of showrooms is scattered over four continents — north America, Europe, Asia and Africa covering USA, Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Thailand, Indonesia, UAE, France and UK. CIE has 71 showrooms in India in cities like Delhi, Goa, Chennai, Mumbai, Cochin, Tanjore, Udaipur, Jaipur, Agra and Bangalore. Overseas showrooms are in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Dubai, Nairobi, Cape Town, Port Louis (Mauritius), Jakarta and Bali, Dubai and Bangkok.

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