For 36 years, Mumbai-based Ashok Khewoor was compelled to keep his entrepreneurial aspirations on the buck-burner. A paucity of funds and time held him back. So when he got the chance to take voluntary retirement from his corporate career, Khewoor grabbed it. "Many people told me that it would be difficult for a 54-year-old to start a new venture.
Some even suggested that I should invest the money in safe avenues and lead a peaceful retired life. However, I was confident of pulling it off," says Khewoor. Today, the 69-year-old heads a Rs 6 lakh company, Bezel Pumps. Born in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, Khewoor's family shifted base to Mumbai when he was in class IV. After completing his matriculation from Mumbai University, he followed it up with a one-year course, ITI Mechanists. At the age of 18, he started working for Godrej as a skilled mechanist. "Six years later, I moved to PhilipsIndia.
I was promoted as a superviser in 1993 after I completed a one-year part time diploma in foremanship and supervision from the Somaiya Institute of Technical Training and Research," he says. Khewoor's lucky break came in 1998, when Philips India offered voluntary retirement to employees who had completed 30 years of service. "Had I decided to stay in the company, I would have bagged the promotion that was due to me, but I decided to pursue what I always wanted to do and start a venture of my own," he says. In April the same year, he rented a small place at Wagle Estate, Thane, for around Rs 2,000 a month.
The 500-sq-ft space in the basement was used to house two lathe machines, which Khewoor purchased for Rs 94,000, and the 300-sq-ft space on the ground floor was converted into his office. In all, he put in a seed capital of Rs 1 lakh to start the venture. Finally, in May 1998,Bezel Pumps was up and running. Since mechanical pumps are in great demand in factories, Khewoor decided to begin his entrepreneurial journey by manufacturing these.
"We found a broker, who agreed to sell these pumps for a commission of 15%. We maintained a margin of around 20%, so it was a very good proposition for us," says Khewoor. Bezel Pumps had manufactured barely five or six pumps when it received a call from HR Johnson, a Thane-based company, which is a sister concern of the Raheja Group.
"They had heard that we had set up a workshop, so in July 1998, they approached us to make spare parts for their machines. We agreed and bagged our first order for Rs25,000 in the same month. Subsequently, other companies, including Nitco Tiles, Thirm Process and Setron Industries, came on board as customers," he says.
The company, which had employed eight people by this time, registered a turnover of nearly Rs 10 lakh in the first year of operations. However, it wasn't smooth sailing for Khewoor. "In 2000, I received a work contract of Rs1 lakh from HR Johnson. However, I went wrong in the sourcing of a key raw material.
As a result, I was not able to execute the work to the satisfaction of the management," he says. The company deducted 30% of the order value, but Khewoor learnt a crucial business lesson. "I understood that I needed to be cautious while sourcing raw material. The loss was negligible and my relationship with the company's management became stronger in the bargain. This, importantly, was the mitigation of a key risk factor," adds Khewoor. By 2003-4, the company's turnover had jumped to Rs35 lakh.
"At this point, I was taking home Rs 7-8 lakh a year. In 2004-5, we managed to purchase the office from which we operated for around Rs8 lakh. This helped us to save on the rental cost," he says. However, of late, his business has taken a battering. Khewoor lists out the reasons: the Italian machines have recently been replaced by Chinese machines and spare parts are increasingly made on CNC lathe machines from Gujarat, which are volume-driven. "Many of my clients have shifted out their businesses to avail of the low sourcing cost.
The machines used by them have the capacity to manufacture in bulk, thereby reducing the price. This has severely impacted our business," he says. Since last year, his annual turnover has dropped sharply to Rs 6-8 lakh. Khewoor, however, has no intention of buckling down. "We have managed to retain nearly six of our loyal customers. Moreover, we are now planning to buy the more advanced CNC lathe machines to expand our business," he says. His mantra for success continues to remain the same as when he had donned the entrepreneurial hat: execute the contract on time, and focus on quality and delivery to get repeat orders. This is the reason he is confident of bouncing back stronger.