Nilesh Karani is managing director and "style consultant" for King’s Traders, which sells handmade and customised shoes online and in its two stores in Bur Dubai and Dubai International Financial Centre. Born in Mumbai, Mr Karani, 54, has lived in Dubai for 53 years. His father, Hemchand Karani, opened King’s Traders in 1965, selling garments and later branded pens. Nilesh spent more than 20 years at HSBC as an IT system architect before taking the plunge into the family business in 2011. He steered the business to shoes in 2017, introduced a 3D order experience on King’s website and opened the DIFC store at Gate Avenue in July. He is married with two grown-up sons.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
From an upbringing perspective, when it comes to money, the attitude always was ‘make the money and then spend the money’. And most of the language was ‘make the money, spend only 10 per cent of it’. You can do whatever you want with the 10 per cent and the rest goes into savings and investments. It was not always 90 per cent [that was saved]. But when you aim at 90 per cent and even if you achieve 50 per cent, that’s still a lot.
My father and my grandfather were very instrumental in that thought process. They had come through very difficult times, during the time when India and Pakistan were divided in 1947. They were a part of India, but were on the Pakistan side. Being Hindus, our entire family moved to India when the partition happened.
Predominantly we were from the business fraternity side, so the concept of having a business was to sustain the business first. Family and all the things that are joyous or pleasurable in nature can come later. Because if the business doesn’t work, the family gets adversely affected.
How did your family end up in Dubai?
When a couple of my father’s uncles moved to Dubai, they wanted help from the younger generation to come and assist them. They had multiple businesses; they had money exchange houses, food stuff, electronics and lifestyle products like watches and jewellery. My father was a science graduate and he opted to come here and help them out. In the process he worked for them for about six months and then he set out on his own.
In that period they used to use Indian rupees as the currency, so there was no dirhams at that time. Because Dubai was so small, you could actually drive in 10 minutes from one end to the other. One of the things that gave my father an edge was that, because of his uncles, he had good access to suppliers from the foreign markets, like the US, Europe and Japan.
What was your first job?
After university, I was working with my dad for about one and a half years. HSBC was my first job and I was paid Dh1,700 when I started as a clerk. I started at the very bottom. I stayed there for 22 years and I was a senior system architect, designing IT systems for the bank, when I left.
How did you get into shoes?
I always had this fascination for shoes. I was inspired by my father, who had a good collection and we used to do his polishing every Friday. As a child, you’re awe-inspired.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, we grew up with classic styles of dressing up. As far as shoes are concerned, the classic styles are all leather-soled shoes. But towards the late 1990s and the 2000s, because of cost cutting and fast fashion trends, everything became rubber sole, nobody was using pure leather, everyone was using PVC.
In Dubai, it was very difficult for me to find shoes with leather soles in 2014, 2015 — except if I were to pay Dh3,000 for Bally shoes or Dh4,000 for Salvatore or Dh8,000 for Berluti. Then in 2017 I got this opportunity when I met someone in India who was making classic shoes and supplying them to the US and Europe. He was a friend of a common friend of ours. I said, ‘You know what, your products are fantastic. Can I take them to Dubai?’ And he agreed to it immediately.
Our ready-to-wear shoes start at about Dh550 onwards. Our custom-made shoes start at Dh800 and our highest priced shoes go up to Dh1,995.
I have a very strong technical background, so when I got into shoes, I wanted to bring a technical element. I designed an interface on our website, so that people, instead of imagining, can customise every element and see it in virtual reality.
What is your spending philosophy?
When it comes to getting a house or buying a car or setting up a store, make sure you get the best bargain. My father says, ‘if you don’t ask, the answer is no’. So if you think there’s a possibility of negotiation, ask the question, put down your price and see the reaction. The fact that I’m here [at DIFC], I must have gotten a good deal.
What luxuries do you like to spend on?
Mainly travel. I’ve travelled a lot to US, to Europe. But my next big destination is New Zealand in 2023. I want to spend my money on a trip for a month or two months; I don’t want to go for a week and come back. 2025 is Machu Picchu [in Peru]. Those are the two main trips that are right now in my path, but I have to make the money before I spend it. In December I’m going to Koh Samui in Thailand for only a week, but that’s a timeout, end-of-the-year break and I’ve been there like 10 times before. You go there and just relax.
What is your most cherished purchase?
My MacBook. I’m an introvert, I’m a techie and I’m my own best friend — and my next best friend is my laptop. I do my business on the computer, anything to do with e-commerce, anything to do with marketing, getting in touch with people. Everything is so digital now.
What is your biggest financial milestone?
To hit $1 million (Dh3.67m) in annual net profit. I wanted to sell about 300 pairs of shoes in six months of 2018 and I was able to do about 250, which was pretty OK. That was a good achievement because I wasn’t sure if I could do it. We have quadrupled now. On average we have sales of Dh3,000 to Dh4,000 a day.
What is your retirement plan?
None. I don’t plan to retire. It sounds so boring.