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‘An entrepreneur must master the art of saying ‘no’

Shadab Ahmad, an alumnus of Apeejay School – Panchsheel Park and owner of a successful handicraft business, says setting rules for saying ‘no’ makes the act of declining something easier



Set up in 1986, Shadab runs a successful family business of lifestyle handicraft products mainly for home decor. His company, The Kings, is based in Noida and has around 70 employees. Shadab says his products are exclusively exported to foreign markets. In an informal chat, the seasoned businessman explains why businesses must evolve, the strategic power of saying no, how to retain your customers, and more. Edited excerpts:

Tell us about your journey?

I joined the family business in 1995. Contrary to popular belief, running a family business is not as rosy or smooth as it seems. There are divergent views that you have to respect. In the initial years I worked as a typist and tried to learn the ropes. A considerable amount of my time and effort was also spent on understanding the market and researching consumer taste preferences. You can’t occupy the executive chair on the first day of joining the business. In Apeejay, I learned a lot about business, pricing, products and quality from my commerce teachers and that stayed with me forever.

How important is it to constantly evolve your business?

Everything in business is constantly evolving so you have to be on your toes. If you don’t change with time you may very well fade out of the picture. Over time a product evolves in terms of features, functionalities, quality, offerings, etc. to better serve its purpose and customer needs. I have regularly travelled to the US, Europe and China to attend International Furniture Fairs to understand the current industry trends. It’s also a good way to raise your profile and generate brand awareness. Though necessary, the expenditure you incur attending these trade fairs is massive. I had even hired European minds to come up with fresh design inspiration ideas. Though, now I oversee everything.

What are the best ways to retain your customers?

Acquiring new customers is always welcome. However, many businesses make the mistake of overlooking the loyal customers and focus most of their marketing efforts on attracting new ones. Many customers give equal weightage to the quality of your service and the quality of your product. I believe there should be a genuine warmth as customers who feel valued keep coming back to use your service. For instance, many of our customers are 25-30 years old. They stood by us even during the pandemic. That helped our business stay afloat. Importantly, be clear and transparent with your customers. Make it easy for customers to understand what you’re about as a business and what to expect when they buy from you.

Your advice to budding entrepreneurs?  

An entrepreneur should be ready for continuous challenges and failures. There’s no perfect business strategy for starting a business without encountering a certain number of challenges and outright failures. Even seasoned entrepreneurs face countless hurdles on a day-to-day basis. Also, an entrepreneur must master the art of saying ‘no’. Learning to say ‘no’ comes in handy in everyday life, but in many scenarios it’s essential for businesses also. In business, saying ‘yes’ all the time can really hurt growth. If you have set rules for saying ‘no’, the act of declining something becomes easier. But it’s essential to say ‘no’ gracefully and with respect since the chances of encountering the same people in your industry are pretty high. Thirdly, what I have learned over the years is that commitment and quality are sacrosanct. Pricing comes later. 

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]