Highway Heavyweight

His loath for government job and bitterness for private sector landed him in entrepreneurship. With his business and marketing acumen, Batote’s Waseem Akram swung around and emerged Chenab Valley’s major player in fabrication field, reports Bilal Handoo

Highway Heavy Weight

Shortly after completing his MBA in 2008, Waseem Akram of Batote was a struggler. He turned down his parents’ suggestion to join “corruption-mired” government. To get going though, he worked in private sector and ultimately became a model entrepreneur.

But before he could have begun his ‘romance’ with entrepreneurship, he had to clear decks on his way. A son of government official, Waseem hadn’t any financial pressure on him. However, he wanted to lead the life his way. But then he was caught in a paradox — where talent wasn’t meeting opportunity.

To break idleness though, he joined private sector in 2009 and worked as insurance executive with SBI Life Insurance in Udhampur. “During my stint as insurance executive, I was star performer—meeting targets by registering brisk and bulk sale, much to the wonder of my colleagues,” says Waseem, a burly man with deep voice. But then things didn’t remain the same once his marital leave wasn’t extended.

While he was in the middle of marriage, his office declared him “absconding”.

“But I was never off the duty,” he says. “Even during my marital leave, I had given a business of Rs 5 lakh to company.” Later a fact-finding exercise revealed that his boss had personal issues with him, which eventually forced him to quit the job.

Idleness took over him again. He had no idea what to do next.

It was then his teacher Gautam Saini informed him about SKEWPY scheme started by Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI). He sensed the   opportunity and by June 2012, he was sitting among the first batch in Ramban, receiving 15 days training. “Being a business graduate, I was well-versed with the business concepts and models being taught, but for a change, it did help,” he says.

During training itself, he talked to his father about the possible entrepreneurship venture, who suggested him to go for fabrication business. In Batote, he says, not many were into this field then.

Venturing into virgin field had its costs involved, but Waseem decided to be the first among the equals.

Once done with training, he applied for a loan. His project of Rs 9 lakh under the scheme was sanctioned. But he had to invest additional Rs 4 lakh from family savings. And with that amount, he established his workshop closer to home on his family land.

With an iron-smith hired locally, his workshop started operating on November 22, 2012. And shortly, he made his first almirah that he later sold in local market at Rs 5000. To foray into local market then dictated by Jammu manufacturers, he lowered down the margin—the move eventually slashing the sales of his Jammu counterparts. Like an astute businessman, he focussed on quality of his products. “Unlike light-weighted material in vogue,” he says, “I made almirah with heavy-weighted material, which itself wooed customers toward my products.”

After tactfully establishing his name in local market, the next step was to spread the word and swell the base. For this, he next focussed on marketing — something that comes naturally to him. Rather than floating advertisements, he heavily relied on mouth of word.

And to pace up publicity, he printed pack of visiting cards. He dropped all those cards at all furniture shops in Ramban, Batote, Bhaderwah, Thathri, Chenani and Gool. Once orders started pouring in, he accompanied his workforce and for days together would supply and fix almirah, railings and shutters.

During his time as entrepreneur, two things worked: his flexible costs and quality of work. The twin traits fetched him on spot supply orders, besides making government departments to rally behind him for booking their order. “I don’t believe in over-milking a cow,” he says. “Unlike others who keep 20-25 percent margin, I have kept my margin around 10 percent.” This helped him maintain the market appetite and sustain sales.

Waseem’s workshop consumes 100 truckloads of iron per year. His almirah is most sought product. Earning a fair margin of Rs 1000 on each almirah, he says, so far he has manufactured nearly 500 almirahs.

As demand soured, he has engaged 8 workers. On an average, his monthly turnover staggers around Rs 9 lakh. “My first month turnover was around Rs 1 lakh,” he says. “And during a peak month, I earn around Rs 10.5 lakh.”

Amid his dream run, he feels very proud to end Jammu monopoly over the local market. “Earlier ordering almirah from Jammu would cost locals additional Rs 3000 as transport charge,” he says. “But now, rates have come down.”

Today the man who loathed corruption and didn’t exhaust his potential in chasing government jobs is motivating many budding entrepreneurs of Batote. He is now being called for training sessions to guide aspiring entrepreneurs.

His unit as per the EDI runs best than the rest. Many say he is living upto the name of cricket legend and “sultan of swing”, Waseem Akram. The legend’s namesake from Batote is too swinging, but in a different ball game.

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