Wednesday, June 22, 2011
A Punjabi’s tryst with labels
Born into a family who migrated to Delhi from Lahore (now in Pakistan) at the time of prtition of India, Prem Khanna, is a typical Punjabi who works hard, enjoys good food, makes a lot of friends, loves to entertain and puts up a brave front with a smile, even in times of adversity. While he has been born and brought up in Delhi and is an alumni of Delhi’s Kirori Mal College yet the Lahore culture and style is evident on his personality, “Doing everything with a flair!” Prem Khanna started his professional carrier as an employee of a custom clearing agent. Even as he worked hard at his job he knew one day he will be running his own show as an employer. It was just a matter of time and firm resolve that soon he started his own custom clearing company and found success. As he moved ahead in business, he struck a close friendship with one of his customer P C Jain, who was a trader and regularly imported Hand Held Labelers, Labels, etc. from companies like Pitney Bowes and Monarch Marking Systems. The concept of gun labels, as they came to be called with time, was introduced in India by P C Jain. Being a pioneer in this field, Jain saw the potential and need to start a manufacturing operation to produce these price marking labels in India complemented by trading in the imported hand held labelers. He proposed the venture to his friend and custom clearing agent Prem Khanna, inviting him to invest in equity and join the board of the start-up venture Great Eastern Impex Pvt. Ltd., as a director. Khanna, with his urge to diversify and grow, saw it as an opportunity and accepted to invest and join the board of the company as a director. This was in the year 1983-84, Prem Khanna made his tryst with self adhesive labels and silently pledged to excel in this field.
Most of the work in the initial years at Great Eastern was done by PC Jain who continuously travelled and Khanna preferred to remain a silent partner, observing the business as it grew. It was in 1987-88 when the company moved to their new premises in Gurgaon that Prem Khanna started to take active interest in the working of the company to understand the manufacture and marketing of self adhesive labels. He fondly remembers the high margins that they roped in those days. A product that they now sell for just Rs.680.00 used to sell at in excess of Rs.2000.00. Great Eastern is a success story that I intend to chronicle another day. The company grew at a fast pace and expanded with time. It was in 2002 after Shakti Jain, PC Jain’s son returned to India after completing his studies in the United States and joined business that things started to change. In time P C Jain proposed to Prem Khanna to end the partnership and split the business into different business segments and marketing zones and still maintain an association. This looked interesting on paper and appeared to work for a while but eventually the reality prevailed, the partnership had come to an end. Prem Khanna realized he had reached the turning point of his life and he was left with his start up venture Rachna Overseas Pvt. Ltd. (ROPL) to move on in life. Time had come to keep his tryst with self adhesive labels and redeem his pledge to excel in the field. In true Punjabi tradition he put his mind and soul in the venture. He was assisted in his endeavor by A S Shekhawat an alumni of IIM who also had worked as Vice President at Great Eastern and had left them at that time to join ROPL as a director.
With a Mark Andy 830 label press, an Ihle ribbon slitter and some staff inherited from Great Eastern, Khanna and Shekhawat went ahead to establish a pan national marketing network to sell the same product mix they were doing earlier. Space was initially a constraint and finance was difficult but Prem Khanna managed it well. The first success came with a contract from Hindustan Paper Corporation followed by orders from Hero Honda and others. Thereafter it has been continuous growth and expansion at ROPL. Starting from less than 10000 square foot factory they have now moved to a 30000 square foot smart looking facility producing primarily a range of variable data labels, barcode labels, price marking labels, thermal transfer labels, etc. They also import and sell point of sale items like barcode printers and scanners. With their manufacturing facility in Gurgaon near Delhi, ROPL operates out of six more offices located at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata. They have added more equipment and now have seven label presses, 2 Ihle ribbon presses and a host of ancillary equipment. ROPL has a workforce of over 150. Prem Khanna himself overseas all administration, while his son takes care of marketing in Delhi and Mumbai. The production and the branches are handled by A S Shekhawat. “Rachna Overseas Pvt. Ltd. has been growing at a fast pace of 35% per annum” says Prem Khanna and goes on to add with a flair, “In the next five years we will grow at least three times if not more” They have started to test their marketing with RFID and would like to start production when they feel the technology has stabilized. Digital printing has not been considered so far. As for their foray into international business, they have been exporting for a while but soon they will be a multinational of sorts. Commercial production will soon begin at their joint venture Rachna Overseas (Bangladesh) Pvt. Ltd. in Dhaka. ROPl aspires to start another manufacturing facility close to present one.
Prem Khanna’s wife Rachna, after whose name his company has been named, is a homemaker and his moral support in all endeavors. His only son Karan has joined him and given the energy levels of Prem Khanna, it will be a while before he hands over the baton completely to Karan. Prem Khanna is a dedicated family man. When he finishes for the day he heads straight home looking forward to spending time with his two granddaughters. His only daughter Nupur is married. His success has not gone to his head, he reminisces that he was innocent and slow in his younger days, his father used to tell him, ”I wonder what you will do in life?” Today a successful Khanna lends support to his extended family including his brothers and sisters. On Sunday mornings he does allocate his time to play Cricket, which has been his passion for long years. Prem Khanna goes pensive when asked about his love for going on holidays, “There is no time” he complains, “the growth in labels is addictive and compelling. It changes your priorities; they become your first love”.
Written by Harveer Sahni, Managing Director, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi-110008 1st June, 2011.