How to handle your business? Milan Dalal – Chairman of the Bombay Store shares his 9 business lessons

Milan Dalal, a dynamic businessman himself, comes from the very well-known and established business families in our country, the Dalal group. With his name attached to phenomenal brands and companies such as The Bombay Store and Food & Inns Ltd., he has with his vast experience gained and learnt a lot of how businesses should be run.

We sat down for an enriching one- on- one with the man himself, and chalked out 9 guidelines in the handbook of running businesses, all complete with experiences to satisfy the most curious of minds. For all those looking to make something out there, we have it straight from the horse’s mouth. Presenting to you, Milan Dalal’s 9 Lessons in Business.

milan dalal bombay store  interview

Milan Dalal at The Bombay Store,


1.Know your business and yourself.

Before you decide to reach for what you want, know what you have. “It is important to understand the history and ideology.  For example, we knew were buying a company with a 100 years of history when we took over The Bombay Store,” said Milan Dalal, who bought this company in the early 90’s, revamped its identity and celebrated 100 years of the brand. “What started out as a movement of freedom fighters such as Lokmanya Tilak, has retained its identity and history even today. Especially as the culture is changing. Earlier people wanted modern, modern – now they want to return back to their roots!”

2.Grab opportunities.

“Dhotis were imported from Manchester, why not make our own?’’ questioned Dalal, as he spoke of The Bombay Store acquisition. Which is exactly, how he came about Foods&Inns Ltd, which today is a very well-known company today delivering on the stock market. What many may not know that it came into the Dalal hands as a forced investment into a sick unit producing egg powder. The layman will not see an opportunity, but Milan did, switching the production of egg powder to fruit powder! The flavoring of your favorite wafers may just have come from the tomato powder produced here! Today, Foods & Inns accounts for 28% of the mango pulp exported out of India.

3.Remain with your roots

The Bombay Store believes in appealing to the modern youth with a traditional appeal. Its base lies in maintaining the cultural essence of India, and brilliantly by helping the old artisans and uplifting dying arts.

Milan Dalal’s words ‘’Let there be integrity in what you do,’’ truly reflect the way the store is run. We see this perfectly in the way this business functions especially as the Dalal’s are particular about who owns their franchise! Dalal is clear how he sees the online and the franchise stores, “We want it to be a perfect representation of our store,’’ said Dalal,

Also, despite the ups and downs – they retain the old Bombay ethos! ‘’We are proud to live in Mumbai city, but we are The Bombay Store.’’

4.Don’t be afraid to innovate

It may initially seem that this may be in contrast to the lesson above, but looking beneath the layers, one needs to realize that these two go hand in hand. We see a lot of innovation and adaption in the Dalals’ business journey, whether it be reducing the average age of director in the board when they acquired the retail chain or changing the company’s Memorandum itself. “’While we realize that traditional arts are dying, we provide a launch pad for the newcomers to see what they can do with them. How many Taj Mahal replicas can you have at home? We bring you the same thing in different forms such as coasters, mousetrapped, where you can have many things of the one thing you love.”

We see innovation and change even in the structure of the stores today. Milan says with a laugh about the iconic Bombay Store at Fort, ’We started renovating the store by taking down the ceiling. Believe it or not, we found four ceilings to take down and ultimately reached the skylight! It gave the store a new feel and aura. Always reminds me…You will have to be ready for a change. Be ready to explore.”

5.Create an experience, not a sale.

The Bombay Store is not merely about getting customers in by discounts! “We keep events like launches, talks, to maintain the activity in stores,’’ said Dalal, ‘’For example, when we had a Thai installation, along with the merchandise, there was fruit cutting and food displays. The diplomats themselves handle. People enjoy and come back for such experiences.”

Milan Dalal in his cabin at the Bombay Store

Milan Dalal in his cabin at the Bombay Store

.Mitigate your risks. Bat on real estate!

We know that Foods & Inns Ltd was as a sick unit with no foreseeable future. Who could guess that the two and half acres property would turn into a goldmine after 30 years?“Every business does not run successfully. Real estate has bailed me out,” recalls Dalal.

7.Change the game
One might think that the transition from The Bombay Store to supplying mango pulp through Foods & Inns Ltd is surreal. Milan Dalal shares the back story of how they changed the game. “We took over an almost discarded Coke canning plant at Valsad. One would normally sell the scrap steel, being a canning plant. But we got into mango pulp. Now we supply mango pulp concentrate to Coke itself as well as Pepsi.The turnover is Rs. 350 crore!’’ Today, Foods & Inns is the only vendor that supplies to both multinationals together and has over 7 factories all across the country!

8.A family that eats, works together – stays together!

The Dalal brothers have been coming together for dinner every Wednesday night since the past 7 years, especially since the brothers moved out of the family home. “Space constraints has now made it difficult for all of us to be under one roof. It’s since then we have made this a tradition. Every Wednesday evening is reserved for us. We don’t go for any party or gathering on that day. Our kids are not allowed. It’s just three brothers and their better halves!” said Milan, the eldest of the three who still lives with his parents.  “We take turns on organizing the dinners. Over this dinner table, we don’t talk shop. Just share news, bond over what each other is doing. It keeps the family together.”

In a day and age, where family businesses are riddled with court fights and ego-clashes, this is clearly a way that the Dalalscions bond with ease!

9.Don’t worry! 

A firm believer in karma, this is what he has to say.” Last year the EU banned imported mangoes in Europe. But you wouldn’t believe it if I said we had a super run! Mangoes were easily available for people and we sold out.”

Recalling another experience, Milan shares, “We invested in Palghar at a good time, albeit with skepticism. Things worked for us. Palghar became a district. Connectivity increased. We got an excellent deal. It is a real estate investment, after all”