The Journey, the Lessons, the Present.
It was in 2005 that my writing was first published in a newsletter/magazine. I soon had a regular column in it and then went on to write for other magazines and publications. Writing came naturally to me then, and I wrote on a wide variety of subjects. I covered features, articles on health and wellness, people-interviews, people-profiles, restaurant reviews and even movie reviews. As I met achievers and interviewed them, I began to feel the need to do more myself. I wanted to start a business! I have always loved t-shirts and so I thought I could sell printed t-shirts that had catchy slogans and fun captions. I then did a spot of research online and saw that the market was flooded with such t-shirts and I instinctively felt less inspired by the idea of printed t-shirts as a business for me.
I considered leveraging my writing and thought of bringing out an online magazine with a difference. Since the news was largely focussed on alarming and troubling events, I thought I could have a news website that focussed only on the good deeds and successes. I was quite happy with this idea and even created content and built a first-level website for it. And then, I began to wonder who would pay to read it and whether these positive stories would sell and have an excited audience. I soon had to admit that it probably would not and I dropped this idea as well.
As I got on with life creating newsletters and writing blogs and other content, I happened to visit Malaysia – it was a holiday with my family, and we spent a few days on an island called Langkawi. It was a scenic place with beautiful oceans and water bodies; it is an archipelago, so it has many smaller islands around, a few of which, we visited. I spent some time walking along the streets of every island we visited and nearly every other lane had a row of shops and stalls that sold souvenirs and t-shirts. They were bright, colourful knickknacks and there was a lot of variety. Photo frames, key chains, pens, magnets, t-shirts, and so on. I was amused and wondered what was so great about each of those islands that they had so many souvenirs on display(!). Many of them just had an artwork of a seashell on the beach or a few trees and the ocean and carried the name of the country and/or town / city. It got me thinking about how rich and interesting Namma city Chennai is and whether we had such souvenirs.
I thought I probably didn’t know whether there were such souvenirs here, since I’m a native of Chennai, and was not looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner or tourist. I was mildly excited as I stared at those trinkets and memorabilia. I was definitely going to come back to Chennai and have a look around with new eyes.
On my return, I visited a few stores and saw that we did indeed have souvenirs in terms of handicrafts and other India souvenirs, but nothing specifically celebrating the greatness of Chennai or the Madras that was. Nor were there typical souvenirs which people across the globe could relate easily to like t-shirts, mugs, fridge magnets, etc. This gave me the idea for Chennaigaga, to marry my love for t-shirts with the glaring gap of ‘regular’ souvenirs and Chennai themed gifts.
The name Chennaigaga, among others, was coined by yours truly, to capture the depth of enthusiasm and love for the city, which we wanted the brand to stand for. We wanted to position it as a Uniquely-Chennai souvenir venture. We knew that the market for it was hot as it was solving a problem that had been existing and dormant for many years. Souvenirs are after all not a new concept, but it would be new for namma ooru. We first worked on a range of 15-20 t-shirt designs and later felt that as a souvenir venture, we ought to include other products that could be typical souvenirs too. Mugs, cloth bags and coasters were added to the collection and we got ready to present a first-of-its-kind endeavour for Chennai city.
We came up with the tagline ‘Go gaga over Chennai!’ and registered the trademark right away. The brand was first presented to retailers and people across a wide spectrum of fields like cinema, arts, business and in many cases, the reaction was one of appreciation and delight with the line “I was thinking of this idea too, but never got around to it!”. This reinforced our resolve to launch the brand as soon as possible to get there first.
Sure enough, we launched Chennaigaga in a few months from then and the adage “ask and you shall find” proved to be true as we found the apt designers, suppliers and vendors required to take the plan forward. The brand was well-received by all the invitees to the grand opening in 2010, and we soon began retailing through a selection of stores across the city.
The stages of wanting to ‘do something’ and actually doing it can have quite a distance between them! Moreover, the skill sets required proved to be diverse and challenging and this is where outsourcing certain parts of the business came into play.
A couple of years after Chennaigaga was created, we opened our first retail store in Besant Nagar and soon learned that retail is all about location. We were on the first floor and this greatly reduced the walk-in numbers. We then moved to a more central location on TTK Road which was a more spacious shop with good frontage, situated on the ground floor of a main, busy road. This greatly increased the number of footfalls and brand recall as we had huge, well-lit hoardings displaying our USP and brand name.
By 2020, we were not only a well-established Go-To store for Chennai themed t-shirts and gifts but were also privileged to have been rebranded as the first Chennai Super Kings’ Superstore! When Covid-19 hit India in March 2020, we were forced to work with constraints, restrictions and the year gradually took a real toll on our retail shop.
Being a small business, we took the most practical decision, closed the physical store and moved to fully-online presence at chennaigaga.com in January 2021.
Our vision and mission is to continue to offer a very ‘Chennai experience’ through creative and quirky designs on good quality products, and to give a more relaxed, convenient shopping experience while continuing to delight our dear customers who we would rather refer to as ‘Friends of Chennaigaga’.
Thank you for reading.
- Sujata Tarakesan