Sales…Growing up or toughening up? decide ..Part 3 (1989 – 1991)

As I was sharing with you the growth / toughening up of the Sales scenario in Bangalore, a thought crossed my mind.  I believe that competitiveness is  inborn . You either have it or you don’t. I dislike ( I do not like using the word ‘Hate’ ) losing. Heck, I cannot lose to even my kids or my wife in any game. I remember playing table tennis in my closest friends house in Kollam, Kerala and I just did not play for fun once the game was on. That’s me. Cannot lose to even my closest friend.

So, remember Barton Center and the crazy 65 year lease, of which 2 years had already gone when sales was trying to move into second gear. You need to read my previous blog published on the 22nd of April 2020, to get a background to what I am writing about. So, advertisements were being released by us for the sale of Barton Center, more often than we anticipated. In those days we did not have Friday /Sunday Real Estate supplements. We largely advertised on either Wednesdays or Thursdays. The concept of sales teams working on Sundays did not exist. Neither did we have Marketing & Sales offices at site. Advertisements were only in Newspapers and sometimes in Magazines. Magazines were mainly for residential advertisements as we believed that women read these magazines  while in parlours and then, if interested, shared the details with their spouse. SI did not have too many issues in selling its residential apartments ( remember, the concept of sales of villas or a gated community  was still unheard of in Bangalore). SI advertised and the remaining four ( commercial building) competitors did too. The competition was tough but fair, to start with. We were all struggling to sell but the building on Dickenson Road seemed to have an edge and the one opposite All Saints was cheaper and had the starters advantage.

Soon it became obvious that the numbers were just not coming in. This was when the game started getting dirty in Bangalore. The guys building the high rise behind the petrol bunk on M G Road released an advertisement that had a seal kind of image with “Free Hold Property” highlighted. We knew they were targeting us. By this time we had the authority to create our own advertisements, with basic approval from HO. I had contracted a young agency to work for us. We hit back at the guys building the White Building. Sensing that I was getting aggressive in the copyright of our advertisements the common architect called his brother ( our Joint MD) in Madras to ask for a cease fire. He did not get much in terms of a response so he called me. I told him the advertisement by our competitor was a hit below the belt. I wasn’t going to keep quiet. ( Look at how it was in those days – today hitting below the belt or anything is passe ). I had a product to sell but eventually, I backed down after I got an assurance that no more advertisements will come out with such a message. In later years, the same builder wanted to work with SI as they developed their first residential project in Koramangala not very far from where SI was  developing a residential project (near what is Silk Board Junction now). Of course I smiled when I heard it and said I would ( I didn’t mean it – by now you never said what you meant when it came to sales and rivals).

The going was very tough. I had taken over as Branch Manager of SI Bangalore so I had to handle sales  and manage the Branch. I wanted a team now as we had too much for me to handle alone. We began building a team and training of raw graduates/ post graduates started in Madras and then under me. I remember a stage when we did not have a single sale in three whole months. On one occasion I was almost ready to close a sale and sat in my room looking out on to the drive way in High Point, where our office was and when I did not see anyone coming by the appointed time my eyes filled with tears. Tears of self pity and frustration. Real Estate Agents played a large role in sales in Bangalore, unlike other cities. Being the premier developer we dealt with almost all Agents. ( We never called them Associates or sales Partners in those days). However, the Agents were at their wits end about selling space in Barton Center. A sale a month was considered okay. Prices ranged between Rs. 575/- to Rs. 600/- per sft. My pitch to prospective customers was that it was very possible that in Fifteen years M G Road would not remain as the focus point of commercial activity in Bangalore. By this time the buyers would have made their monies. I had made charts to show how they could amortize their investment in a certain period of time. The building was coming up slowly but beautifully. Sales was a struggle. I still had no team. I was wracking my head about what I could do.

We then thought that the business community in the traditional commercial areas like S P Road may be interested in Barton Center. Remember, in those days, Bangalore was broadly divided in to two parts – the City Area and the Cantonment Area. So, the traditional areas were under the City part of Bangalore and rarely did they come to the Cantonment part of Bangalore. Our advertisement budget, was running on low. We apportioned 3% of the assumed construction cost towards Advertisements. By the way, the whole Barton Center cost a princely sum of Rs. 3.92 Crores ( Budgeted) to construct . Eventually, it overshot the budget and closed at a cost of Rs. 4.10 Crores.

So, we had a new idea and printed cheap pamphlets, with one side in Hindi and one in English . We hired people to go and distribute these pamphlets in the City commercial area. I received a lot of flak saying that I was cheapening the product. I stood firm. We finally sold two units to a trader from the City, our target audience for this promotion. That was worth the effort. It was a first for us and mostly anyone operating in the Cantonment area. At this time the building on Dickenson Road was moving fast with its construction. So, they advertised by putting a score board kind of hoarding outside their building with a countdown to completion. This was nerve wracking as it put pressure on the rest of us. ( It’s another story that the countdown stopped at 23 days and stayed there till it was taken down, one night).

We still had sales to do. That is when we had the idea of going to Bombay to market Barton Center. If the Bombay folks could come here to Bangalore to buy from us, why couldn’t we go there to sell to them?  I debated with the HO  that it was possible that Bombay’s buyers did not care much for the leasehold tag. Well, what happened next was interesting, very interesting….

( In this period of uncertainty I believe we must all remember that many of us dared to take the path not tread and we survived. So, don’t worry too much. In Real Estate we are baptised by fire, more than once in a life time 🙂 )

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