It was on this day 10 years back I returned to Madras (by then it was renamed Chennai) - where I have grown up all my life, after a long stay and various stints in Bangalore city since 2004. On 2 Aug. 2012 I joined Royal Enfield Motorcycles as General Manager – Business Development. Over the next 2 years, I would set up 160 dealerships across India for the niche motorcycle brand. I was also responsible for working closely with the Management and the Design Agency on-board to implement the new Retail identity of the brand, which included the new look and feel of the store interiors – from transforming the dealership as an automobile showroom to a lifestyle-led format. In those 24 months, I travelled extensively across India, as always Wed – Fri. every week, 40+ weeks a year, first flight out, last flight-in. I would have travelled more to Tier 2/3/4 towns, especially across Northern India where the brand had a brilliant parentage and was well received. Forget discounts on bikes, my first and second degree connections would just have one request – if deliveries can be shortened, from a usual 6-9 months to a little less than 3 months. Thanks to a supportive Sales Team, I guess we did manage to deliver a few such instances.
It was a revelation to see how the vehicle meant different things to different people. For a metro male, it was upgrading his lifestyle from a humble scooter or a motorcycle to a macho Royal Enfield; for a student who has just passed out his UG (or one in the making), it was a reward from his lovely family; for a groom-to be, it was a gift from his parents or in-laws to be; and in one such instance, the wife of a good friend of mine gave him a surprise on his 40th birthday with a Thunderbird 350cc. Lovely memories that I carry from those times.
We also set-up a first of its kind Royal Enfield showroom at the tony “Saket” locality in South Delhi at the Select Citywalk Mall. Technically, the store was located outside the mall precincts and there was a road dividing the two, so we got the best of both – passersby to the Mall as well as serious patrons of the brand.
For the record, Royal Enfield is the world’s oldest and continuous-in production automobile brand in the world, now over 120 years old. The brand, which was born in the UK found its home in India, at the erstwhile state of Madras in the late 1950s when a city based entrepreneur purchased the rights of the brand as well as to retail the machines – Made like a Gun – as its tagline goes, the bikes which were used in World War 1 & 2. Over time, the brand died a natural death with the advent of Japanese bikes as well as home-grown ones including Hero, Kinetic, Bajaj and TVS Motors.
In the mid- to late 90s, the brand was on the verge of closure, which is when the new owner Eicher Motors acquired the cult brand to turn it around. They struggled for a few years, but eventually cracked the market and broke records. As per today’s report in the media, the company sold 55,555 bikes in July 2022 incl. exports while the domestic sales at the dealer level was 50,265 units. The company is expected to launch new models later this month. A decade back, the company would produce / bill to dealers around 11,000 units pm! The only thing that hasn’t changed then and now – the craze for the brand and it’s waiting period.
My aunt, who bought me up since I was one-year old was diagnosed with a rare type of carcinoma in Nov. 2013 – Uterian, Ovarian cancer which is quite uncommon in India. Among women, it is the 7th most common type of cancer worldwide and 8th most common cause of death from cancer. Like millions, she too succumbed after fighting the disease for 4 years. Upon the discovery of her ailment, my fledgling retail career came to a standstill. There were days when I shuddered the thought of waking up the next day, wondering what to do without a proper job, a full time career, a sagging start-up I had adventured and piling debts and EMIs. Life moved on. And I survived all these years, to write this column today.
Life moves on, will keep moving, just like the arms of a clock. But over these years, I have grown wiser, most probably, if anything. A proud Madrasi that I am, I am sure I will make my hometown proud.