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My first million: Upasna Sarin

March 13, 2004

Upasna Sarin, the 34-year-old owner of Finesse, a shoe store in Delhi's Greater Kailash, says that she is a perfectionist. She claims it is her eye for detail and the desire to be the best that has helped Finesse record a turnover of Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million), which is likely to go up to Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million) next fiscal.

In 1991, after graduating from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi, Sarin and a friend bought bags worth Rs 10,000 from Mumbai and sold them in Delhi. That's how Finesse was born. Today, there are two Finesse stores in Delhi and Sarin plans to have four more in the next five years.

"I have always been very passionate about financial independence. Even when I was in school I used to do summer jobs to earn pocket money. But more than that, I'm a person who likes to live life on her own terms.

"After graduation I looked around for jobs and was offered one as a saleswoman for washing machines and another one to market credit cards. But I knew I couldn't really work for someone else.

"In 1991, a friend of mine and I went to Bombay where we bought bags worth Rs 10,000. We then sold them in Delhi for a profit. That was the beginning and I've never really looked back.

"By the end of 1991, I had set up Finesse in a small garage. I bought bags and hair accessories from Bombay and sold them in Delhi. I then moved on to a 4ft x 8ft store in M Block market, Greater Kailash, where besides the bags I started selling salwar suits.

"These I bought on consignment from an aunt of mine. However, my creative urge was not being satisfied as I was selling readymade stuff. So, by the mid-'90s I stopped selling salwar suits.

"I was selling shoes during this period but they were in small numbers. I decided to concentrate full time on shoes and bags. I was also in expansion mode and by this time I had two small stores in M Block market.

"Initially I was duped by manufacturers as I was new to the game. Often I was sold defective pieces but I soon learnt from my mistakes.

"Today I deal with eight manufacturers who are based in Delhi, Mumbai and Punjab. I design all the shoes myself and 50 per cent of the bags are my designs. I've developed an emotional rapport with the manufacturers by ensuring that they receive payments on time and they get steady orders.

"This works to my benefit as I am assured that they will not copy my designs and sell them to someone else. Nearly 20 per cent of my stock is imported. I buy from Thailand and China and source jootis from Pakistan.

"In 2000, I moved to a 2,000 sq ft store in M Block market and gave up the other two smaller stores that I was using. By 2002, another store was opened in Khan Market.

"In the next five years, I'm looking at opening four more stores -- one in Delhi and three outside Delhi. I'm looking at cities like Chandigarh and Kolkata.

"This is because the tastes of women in these cities is similar to that of Delhi women and so I can cater to all the stores without making drastic changes in design. If on the other hand, I was to open a store in Bangalore or Chennai, I'd have to introduce a whole new change.

"Over the last decade, the Delhi woman has become very gutsy as far as shoes are concerned. She is willing to experiment with styles and designs.

"Even the workmanship in Delhi has improved. While earlier I bought most of the shoes from Bombay, now nearly 40 per cent is sourced from Delhi.

"What makes Finesse different from other shoe stores is that we get the comfort and styling ratio right. Our focus is 60 per cent on comfort and 40 percent on styling. If you reverse the ratio, sales will fall.

"I feel the shoe business is like the doctor's profession. If you trust a doctor, you go to him again and again.

"Similarly, if you buy shoes from one place and you are happy with the styling, comfort, quality and design, you will go there again and again.

- As told to Smita Tripathi

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