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It’s great to dream but to turn dreams into a reality, one needs to hustle.
Behzad Kharas has seen a lot of ups and downs in pursuit of his dream to become an architect.
He grew up watching his father work as the chief project architect of the current King of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. At a very young age, when Behzad was in Class VI, he had to leave his parents in Bahrain and moved to Nashik with his grandparents due to the First Gulf War.
After pursuing his Class XII exam, Behzad earnestly wanted to pursue architecture, however, due to scoring low in his entrance examination, he was told he could never be an architect.
But, he didn’t lose hope.
Behzad re-applied for exams and this time, he stood 56th in the Maharashtra state entrance exams and received a scholarship seat in Mumbai.
Having topped the exams, and began prepping for Masters. It looked like the road was clear for him to get an architecture degree and make a good living out of his profession, but life didn’t plan out as he wanted.
His dad got paralysis, and with the times turning difficult at home, the family also had to undergo an economic downfall. Behzad considered quitting architecture to become an airline purser with Etihad Airways, which was about to be launched around the same time.
In conversation with SMBStory, he says,
“We needed money. My mom was the sole bread earner and was working in Mumbai. After my dad got paralysis, he and I moved to Nashik as we had a bigger house here and my mom stayed in Mumbai. I was desperate to get a job and support my family and decided to pursue the airline.”
Behzad kept talking to many people to get an idea of the industry and this was when he spoke to his mom’s boss who told him that he cannot always run away from the problems.
“He told me ‘the world belongs to the brave’ and these words kept echoing in my ears,” he recalls.
So, Behzad decided not to give up on architecture and worked relentlessly to pursue his dream.
After years of struggle, grit, and determination, Behzad founded The BNK Group in 2005, and in 15 years, the organisation has scaled to make a turnover of Rs 20 crore annually.
Giving away to make a living
Behzad was 25 when he started up in Nashik using a small table at his friend’s office. He designed the office space for his friend in lieu of rent and began his entrepreneurial journey. His friend referred him to a few other people, one thing led to another and he started getting projects from nearby cities, including Pune and Mumbai.
During one of his business visits to Mumbai, Behzad met a Marwadi man whom he considers his godfather. Behzad says,
“Somehow, I got in touch with this man. He is a big businessman and had resorts and other commercial spaces. He already had a big architect onboard but asked me to redesign one of his resorts which he liked the most, even when it was under construction. He started referring me to his associates and this came as a turning point in my journey.”
Behzad was asked to shift base to Mumbai as he could find more potential clients, but he was sceptical about the move due to his family’s condition.
His wife pushed him to pursue his dreams and move to the city. Behzad took this opportunity as a stepping stone and shifted base to Mumbai in 2007, working for the same Marwadi man who offered him a cabin space in lieu of doing his projects for free.
Behzad worked like this for nine months with two employees. As he started getting more projects, he moved to a chawl with six employees, and further to a shop in a mall with 10 employees. In 2013, Behzad finally set up his venture with 40 employees in a buzzing business district of Mumbai.
“In the early days of my business, I travelled between Nashik, Pune and Mumbai within 36 hours and sometimes twice a week to ensure I could look after my father as well as my work. The journey was long and a tough one,” he says.
Scaling up globally
Behzad continued to run the business smoothly, designing residential and commercial spaces for his clients. However, he kept the pricing of his projects low to not lose the client. He says, that for years, he designed the layout for each of his clients himself.
“There came a time when I got 30 projects at a time and I realised that my precision to detail was fading. Besides, there were other challenges that come along with the interior designing business — primarily getting the quality raw materials and profit-making development cost. I decided to transform my company as a design consultancy to develop luxury turnkey projects rather than handling smaller ones,” Behzad explains.
The consultancy fee was quite minimal as compared to the project cost (five to eight percent). On the other hand, the company needed to take up more projects, to continue being sustainable.
Behzad realised that there was a flaw in the business model, and was unwilling to demerit the brand credibility. It made more sense to take the entire ownership and deliver the project from concept to key, which acted as a better money control model.
The market for home interiors and renovation in India is estimated to be between $20-30 billion and many players in the industry do not take over turnkey projects in the residential segment. The concept was new and clients didn’t trust the company as they believed that there would be a quality compromise. But one project led to another and that’s how the second vertical of design and build was born.
According to Behzad, three consultancy projects equals one turnkey project. Although this philosophy reduced the number of projects, it led to better profitability, attention to design and detail, while creating a successful model.
The BNK Group sources raw materials locally. Unlike other firms in the industry that rely predominantly on procuring furniture from vendors, The BNK Group has given contract to third party manufacturing units, one of which manufactures 90 percent for the company itself.
The BNK Group also developed projects in Africa (6,000 sq ft villa), China, Dubai, and more. In India the company has designed for Taj Vivanta, Delhi; One Avighna, Mumbai; Sky Villa, Mumbai; and more.
Challenges and the competition
One of the most challenging thing in the interior design industry is earning the trust of the clients who are usually sceptical about the companies using quality raw materials, and this is why Behzad says he started focusing on developing turnkey projects to address this challenge.
“We have lesser control on quality unless we are available 24×7 on site for supervision when only designing. When we develop turnkey projects from start to end, we have the full control. This is how we are able to garner the trust of our clients,” he explains.
Personalising each space at the macro and micro level unique to each project, and the ability to deliver this customised solution is what makes The BNK Group stand out, Behzad adds. Another USP of the company is having dedicated teams for design and execution within one roof for luxury interiors.
A major challenge Behzad says the company faces is sourcing good talent, grooming them, and sustainng them in the business.
The way ahead
Although the pandemic has significantly impacted the industry as a whole, Behzad says The BNK Group was able to steadily and sustainably overcome challenges and closed more deals as compared to the last financial year.
He further says that the company’s residential turnkey segment is seeing a surge due to a lot of discounted value transactions in HNI luxury homes and real estate.
In the future, Behzad is looking forward to raising external funds, primarily for opening up an experience centre for his clients and setting up an in-house manufacturing space to expand the business.