YOU GO GIRL!
By DEEPA AGARWAL
No, this is not an article about the adventures of Buttercup, Blossom, and Bubbles, the Powerpuff girls on the Cartoon Network who save the world from bad guys. But, it is an article about three women who definitely have made a difference in raising the bar on overcoming hurdles and practicing creative entrepreneurship. Instead of the run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter molds of business, they have approached it with just a bit of freshness and creativity which separates them from the rest.
Anu Krishna of Anki Jewelers, Archna Malhotra Becker of ANIC Catering, and Sonia Sharma of Savvy Beauty Salon, have all come a long way, not only from India but also from the perceptions that define an Indian woman. Bold, brazen and confident, they competently juggle their various roles as entrepreneurs, wives and mothers. And with such aplomb!
Exclusive yet traditional
Engrossed in a painting in a little corner of her jewelry outlet, Anu seems to be transported to a far away world amidst the hustle-bustle of customers. Traditionally dressed in a salwar-kameez, it is amazing to see her switch back and forth between answering her customers? questions and finishing her painting.
?The arts have always been my passion. Apart from designing jewelry, I paint, learn Indian classical music, and sculpt. Right from my school days, when I would amuse the class by doing caricatures of the teachers on the blackboard, I knew that I was meant to be an artist,? recalls Anu.
Born in Hyderabad, India, Anu, a computer engineer from the University of Nagpur, came with her husband to America in December 1993. The ?90s dotcom boom led her to do a graduate degree in Computer Science from East Tennessee State University. However, with the not-so-promising economic situation and the birth of a bonny baby, things began to seem a little difficult on that front.
That was when Anu decided to venture into what she calls her ?strengths?. She started with designing simple jewelry for family and friends, just to polish her skills. With constructive feedback from her clients, Anu spotted an opening in the Indian jewelry market. She decided to focus on diamond jewelry.
?I knew I could put my thoughts into designs. All I needed to do was to strengthen my understanding of the gems and stones I was going to use.? Anu read as much as she could on gemology. She also enrolled for a correspondence course in the subject, conducted by a Belgian company through a center in New York.
What started as an interest and developed into a hobby soon turned into a business proposition for Anu. In the year 2002, she registered her own company, Anki Jewelers. ?Sadly, most people are lacking in knowledge of diamond and stone jewelry. My job, therefore, was not only to sell my designs but also to educate people about stones. And the only way I could possibly do that was through vendor display shows, of which I have now done many. After my initial launch at the Festival of India Show in the Gwinnett Center, I did shows in Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, and New Jersey.?
The company?s USP is ?exclusive yet traditional? made-to-order jewelry. Anu specializes in what she calls, ?temple jewelry?, the type worn by kings and queens centuries ago. She uses diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, American diamonds and other stones for her designs. She also outsources gold jewelry, which is a perpetual favorite of her Indian clientele. Within a year, Anki Jewelers has grown from a $25,000 company to a $150,000 one; a performance which even Anu hadn?t foreseen.
In the future, Anu wants to make fashionable jewelry for Asian-American teenagers, with the hope of introducing them to Indian designs. When asked about the secret of her success, Anu says, ?Without any doubt, utilizing my strengths and interests. I desperately wanted to work on my dreams.?
Home style food:
One can feel Archna Malhotra Becker?s infectious enthusiasm even over the phone, as she takes catering orders from her clients. Once you meet her and sample the exquisite Indian recipes she uses for her catering business in Atlanta, one begins to understand what has made her so successful.
Born and raised in New Delhi, India, Archna and her family moved to America when she was only 11. Growing up in India, she was the little one always meddling around in the kitchen, asking questions and helping grandma make things taste just right.
?I don?t have a formal degree in food or catering. All that I have learnt is from my family. I belong to a family of really, really, good cooks. Not professionals, but just ordinary people who love cooking,? says Archna.
In fact, it was this idea that inspired Archna to start a restaurant of her own. She and her family launched Rasoi-The Indian Kitchen, in Decatur, Atlanta in 1995, when she was a senior in college. The restaurant did very well and helped Archna establish a client base. However, since it catered to banquets and large parties, it ran into problems with the local neighborhood over parking and had to be closed down.
?Rasoi was a big learning experience. We realized the importance of location to a restaurant. Luckily for us though, the catering orders kept coming. We catered from our house, until it got to a point when that was no longer possible. We formally incorporated Atlanta North Indian Catering (ANIC), our catering company, in 2000,? says Archna.
Utilizing skills she had learnt while getting a marketing degree from Georgia State University, Archna emailed the Asian students and faculty at Emory University, informing them about her business. ?I used to have a restaurant in that area before and knew that there were a lot of people interested in North Indian cuisine. I packed my samples in tiffins (lunch boxes) and took all the food down to the Emory campus in my van for free trials,? Archna recollects. ?From then, I have never looked back. Though Emory is still my biggest client, I also cater to Grady Memorial Hospital and other corporate clients.?
The Emory experience helped Archna tap into a special niche market ? the ?professionals? of corporate America, who do not have the time to go to restaurants, whether for their own lunch or for treating their clients. Her cuisine is known for its signature ?home-made? style. In fact, it is this that has earned Archna her ?repeat? clients. From a handful of customers in 2000, ANIC Catering now caters to more than 300 people in Atlanta with its delectable meals.
Archna intends to start a chain of ?eclectic Indian eateries,? by the name ?Tiffin? later this year. ?Tiffin will be a fast casual restaurant, based on the eatZi?s (take out gourmet meals) concept, serving fusion menus. The menus will be drawn from both American and Indian cuisines. It will be different from the other restaurants in that it will be ?home-style?, with no fixed menu. The food will change everyday, just like it does in naani?s (grandma?s) home. Tiffin will also sell cold prepared foods and half-cooked foods for taking home.? The restaurant is slated to open in three areas in Atlanta, namely, Decatur, Smyrna/Vinning and Roswell/Alpharetta.
Archna also conducts cooking shows locally and infomercials on QBC. She is currently working on a cooking show for national audiences. ?Honesty and good quality food have got me so far and I am sure these are the very qualities that will take me further.?
A savvy woman
Sonia Sharma believes in taking each day as it comes and making use of opportunities as and when they present themselves. This was how she started Savvy, her beauty salon a year ago. ?We talked to a lot of people, studied the market and recognized the need for a beauty salon that offered exotic Indian beauty treatments. Thus Savvy was born.?
Indian by birth, Sonia, migrated to Kuwait at the age of three and lived there for eighteen years. Even then, the beauty industry appealed to her. After a diploma in beauty culture from New Delhi, she lived briefly in London where she received a secondary diploma in professional make-up and finally settled in Atlanta.
The road to success was, however, not without struggles. In an industry where clients don?t want to risk their faces with newcomers, Sonia initially found it difficult to get new clients. ?I was confident that once they came in, they would become our customers for life. It was only the initial ?getting them in? that was difficult,? she remembers.
The go-getter that she is, she did not lose hope and advertised aggressively. ?I am very friendly and forthcoming. When it comes to my work, I have no inhibitions and am extremely pushy. I decided that since the clients were not coming to me, I needed to go to them. I even distributed my cards at Kroger?s and other supermarkets.?
Sonia also wrote articles on the various exclusive services, like the Shahnaz Hussain facials provided in her salon, with a view to getting noticed by clients. The advertising and promotion paid off, and soon news of her salon and its beauty treatments spread by word of mouth.
Apart from providing beauty services to her clients, Sonia also conducts week-long personal grooming sessions for young girls. Her summer classes on professional make-up and mehndi (henna designs on hands) are quite popular.
Sonia plans to venture into outsourcing herbal beauty products in the near future. Does she fear competition? ?Competition is always healthy,? Sonia asserts. ?I have faith in the beauty treatments and services we provide at Savvy. That has been our strength from the day we started and that shall remain so in times to come. Competition will only increase the challenge of my work.?
Living their dreams
Anu Krishna, Archna Malhotra Archna and Sonia Sharma came to this country with hope in their hearts and dreams in their eyes. Today, they are living those dreams. When they started out, all that these women had were ideas. Their hard work and courage to tread the untrodden path have helped them carve a niche for themselves. Although their businesses seem very different from each other, the three have a lot in common. All, working mothers with modest backgrounds, they chose to take control of their lives through self-employment. With support and encouragement from their partners and families, they were able to turn their dreams into realities. One can only hope that more women follow in their footsteps, believe in themselves and live their dreams to the fullest. o
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