Clubb Class : Up Close

the-economic-times-clubb-international-pvt-ltdFull Transcript: Tarun Mullick, managing director of eastern India’s leading soft luggage markers Clubb International, seems to have it all: a cushy lifestyle, a thriving business and a brand that is going from strengths to strength.  He’s called upon regularly to take classes on entrepreneurship at National Centre for Jute Diversification and deliver lectures at  IISWBM and West Bengal State Export Promotion Society. “My greatest achievement is probably that I have helped to create some 200 entrepreneurs so far,” says the 49-year old Mullick.

But it hasn’t been such a smooth ride to the top. Life dealt Mullick an early blow where he lsot his father at the age of seven. There were days when he had to skip breakfast and walk all the way back to his Burrabazar home after table tennis practice at Armenian Street. The sudden demise of his father made Mullick, an ace table tennis player of his time, to give up the game and start fending for himself pretty early. “I turned entrepreneur at 18 when most people don’t think beyond studies,” says Mullick. Though a few job offers came his way because of his success in table tennis, they didn’t interest him much.

“That was 1977-78. I was keen on doing something on my own and started weighing options. Since I was born and brought up in Burrabazar, I had a fair idea of doing business. My table tennis coach, Indu (Indu Puri), inspired me and after consulting elders in the family. I decided to buy a PVC welding machine to stitch files and folders. Somehow, I managed to procure the machine at a part-payment of Rs. 2,000. The machine got me started though I didn’t strike gold immediately. In fact, it took me years to establish myself.  My only capital was hard work,” reminisces Mullick. He even had to sell raincoats on the streets of Kolkata at Rs 5 only.

In 1980, he bagged his first major order for 55,000 diary covers from Peerless General Finance & Investment. After three years, he spotted the real opportunity. “I realized that soft luggage would be the product of the future,” recounts Mullick, sitting in his plush showroom at Salt Lakes’s City Centre. So, in 1983, he invested Rs 20,000 to buy a Taiwanese machine to make bags and was immediately asked by Bata India to design and develop nylon bags for its Power range of accessories. In 1987, Mullick’s products were also distributed at the Reliance Cup – the world cricket championship.

By 1990 though, Mullick was frustrated with being a mere supplier to major manufacturers like Bata India. Explains Mullick: “Although my products were praised for  their designs and quality. I remained in the shadows.” That, in 1990, led him to launch the Clubb International brand. Mullick’s biggest achievement perhaps has been being able to successfully build a brand in an industry where most small players are content just supplying products to bigger companies. Behind the accomplishment is a well-planned marketing strategy. Back in 1990, the choice was between manufacturing soft or hard luggage. But Mullick chose the former for two reasons: the market leader – VIP Industries – had a near monopoly in the hard luggage segment and manufacturing hard luggage was both capital and technology intensive.  Also, Mullick realized that he could not afford huge advertising budget like the big brothers in the industry. So, he decided to concentrate on quality to satisfy his customers and keep his prices a notch lower than the established players and create a dealer-driven demand in the market.

The strategy paid off. Along with his soft luggage products, Mullick introduced eco-friendly jute diversified products. He also started ex-porting his wide range of products to countries like Australia, New Zealand, UK, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. “Exports are no longer my focus area now. Export margins are under pressure as markets world over have been flooded by cheap Chinese products. I am now focusing on retail trade. I already have two retails outlets and will be opening the next at City Centre II, Rajarhat. Talks are on for setting up outlets in other upcoming malls as well, “ says Mullick.

Today Clubb International, which started with one employee, has created jobs for some 100 people directly and indirectly. Its range of products includes rainwear, leather items including leather jackets, travel bags, hand bags and jute diversified products. Given the ever-increasing work pressure, Mullick has brought in his 21-year old son, Arup, and his wife Rita on board to share his burden. “Arup looks after the designing angle while my wife handles the retail business. I oversee the production and overall business,” he says.

“I am a firm believer in the “Burrabazar model” of marketing says Mullick. “it rests on three tenets: production strength is the ultimate strength; price marketing is the ultimate marketing and whisper publicity is the ultimate publicity.” It’s a model he continues to follow to this day.

Clearly, it’s been working for him.

A report by Sutanuka Ghosal of The Economic Times