All that glitters can turn out to be gold (literally and metaphorically speaking) if you know where to strike. Or so Dr Saurabh Gadgil, MD & CEO, PNG Jewellers, points out as he recounts his journey of helping one of India’s most loved jewellery brands find its wings.
By Amber Dias.
Strategy and creative thinking are the cornerstones of every good businessman. And sixth generation entrepreneur Dr Saurabh Gadgil has certainly honed these skills, taking PNG Jewellers, which was founded by his grandfather, to new heights. We caught up with him to learn a little more about how he turned a family business into a brand, and get a few insights into the stunning new festive collections.
Stepping into the family business, especially one with a legacy like PNG Jewellers, comes with a certain pressure. What was going through your head when you took over the helm and how does that compare to the headspace you find yourself in today?
My entry into the family business was very organic. There was never any pressure to join the business, it was purely a matter of interest. My grandfather and mentor, Late Shri Daji Kaka, was always particular about my vocation being my area of interest. Mom was particular about me finishing my studies before I entered the business. I was free to follow my heart and in my case, my heart was always in the jewellery business. Because my heart was in the right place, I enjoyed every moment of my journey.
The summer before I completed my MBA, I interned with the Reserve Bank of India, where I worked on a report on gold markets in India. It gave me a chance to meet bankers, economists and jewellers, thereby laying the foundation for my entry into the business full-time. I have now completed 21 years in the industry and have transformed a familyowned and operated business into a well-oiled corporate entity. PNG Jewellers today has 35 stores in India and two stores overseas.
Today, I am at the position where I am sitting at the top of the PNG Jewellers pyramid. So there is a lot of accountability and responsibility. From being a learner, I now play the role of mentor for many young leaders in our organisation. I started on the shop floor, working with the sales team, then I moved to the cash counter and learnt how to handle the money. Thereafter, I joined the merchandise team to understand how inventory works and how selections were made. It has been a learning curve and a gradual journey to reach here. It is because of all the hours spent on the floor in different departments that today I have been able to successfully steer the ship in the right direction. The focus remains on keeping the business healthy, ensuring the growth of all stakeholders, innovating and disrupting constantly, self-learning and guiding others, keeping the team together and channelising the collective strength of all PNG team members to achieve our goals. Therefore, my role today is less operational, more strategic and larger picture focused. This is a great headspace to be in and I am enjoying this phase of my career.
What are the pivotal steps you have taken to help the brand reach the heights it has today?
A brand is merely passion in action. Just having monetary goals will never be able to create long-term brand value. One has to balance healthy profits with the goodwill of its stakeholders by adding value to their lives. A brand is also a sum of its values, so a good brand never budges from its values. We at PNG Jewellers always have one eye on the future so that we can mould our business accordingly and stay relevant in changing times. This approach has allowed our brand to remain meaningful for over 190 years. Creating excellence across all touchpoints with the customer and our people has been the cornerstone of our brand. Be it designing and merchandising, in-store retail experience or our marketing efforts, everything we do stems from a place of passion.
We are also a brand that does not shy away from communicating externally. We are one of the only few brands that feel a certain responsibility to communicate aggressively externally, even during tough times like the pandemic. Keeping our ears to the ground and adapting to changing environments quickly while staying true to our values, has ensured that we stay relevant.
Chess and jewellery aren’t the most obvious pairing, however, you have credited your passion and knowledge of the game to helping you shape your business. Can you give us an insight into how that works?
The game of chess is designed to make you think about your next move, as well as that of your competitor. It pushes you to think three steps ahead at every stage to ensure you make the right moves and come out on top. Hence the nature of the game, and being involved with it since my childhood has helped me hone my skills better and use them in business. It has helped me time and again to take a step back and look at situations from a macro view, allowing me to understand what is going on with the market and strategies implemented by our competitors, and then plan our next move. Chess ingrains in us the constant need to evaluate and re-evaluate our moves, look at our actions or plans from multiple angles, and arrive at the best way forward. It also teaches us patience. Staying true to the larger goal requires a lot of patience. In running a business you face many obstacles, diversions and distractions too. There is no better sport than chess to teach us how to stay grounded, focused and patient to achieve the end goal and always remain one step ahead of the competition.
PNG Jewellers has a strong presence in India and abroad. What prompted the decision to expand?
The idea to expand overseas came about when I visited the USA over a decade ago. Meeting the Indian diaspora, which is a sizeable number, one of the things I realised was the desperate need of customers for an Indian jewellery store. By 2009, Indians in the USA who had been around for over two or three decades, were doing well in life, and needed a jewellery brand of Indian origin, one that understood Indian design and taste, and was trustworthy by name and legacy. So, we decided to launch our first store in the Bay Area of California, which had the largest congregation of Indians in the USA at that time. It has been over 12 years since we entered the US market. Since then, we have also expanded to the Middle East with our second store in Dubai at Meena Bazaar, one of the most well-known gold markets in the world. Our plans now are to penetrate deeper into both of these regions.
The pandemic hit businesses hard. How did you rise above the challenges it posed?
The mass hysteria coupled with the real threat to life and health and the economic downturn due to the lockdown triggered disruptions of an unimaginable scale. The effects have been far-reaching and organisations have had to make changes to their very being, let alone how they operate. The biggest disruption we have seen is that of technology and change in media consumption habits.
With the lockdowns coming into effect, we saw a massive shift to online mediums. It allowed us to recalibrate our communication, create an online experience that enabled our buyers to choose products from the comfort of their homes, and service our customers across the globe. We scaled our e-commerce efforts by increasing our product basket, reach and backend resources. We created meaningful dialogues with a new audience – the millennials and first-time gold investors. Our various initiatives across social media, outreach efforts through Whatsapp marketing and email marketing allowed us to effect transference of offline trust to our online store.
Our omnichannel initiatives were extremely critical during this transition. For example, we launched Pure Price in 2020, where we promoted the offer online, got people to purchase vouchers and then redeem them from our physical stores once the lockdown was lifted.
The pandemic ensured a renewed interest among the millennial audience in savings. We wanted to give them the right tools, information and knowledge along with examples of cases where people were not only able to deal with a rough time, but even excelled in their lives financially because they chose to invest in gold at the right time. We held regular zoom calls, did webinars during the lockdown and reinforced the idea of savings.
We also moved our attention and budgets to online marketing mediums, focusing heavily on using videos as a tool to tell our story and get our brand message across. We invested heavily in our online store to give the experience of our trust and the comfort of buying jewellery from home. Our storytelling through videos got phenomenal traction with as many as 1.5-2 million views.
We needed to find a balance between online services and our offline retail stores. Our stores were equipped with the new COVID-19 protocols and our staff were well-trained. We wanted to make sure that our customers had a sense of what they wanted to purchase before they came to our stores.
This was only possible through heavy promotion on social media, allowing customers to set up appointments and experience our product varieties via video and zoom calls with our sales teams. We launched our My PNG At My Home campaign to achieve this.
All these initiatives were only possible due to the trust our teams had in each other, working remotely, adopting new technology and changing with the times. We challenged ourselves to match our customers’ expectations during the pandemic, and earned their trust and respect all over again. Having moved our attention quickly to digital in an unprecedented way, we embraced the new normal, normalized the new buying experience for our customers, and got our teams ready for the future.
Tell us about the two new collections. What makes them stand out?
We recently launched our ‘Katha’ and ‘Ina’ collections with Bollywood sensation and actor par excellence Mrunal Thakur at our Thane store. The ‘Katha’ collection is a revival of jewellery styles and is made with 100-year-old heritage jewellery moulds.
The collection consists of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, kadas, etc with heritage motifs set in modern intricate jewellery designs, making it a perfect offering for the modern Indian woman who chooses heritage and traditional jewellery.
The ‘Ina’ collection, on the other hand, is a novel diamond jewellery collection. It is reflective of a woman’s inner strength that radiates from within, making her shine with confidence. The brilliant sparkle of natural diamonds in these jewellery pieces speaks volumes about a woman’s eternal beauty and unparalleled strength. Both these collections are available across all PNG Jewellers stores and are receiving phenomenal responses during this festive season.
We have also recently relaunched our silver jewellery brand under the name ‘Silvostyle – Fashion Next’. It will roll out silver jewellery products with a modern approach aimed at catering to the millennial and gen-z audience globally. All products under the new brand will be created in line with global jewellery trends.
What is your vision for the brand going forward?
The vision for PNG Jewellers as a brand is growth. By growth, I mean in all aspects. Be it financial, brand value, growth of our people, adding more stores in India as well as overseas, adding more product lines, better customer service, adding to our goodwill, being relevant in the industry and staying meaningful in our society through our CSR initiatives. I personally would want to create a legacy that the next generation can take forward.