Even after succeeding in his initial deal of selling dried lavender flowers to a customer, Mohammad Saklain Kawos hadn’t contemplated that creating lavender essence would lure him out of his profession to start his own brand.
On Srinagar’s plush Poloview street, Saklain’s Coterie is quite discernible owing to its ambiance. Inside sits its calm-faced proprietor, Saklain Kawos — who has come a long way in life.
After starting his journey from Central Kashmir’s Budgam, at a certain point in his professional life, when an unexpected deal finalised, he decided to permanently trade lavender oil without having the slightest idea of shining in the same field within a short span of time.
Having a particular selling point, this business venture has its uniqueness in products which makes people to buy it in volume, even from abroad.
“Most of my customers, when I started, were from abroad because they knew what I was selling,” says Saklain, smiling over reminiscence. “Here I needed to educate people about the benefits and uses of what I was selling and to create the market.”
With glimmer in his eyes, he spoke of his journey from a commerce student to a successful businessman. “I was always an average student but I managed to get through the degree,” he says. “I worked in a multi-national for 9 years in Delhi but there was something that was missing.”
After graduation, he wanted to do a masters in journalism, but never made it to the University of Kashmir’s Media Centre. “I had an inclination towards journalism,” he continues amid the rich ambiance of his store. “I worked in Doordarshan as a programme coordinator but unfortunately I didn’t make it to the selection list.”
At the same time, Saklain was fascinated by the procedure of designing, launching and organizing business. He wanted to become an entrepreneur but never got the opportunity in his early years.
“We have the concept of picking engineering or medical as our careers here,” he asserts, with a giggle. “I wasn’t a brilliant student so I was left with commerce. I had no business background so I never really mustered the courage to reason with my parents.”
“I never backed off from hard work. I believe that anything is possible if strived for,” he says. “I dedicated my time to this particular thing and I am satisfied,” he continues to stroll down the memory lane.
After retirement when his father bought land in Budgam and started planting lavender on 8 kanals as a hobby, Saklain hadn’t anticipated that it was going to be the turning point of his life.
“My father called me saying that he was tired working on the field,” he recalled. “I got angry and asked him to shut it off. But he was determined to grow lavender and even started giving lavender oil to his friends.”
His father’s growing eagerness and efforts embedded a thought in Saklain’s mind and he opened a Facebook page, ‘Remikson’s Kashmir Lavender’, which was the name of his father’s old firm.
“One day I was out for lunch with my friends in Delhi, my father called me saying that someone abroad wanted 30 kgs of dried lavender flowers. Having no clue about the next move, I agreed to the deal and started working on it,” he asserted with a nervous tone.
Soon after that first deal, his mother got sick, forcing him indoors. But during that period at home, he would continuously update his Facebook page. “I knew that there was something good to do but I didn’t know how to do it,” Saklain says. “I sought help from my friends and started educated myself before catering to the people.”
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Initially, he procured lavender from one of the growers in Kashmir. But after devoting time to this work, he needed a place where he could sell it to the local populace. “This building belongs to my family,” he says. “I took this corner. I called my sister and she named it, ‘Saklain’s Coterie’.”
For 45 years, the building had been closed. The amount of work to be done on it was huge. “It was so dirty that nothing was visible.”
Not having a copious variety of products that he has now, he didn’t have many products to be placed on the glassed shelves in his coterie. “I had to make sure people enter and see something that makes them buy it,” he says. “But initially I had nothing except the lavender oil. And when people entered and saw that, they couldn’t understand.”
Not knowing the potential benefits of lavender, people didn’t pay heed to what was being sold in that particular space. “Once a customer questioned me, ‘Do you sell urine in bottles?’ ” Saklain says with a stunned face. “I was de-motivated and dumbstruck.”
But that initial ‘disappointing’ response from the local market didn’t dampen his spirits. As somebody who had returned home after spending much of his time outside, Saklain wanted to contribute in his own way. “The thought behind everything is positivity, to change the society, and to make people believe that settling here isn’t as bad as they think,” he says, with a determination in his tone.
His parents’ unconditional support, he says, came as a big support for him during that period.
“I always respected the amount of hard slog that my son puts in everything,” says Saklain’s mother, Mahbooba Qadri in a proud tone. “My blessings and his hard work is the secret recipe.”
But even after establishing himself as a successful lavender vendor, Saklain’s struggle to educate people about the same continues. “One of my friends asked me to add dry fruits to the stash as people here would relate to that and step into the shop,” he says. “So I put packets of walnut and almonds to allure the customers inside.”
The idea was to tempt customers inside, to inform them about the natural products he had. “So, I asked my neighboring store that sells kids-wear for empty cardboard boxes so that it would seem I have stock in my shop,” with a sneer he adds. “It worked.”
He was convinced that the path that he had chosen was right when he got a call from Jyoti, Dr Karan Singh’s daughter asking him to exhibit his products in Almond Villa, Boulevard road. “I got a call asking me to take part in a farmer’s exhibition, on Sundays. I was excited to showcase my products in front of the who’s who in town,” Saklain says, in a thrilled tone.
After being noticed, Saklain says, many asked him to mix water with his products to sweep more profit. “But I couldn’t tamper with the quality of my products, because it was against my principles as a positive-businessman,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“Honestly, people swear by his Aloe Vera gel,” says Farah Zaidi, Saklain’s regular customer.
His father believes that his son was bound to succeed. “When I planted lavender, the concept was not familiar, but very few knew what it was,” Saklain’s father says. “My son took the initiative to take it forward in Kashmir, and abroad. It was started by me but he watered it every day until it grew bigger.”
If people would know the medicinal purposes of lavender, he continues, every farmer would start planting it. “It’s a huge industry, which can accommodate every farmer in Kashmir.”
Having been featured in BBC Good Food for the best oil in just one year was a satisfying moment for Saklain, making him believe that he is on the right track. “I’m striving for a global market and employment generation in Kashmir,” he concludes with a contented tone. “I’ll make everyone proud, including myself.”
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