In the bustling temple town of Thrissur, a glittering empire was born. Ranked as India’s wealthiest small town, Thrissur boasts the combined wealth of the rich, with a net worth exceeding ₹1,000 crore. This radiant success story centers around one man—TS Kalyanaraman, the founder of Kalyan Jewellers, whose net worth now exceeds a billion dollars. The brand, which emerged just three decades ago with a single store, has seen its revenues reach ₹14,071 crore in FY23, spreading its brilliance across 194 outlets in India and West Asia.
The Journey Begins
Kalyanaraman’s entrepreneurial journey started generations ago. His forefathers, originally from Tamil Nadu, migrated to Kerala, with textile mills running in their blood. Ramesh Kalyanaraman, TS Kalyanaraman’s son, fondly remembers the family’s textile legacy, especially the Seetharaman mill. Ramesh narrates that his father was entrusted with managing one of the textile stores at a young age, instilling a strong business acumen.
At the age of 21, TS Kalyanaraman’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to branch into the world of jewelry. It was the sincere requests of his customers, whom he shared a deeply personal connection with, that encouraged this diversification. People wished to purchase both sarees and jewelry for their children’s weddings from the same destination. Thus, the first Kalyan Jewellers store opened its doors in 1993, with an initial capital of ₹1 crore. TS Kalyanaraman invested ₹25 lakh from his savings and secured a loan of ₹75 lakh to turn this vision into reality.
Creating a Radiant Difference
Kalyan Jewellers set itself apart from the competition in Thrissur. While most gold jewelry retailers of the time focused on crafting custom-made jewelry based on orders, TS Kalyanaraman thought differently. He brought a textile business perspective to the jewelry industry, offering a collection of ready-to-buy pieces. This approach required a more extensive display area and dedicated parking—a concept that was quite revolutionary at the time.
What followed was a heartwarming testament to the Kalyan brand’s value. Customers postponed their children’s weddings for over two months to shop at Kalyan Jewellers. TS Kalyanaraman recalls how humbled he felt and attributes this success to the presence of a higher power and the unwavering loyalty of their customers. This customer-centric ethos has remained at the heart of Kalyan Jewellers, fostering a sense of responsibility among the employees who understand the pivotal role customers play in sustaining the brand.
The expansion of Kalyan Jewellers mirrored the model established by TS Kalyanaraman’s grandfather, who believed in giving each son an independent store. Consequently, TS Kalyanaraman extended this model to his two sons—Ramesh and Rajesh. Ramesh was entrusted with setting up a store in Palakkad, while Rajesh inaugurated one in Thrissur.
The Palakkad store became a turning point, highlighting the diversity in consumer behavior even within close geographical areas. Initially, Kalyan replicated the 4,000 sq ft Thrissur store in Palakkad, offering identical products. Yet, within two years, the store and retail strategy had to be restructured. While customers in Thrissur preferred straightforward transactions without bargaining, Kalyan’s expansion into locations like Tamil Nadu required a more flexible approach, involving discounts and personalized customer interactions.
Interestingly, the Palakkad store’s opening coincided with a time of uncertainty in Coimbatore due to a bomb blast, diverting shoppers to Palakkad. This shift in consumer behavior in response to location-specific cultural nuances led to Kalyan’s adoption of a localized retail and product strategy in other regions.
The Glittering Footprint
Kalyan’s expansion initially focused on southern states before venturing into Gujarat in 2012, marking its first move outside the southern region. A high-impact marketing campaign featuring Amitabh Bachchan accompanied this geographical expansion, leading to an enduring relationship between the star and the Kalyanaramans.
Today, Kalyan Jewellers is recognized as the only hyperlocal national brand in India. The brand is known for its traditional and exquisite wedding jewelry, which accounts for 50% of its business. To resonate with a younger audience, Kalyan has introduced lighter and trendier designs. Their e-commerce brand, Candere, caters to the more contemporary consumer.
Marketing has played a pivotal role in Kalyan’s journey. Apart from Big B, the brand has employed a galaxy of regional stars to align with their hyperlocal strategy. Ramesh emphasizes that continual marketing investment is essential to educate and engage with an ever-evolving audience.
Despite rapid expansion and listing on the stock market in 2021, the Kalyanaramans remain committed to a disciplined family life. They start their day early, offering prayers, and maintain a close-knit, god-fearing family. As lovers of classical music and movies, the family shares these passions over weekends, nurturing strong bonds and memories with relatives and friends.
Kalyan Jewellers’ golden journey continues as they open stores across India, always focusing on their core values of humility and consumer-centricity. Professional CEO Sanjay Raghuraman oversees daily operations, while Ramesh and Rajesh maintain a close rapport with their father, ensuring that the legacy of Kalyan Jewellers remains vibrant and shining.
In the grand narrative of the Kalyanaramans, the story always ends with one heartfelt message: Casting the boat into the water may be hard work, but watching it sail on golden waves is an equally rewarding journey.
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