A genuine rags to riches tale

Raj Loomba built a successful clothing business from a market stall in Widnes. It now supplies the House of Fraser

If there's one overarching strategy that has been critical in the success of the Rinku Group, a £10m women's clothing company whose roots lie in a single market stall, it is to never, ever overtrade. "Even now, we have a rule to always work from the bottom up. So each year, we work out what kind of turnover it looks like we can afford, rather than starting with a turnover figure and doing whatever it takes to achieve it," says Raj Loomba, founder of the business, which now employs more than 100 people in three countries.

The tactic has saved him from several recessions over the business's 34 years, he says. "Whilst our competitors were being hit left, right and centre, my business actually did better in these times."

There were other contributing factors, he admits, but they weren't rocket science. "I'd say there were three key things we did. First, not overcharging just because there was a recession. Second, adapting the business to make up for any lost business - in our case, we focused not just on selling clothes, but on high quality design work. And finally, being very, very reliable. So if we took an order from a customer, we made sure we delivered on time and to a high standard, no matter what. The result is that customers have always felt we work hand-in-hand with them, rather than exploiting them in any way. As other businesses failed during recessions, some of their business inevitably fell to us and that's how we managed to thrive, even in these times of economic decline."

Loomba's is a true rags to riches story. Born and raised in India, his mother became a widow at just 37-years-old, when Loomba was a 10-year-old boy. The family business more or less closed down because it had been run by his father, who was the only child in his family, and the future for Loomba's family could have been grim were it not for his mother's foresight. "I think what saved us was that when my father was ill, he impressed upon my mother that the reason that his business had flourished was his education. When he died, my mother instilled the same work ethic in her seven children and used all her resources to educate us."

Even Loomba's two sisters were sent to university in the Fifties, a time when few girls enrolled in higher education in India. Loomba went to the US for his education and arrived in London directly from there in September 1962. "I had just turned 20 and got a basic factory job, although I didn't last long because my uncle from Wigan invited me up there and bought me an ice cream van."

His uncle was a wholesaler in the clothing business himself and, having seen his nephew's ability to work hard, he helped Loomba set up a market stall in Widnes market, Cheshire. "I quickly managed to set up others and by 1967, I had my own high street shop," says Loomba.

By the time the Seventies arrived, he had moved into wholesale and by the mid-Seventies, Loomba was importing from Hong Kong. "I moved to London in 1980 and set up the Rinku Group, named after my son. I wanted to be at the centre of the import business and five years later I was importing from all over the Far East," he explains.

Today, the business has offices in London, China and Delhi, and a small factory in Delhi. It supplies to major multiple stores across the UK, including BHS and House of Fraser, as well as having more than 250 concessions in stores such as John Lewis under the brand names Vis-à-Vis, Tigi-Wear, iZ and Ming. The firm still trades from the market stall in Widnes too.

"It was the fact that in the Sixties, Britain offered equal opportunities to anyone, whether immigrants or local people, that enabled me to start this business," believes Loomba, who adds that always having a strong vision for the company helped him develop it. "I wouldn't put it down to a gap in the market because there was always stiff competition."

Loomba, who is in his sixties, has recently decided to start taking a back seat. The helm is being taken by the son he named the company after, while Loomba remains executive chairman. "The succession planning hasn't been difficult because that was always what I planned," says Loomba, who spends a growing amount of time promoting a better understanding and relationship between India and the UK through a programme of visiting fellowships.

Loomba, whose accolades include Asian of the Year award in 1997 and International Excellence Award in 1991, is also busy promoting the Loomba Trust, a charity he set up in 1997, which is dedicated to promoting the welfare and education of the children of poor widows and other orphaned children. "The trust, whose president is Cherie Booth QC, is currently educating more than 4,000 children of poor widows nationwide in India and aims to expand in South Asia and across Africa," says Loomba. His aspirations have come full circle.