India has a burgeoning middle class with money to spend, a large English-speaking population. SmallBusiness.co.uk talks to the UK entrepreneurs who are cashing in on the world’s second-fastest-growing economy.
India has a burgeoning middle class with money to spend, a large English-speaking population. SmallBusiness.co.uk meets the UK entrepreneurs who are cashing in on the world’s second-fastest-growing economy.
Two years ago Dalbir Bains fell victim to the entrepreneurial bug and quit her career as head of buying in the lingerie and nightwear division for Sir Philip Green at British Home Stores.
Setting up her own boutique in London struck her as too straightforward. ‘People would’ve said: “Yeah, fine, she has 16 to 17 years of lingerie experience; that’s no real surprise.”’
A lingerie shop in India, however, was something else. ‘That’s a real sense of achievement,’ says Bains, who admits to selling ‘pretty much everything’ to run Boudoir London in Mumbai.
It’s been a steep learning curve, especially as Bains has never run her own company before: ‘You’re in a city and your family and friends aren’t there, and the culture is very different. Then you’re also trying to sell a product that no-one understands.’
Anshul Kapoor knows how demanding India can be. The co-founder of graphic design agency Image Foundry Studios set up an office in Delhi and has found the first 18 months challenging: ‘We’ve had to run the UK and India offices side by side. It’s taken us about a year and a half to make sure the customer is getting the right quality.’
The expansion into Delhi made sense to Kapoor as it’s an ‘in-road to the East’. A significant investment has been made to train designers and the rewards are now starting to show. ‘We’re winning work over the local market and still charging double the going rate. Our view is that if you want quality work, you have to pay for it,’ claims Kapoor.
After the initial trauma of adjustment, Bains is delighted by Boudoir London’s popularity.
‘I think our store has been instrumental in changing people’s attitudes. I feel like a pioneer, coming into a place where the market for lingerie didn’t exist. In India, 95 per cent of women would be wearing the wrong bra size.’
Bains’ personal satisfaction is evident. The business is performing well and she is seeking to expand the company. ‘I came here to launch a national chain of premium lingerie stores and I definitely can’t lose sight of that goal. It’s the objective and now I have to crack on and make that happen.’
India is flourishing in the heat of a consumer boom. Corporates are generating surplus cash of around $175 billion (£86 billion), while foreign direct investment recently broke the $15 billion barrier. The International Monetary Fund revised the country’s GDP growth by 0.6 percentage points up to nine per cent last year and growth of 20 to 30 per cent per annum is the norm for companies.
Strange then that UK businesses appear to be ignoring the expansion opportunities presented by India.
Part of the reason is the sheer amount of paperwork needed to start up in India. It undoubtedly has a reputation for being a difficult, complex country. In the UK, you can register a business in a day at Companies House, whereas in India approval on a variety of levels is required.
Then comes the challenge of establishing a bank account. Once you have the company formed, it’s something separate again to get the appropriate licensing in order to transfer money into the country.
In certain cases, but not all, you’ll need the approval of the Foreign Investment Board, plus you need to register with all the relevant tax authorities. The bureaucracy can be bewildering but the rewards great.
Easy it won’t be, but expanding into India could be the best commercial decision you ever make.