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Ladies, imagine walking into a salon and getting a specialized Singaporean hair cut for Rs 150 (for men it is Rs 65) by someone who attends to film stars and politicians and owns a fleet of cars which boasts of a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Mercedes C, E and S class, BMW 5, 6, and 7 series, imported Mercedes vans and Toyota mini-buses (over 200 total in number) !!!
Yes, you read all the figures right. This is not some figment of imagination but another “rags to riches” story of someone who shows the grit, determination, dedication, perseverance and insight to take calculated risks for his passion and business. Ramesh Babu from Bangalore is a shining example of someone who has surged ahead with bold strokes in a market with cut-throat competition, while still remembering his roots.
It started out as a story of misfortune when his father passed away in 1989. He was just 7 years old at that time with two siblings. His grandfather had a salon, but Ramesh was too young to work then His mother wanted him to focus on his studies and rented out the shop at Rs 5 per day to his uncle. That was not enough to get them three square meals a day, so his mother started working as a cook to make ends meet. They survived on one meager meal a day.
Ramesh somehow finished his pre university education and later took a diploma in electronics. However, things had taken a turn for the worse in the meantime. His uncle bickered with his mother and refused to pay the rent. Ramesh could not be a mere spectator and insisted on taking over the barber-shop in 1991. It is called Inner Space and is on Brigade Road, Bangalore. Soon it became a trendy hangout for youngsters.
However, he dreamt of owning cars. When his uncle bought a car, Ramesh childishly took a loan to buy a Maruti Omni to compete with him. It was petty pride back in 1994. His grandfather had to mortgage his property for it and the monthly installments amounted to Rs 6800. Since the car was lying about idle, a lady for whom his mother worked advised him to rent it out to people. Nandini akka, as he called her, taught him the basics of car rental business. That was the launching pad to the car-rental business from where he never looked back.
The first company he rented out to was Intel because Nandini akka worked there and she helped him out. In 2004, he had added 5-6 cars to the fleet, a humble enough beginning. He faced tough competition because small cars were easily and economically available from competitors. If he had to make a difference, he had to think out of the box. That is why he thought of renting out luxury cars. This was as yet a novel idea not explored by anyone. Other companies at most had second hand luxury cars which were not in a good shape.
However, because of this very reason, he was discouraged by skeptics who warned him that it was a big mistake to spend Rs 40 lakhs on a luxury car in 2004. The only back-up plan he had was to sell it off if the idea backfired. “If you want to do business, you must be willing to take risks”. He had calculated his risks well because investing in a brand new luxury car paid off. In 2011, he invested almost four crore rupees to buy a Rolls Royce. Again the magic worked. His luxury cars are hired by big shots like Shahruk Khan, Amitabh Bacchan, Aishwarya Rai, and a number of politicians.
As with every business, the car renting one has its flip-side as well. The biggest challenge is to pay road taxes and fines. “Last April, I had to pay over three crores in road taxes alone”, says Ramesh. The key to success is to accept those challenges and take them head on.
At present, Ramesh has 60 drivers working for him. His first driver still works for him. Daily, he gets up at 6 am, works in his salon from 8 am to 10 am, then remains in his car rental office till 4 pm, coming back to his saloon to work till 7 pm, after which he again goes to the car rental office and remains there till 8:30 pm. Phew!! He works only at his saloon on Sundays since there is a heavy flow of customers, some of them from even Mumbai and Kolkata. This keeps him rooted.
He hopes to pass on the skills to his two daughters and a son who are all in school right now. However, he knows well the meaning of the proverb, ‘all work and no play make Jack a dull boy” – he loves travelling and has even travelled to Germany with his family. His message to entrepreneurs is simple: “Work hard. Be Humble. Anything else is just luck”.