From Rags to Riches-The Story of Balaji Wafers
It is said that real business does not require cash filled pockets, rather it needs a perfect blend of perseverance, the will to succeed and an attitude that never wishes to give up.
Born to a farmer in a small village in Jamnagar district of Gujarat, Chandubhai was the youngest of the 4 brothers and had a tough childhood. Due to scarcity of rain, farming was tough and the family was barely able to make their ends meet. Eventually Chandubhai’s father sold off his cultivable land and after a couple of failed ventures in the fertilizer industry the brothers shifted to Rajkot in a bid to start a new business but the problem was that they had little money. So they started working in a canteen of the newly inaugurated Astron cinema. The owner was pleased with the brothers and allowed them to run the canteen on a revenue sharing contractual basis.
One of the hot selling items in the canteen was wafers. The Viranis used to buy readymade packets and sell them. Chandubhai was just 17 years old and had given up school to lend a helping hand to his brothers. He decided to set up a tawa at home to fry potato chips and namkeen to supply it to the canteen. This helped the Viranis earn a little more on each sale. Their wafers became popular and the brothers decided to sell them to other shops in the city by the name ‘Balaji’ .
The initial months were difficult. The shopkeepers would often return half consumed packets of chips and claim that the customers did not like them. They would pay them in torn soiled notes or even refused to pay for months. Chandubhai would personally visit the shopkeepers and ensured that the payment was received on time.
Gradually the faith of shopkeepers increased in the brand and the number loyal customers increased. The business expanded between 1982 and 1989, but the profit was marginal. So they made necessary upgrades such as importing an automatic wafers making machine, adding more staff to the team and purchasing a tempo for delivery to various shops in order to boost production. By 1989, Balaji was selling wafers worth 2 lakh rupees every month and by 1992 the company had a turnover of 3 crore rupees.
Balaji dominated the market in Gujarat and its neighboring states. But Chandubhai was not satisfied with the success. He knew that new brands like Uncle Chips and multinationals like Lays were steadfastly gaining a loyal consumer base and it would be difficult for a small company like theirs to compete in such a heated market.
The Viranis invested more and more in technology and in improving the quality of the product unlike their competitors who were engaged in frantic advertising . Chandubhai had a firm belief that if their product was good enough, then word of mouth was enough for its publicity. This has proved to be true for him.
The company was valued at 4000 crore rupees in 2016 and continues to grow every year. Even today Balaji has been able to dominate both Lays and Haldiram in chips and namkeen respectively with over 65% market share in the 5 states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Goa where it is available.
Chandubhai hasn’t let his incomplete education obstruct his passion for business and continues to work hard to make his company a household name in India. What this story teaches us is that one really doesn’t need an established family name or an eight figure bank balance to start with to achieve the heights of business that Balaji wafers has.