We talked to M Razi Shakir of Panache Exhibitions about exhibit design industry and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
M Razi Shakir: Right from the pandemic outbreak, we decided to self-isolate ourselves as a family.
In the mid of August, I resumed my office with full personal and statutory precautions. On the 19th of August, after sensing fever and discomfort, I decided to get tested for Covid-19.
The test report indicated that I was Covid-19 positive. To aid my recovery and keep my family safe, I home quarantined myself in a separate room for close to 2 weeks. All praise to god and utmost care and affection by my family, I have been re-tested negative. Luckily all of my family members are safe from this pandemic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Panache Exhibitions.
M Razi Shakir: After completing my post-graduation in mathematics from a premiere Indian university, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Mathematics. I realized quite early that I loved people situations more than anything else and dropped out of the program.
With sound mathematical training, I enrolled myself in a software certification course. I began working as a software programmer post-certification.
One fine day my Boss invited me to accompany him for an outdoor client meeting. The meeting went well, and with my innate sales instinct, we won the project. My Boss made me realize that I am a born Sales Man. From that day, I started polishing my sales acumen and helping clients make smart decisions. This was followed by a Master’s in Business Administration from an elite Indian business school.
In the meantime, I started working as a Sales Manager in companies in the Telecom, Health, and Insurance sectors, before joining an Exhibition Company.
After three years of serving that company, I started Panache Exhibitions Pvt Ltd with a meager capital of $300 and never looked back.
Panache is now in the top 10 Exhibition Design & Build company in India, having its offices in Delhi, Bengaluru, and overseas (Jeddah Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Panache Exhibitions has designed and built more than 4000 booths.
How does Panache Exhibitions innovate?
M Razi Shakir: For us, ‘customer has always been a king.
What helps Panache innovate is our relentless focus on helping our customers succeed. This has helped us develop our sales process, offer industry-leading designs and fabrication, along with in-house design capabilities.
We hold weekly meetings to discuss what each of us has learned from the customer – unfiltered. These meetings have helped us see things as they are and work on them to innovate.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
M Razi Shakir: The pandemic has adversely impacted the business prospects of exhibitions and the event industry globally. With the economic prospects’ bleak for the next 2- 3 quarters, we went back to the drawing board to answer for ourselves on ‘How can we serve our existing and new clients better?”
With industry-leading design and marketing capabilities to leverage, we have launched an interior design arm called Spatial Interior. We have started consulting our existing clients in the domain of digital marketing.
This has helped us retain our core staff and utilize their skill set to help our clients sail through the tough times.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
M Razi Shakir: As most industries are impacted by the stalled economic activity, our industry is also characterized by activity-centric cash flows. Owing to the dented cash flows, we had to cut down our team size by half. Letting go of people we had nurtured during all these years was a difficult decision to survive through the pandemic.
Though we have somehow retained our core team to prepare a comeback plan and offer our clients the service quality they have always expected from us.
We are on our way to becoming lean, efficient, and more customer-oriented.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
M Razi Shakir: We believe in the old proverb that “Every cloud has a silver lining” and expects that we would be able to see “Light at the end of the tunnel” very soon.
We chose to streamline our safety processes at the core and train our staff to ensure impeccable service once the industry is back on track.
Staying busy as an individual and as a company has helped neutralize the impact of stress and anxiety.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
M Razi Shakir: The Indian Exhibition and Events industry is unorganized, with very few organized players. Undoubtedly the organized players are doing a good job to help host major exhibitions, but what makes Panache stand out is our in-house design and fabrication capabilities and our uncompromisable service motto of ‘PROMISE, PROCESS, and PERFORMANCE’.
Your final thoughts?
M Razi Shakir: To summarize what has served us well and what will serve a lot of businesses is a quote from Ross Perot, “Spend a lot of time talking to customers face-to-face. You’d be amazed at how many companies don’t listen to their customers.”