Today’s story starts in 1890 when a young Parsi boy, fresh out of law school, started working in a well-known company in Tanzania. His name was Ardeshir Godrej, the first child out of six children of Burjorji and Dosibai Godrej.
Ardeshir was working fine; the country he was working in was also good. Until one day, he realized that law didn’t interest him, and doing a business became his calling, so he decided to move back to India.
It was clear that he had to pursue business, but what kind of business was the question. Coming back to India, he started working in a chemist shop which gave him the first business idea, the manufacturing of surgical instruments.
He began working on this venture, but unfortunately, it didn’t go well. Then there came a series of bad businesses, all of which failed.
This kept on happening, and he was running out of funds too, until one fine day when Ardeshir picked up the newspaper and read about the rise of theft convictions & Robbery in the city. The local residences & businesses were all victims of these thefts. The burglary occurred due to the low-quality handmade locks people were using for protection.
That’s when a brand new business idea came into his mind, and it was, making the best quality locks in the country.
But what about the funds? Like a savior came Merwanji Cama, a businessman and a fellow friend who loaned him money to start the lock-making business, and that was the building block of the Godrej empire.
Did it Succeed?
In 1897, he started making cheaper locks of good quality. Even better than the ones imported from England. The locks of Godrej began selling more in the market, and flourish. All of this started from those Robberies. So do you think we are justifying the title of the article? 😋 There was no looking back since then.
As the lock business became popular and funds started coming in, Ardeshir began to expand the venture into the safe segment in 1902, and to a matter of surprise, that too became popular.
Its often said that if you become successful once you might be lucky, but if you succeed continuously, something is genuinely good about you. That’s what was happening with Ardeshir. His cheap and secure safes also started to become popular.
Don’t you see? Godrej safes & locks are iconic to date.
There was no turning back for Ardeshir Godrej. As a person, he was never contented after succeeding in one thing. He went on to another. In a lifetime, he entered into various ventures like inks, perfumes, candies, biscuits, and more some of them worked, many of them didn’t.
But he made good money, still lived a modest life, and still used public transport despite being very wealthy.
Ardeshir Godrej passed away in 1936 leaving behind a business of billions. Let’s take a look at the business he created, which we all know today as The Godrej industry. We will see why this big conglomerate is the king of small businesses.
There is a series of various “firsts” in the history of Godrej Industries. After venturing into the safe and lock business.
Fast-moving consumer goods looked attractive, and it was noticed that the soaps at that time were made from animal fat; Godrej was the first company in the world to manufacture soaps from Vegetable oil in 1918. And they called it ‘Chavi’
The Soaps made by Godrej
Interestingly these soaps were also endorsed by Indian freedom fighters like Rabindranath Tagore. The products became the pioneer of swadeshi movements in India.
In fact, when India got independence. In 1951 Godrej industries were asked to make the ballot boxes for the first election of free India. It was historical as when all the country was clueless about it, workers at a small factory in Mumbai were manufacturing nearly 12.83 lakh ballot boxes.
The First Ballot Box of Independent India
Moving forward, the makers of locks ventured into something different. This time it was Refrigerator. The maker of the first refrigerators in India was Godrej Industries in 1958.
A good series of India’s firsts, right.? But there was one more iconic product, and the story goes like this.
The typewriter story
The conglomerate has ventured into many ‘big things’ such as agro vet, properties, chemicals, Investment advisories, housing finance, and what not by now.
But it all started from small businesses, like a lock or a safe or soap, and success in these small products made it what it is today. And another such product was Typewriter.
The typewriter market was highly monopolized by foreign players. Until Godrej gathered the courage to make an ‘all-India’ typewriter. In the year 1955 Godrej launched Model M-9 the first Indian typewriter. And in a few years, these typewriters were found everywhere. Back then it would have been a great revenue generator for the company.
But fast forward to this day. Who cares about a typewriter? Any sane company would stop manufacturing it as the product was so obsolete but Godrej didn’t.
Coz trust me there are some people who do care about a typewriter, such as attorneys. Any law firm would have at least one typewriter in the office. They are also used in government offices, banks, factories, and more.
Godrej recently stopped manufacturing it just a few years ago in 2009. So why were they still manufacturing it to date?
The answer is, They are the players of niches. They enter or remain in such niches where a company would rarely enter. Be it the safe, locker, or the typewriter market. In a way, they profit from niches from where there are fewer to no players and still some market left for revenue generation.
The bottom line
The idea of making the best quality locks that came from news of robberies in the early 1800s moved to making soaps that also became a part of India’s freedom movement, built the safest safes, fast forward to the ’90s ventured into the property business, Agrovert, consumer products, went global, even provided engineering expertise to India’s mission to the moon Chandrayaan-1. They did it all and are still going on but have never forgotten their small niches.