Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dharmpal Gulati: MDH

In a day and age when brands, in their quest to project a younger and energetic image, gun for the hottest looking face, an octogenarian , one would think, as the face of a brand is hardly appropriate . But chances are that more television viewers are likely to remember the brand that this senior citizen endorses than they would remember about Katrina Kaif.

Dharampal Gulati take a bow. The name may not ring a bell, but he is the sprightly old man who's seen in each and every ad of the spices brand, MDH and is now as ubiquitous on the telly as Shahrukh, Aamir or Saif.

One might be tempted, given the presence in each ad — right from blessing the married couple to striking a regal pose on a horse carriage — to dismiss this as an ego trip or brand the man as a narcissist given that he owns the brand. But the truth is that Gulati and the MDH brand story are in many ways intertwined much like the ingredients of the brand's popular garma masala.

MDH stands for Mahashian Di Hatti (The respected man's shop) and the Mahashian is what Gulati is popularly known. And it's not just ads where one can see Mahashian, but even the packaging has his face. Ask Gulati about his overpowering presence and he says it's all about reiterating the high quality standards his products have acquired in the last sixty years.

"I am the exclusive brand ambassador of a renowned brand and perhaps the oldest brand ambassador as well," he states. So starting from a small hatti (shop) in karol bagh in Delhi in 1948 to being the lord and master of a Rs 500 crore business empire today, it is hard to argue with Gulati's decision to play brand ambassador.

Gulati's story is like million others who faced the trauma of partition but didn't allow the fire of enterprise to die away. Starting in Pakistan, Gulati, a fifth grade drop out from school tried his luck in various business with little success. Post partition, Gulati moved to Delhi, where he bought a tonga (horse carriage) to earn a living.

But soon, he realized that this was not his cup of tea and he switched tracks. Gulati then ventured into his ancestral business of manufacturing and selling spices. It was a gradual climb to creating a name for himself as Gulati sold his spices by the brand name 'Pal di Mirch' (chilly powder) and 'Pal di Haldi' (turmeric powder) and soon gained the sobriquet of Sialkot's 'Deggi Mirch wale' .

Even as business prospered, Gulati says that the challenge was to create a niche in the largely unorganized spices market. That's when, Gulati decided to sell packaged spices. Not an easy task given that in those days everyone wanted their spices to be freshly ground and were suspicious of prepacked spices.

Gulati, however, decided to take the plunge and further to reinforce the quality standard, he decided to stamp his own face on the packaging — a practice that continues to date. Like any shrewd businessman, who balances the lack of educational qualifications with streetsmarts, Gulati realized the importance of advertising.

So even when it was a fledgling business, he advertised his products for the first time in vernacular newspapers such as 'Pratap' , an Urdu newspaper. "I realised that to make my brand popular it was necessary that people know about it.

They should also know why they should buy spices of my brand," says Gulati. Gulati believes in running a tight ship, so much so that he has not hired any advertising agency till date. "All our advertising, promotional, packaging, designing work is done in house.

This not only increases efficiency but also prevents our brand names from being misused. Also the quality of the packing is easily monitored," he says, adding that the focus today now is more on television than print.

Today MDH exports its spices to countries all over the world and apart from dealing in spices, MDH has also ventured into manufacturing and selling incense sticks, hing, toothpowder and soya. Apart from Delhi the other most popular market for MDH spice is Ludhiana, Uttar Pradesh, Dehradun and Amritsar.

"The market is so huge that everyone has the scope for growth but only those with purity and quality can survive the test of time. Only five to six of our products account for 70% of the company's sale," adds Gulati. With so many twists and turns - from partition to family disputes, Gulati says the hardships were instrumental in his success. Indeed, looking at his journey, one can definitely say, 'variety is the spice of life' .

Source: Economic times

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