One step ahead

Ketut Jaya Sugita: ONE STEP AHEAD
Success belongs to those who spot and seize the opportunities: This is the mantra of Ketut Jaya Sugita, who started a business making painted leather sandals in 2003. At that time, all of Bali was grieving from the devastating bombings in Kuta. As the tourist industry and associated businesses crumbled, workers found themselves unemployed. 

“Many members of my family lost their jobs and it was difficult to find a new job. I felt pressure to help them,” says Ketut, who graduated from the Udayana University economics school. “I decided to resign from my job at a garment company owned by Americans.”

With start-up capital of Rp 50 million (US$4,800), he set about opening his own business, drawing on the skills of local people – artists and carpenters.

The opportunity, as he saw it, lay in the fashion world and every stylish outfit needed accessories to complete it – including sandals. Sandals were already available in all kinds of designs, with beads being trendy at the time. But one thing he noticed was that only the strap was ever decorated. As for the insole? As plain as ever.

“I wondered how to make sandals that looked beautiful while being worn and remain attractive even when they have been taken off,” he says. “The point was that the insole shouldn’t be left undecorated.”

He hurried to get advice from his former boss, who encouragingly said the idea was interesting and that fashion would always be popular. 

“The fashion world will keep developing, particularly for women, so as long as I can offer a unique product that has quality and is suitable for the times, it will definitely attract people. That was the main thrust of our discussion,” says Ketut, a father of one who had long dreamed of running his own business.

He ordered a plain leather sandal and started experimenting, mixing suitable colors, painting and adding various decorations. Most important, he says, was making sure the sandals were comfortable. 

At each stage of his R&D, he consulted his former boss and others with relevant experience.

When it seemed he had worked it out, Ketut made several pairs of sandals that he placed for sale in an art shop in Ubud. 

“I waited anxiously. If they didn’t sell I thought I’d open a roadside stall while I looked for another opportunity.”

When all the sandals sold out, Ketut’s spirits soared. “My product was accepted in the market, and that was a gift from God. Frankly, at first I was pessimistic, because Bali was suffering … and many businesses had collapsed.”

With customer feedback, Ketut kept improving the quality of his products, including making sandals in larger European sizes. He employed a shoemaker to improve the quality and recruited his unemployed relatives to help.

Although his business was starting to look good by 2004, Ketut knew he wasn’t there yet, and some buyers weren’t satisfied. “There wasn’t a problem with the designs, but some buyers said the sandals weren’t comfortable.”

So he went to work to fix it.

“Quality became my main concern,” he says. “When the buyers felt the design was suitable and comfortable, and added that the product lasted a long time, then certainly the sandals would be promoted by word of mouth.”

In 2006, the Denpasar city government and the Bali provincial government invited him to take part in the PPE (Export Product Exhibition), an exhibition held regularly in Jakarta. The exhibition, he says, was effective, and brought him a number of local and overseas buyers. Orders were placed for the United States, Australia and Canada, and the number of orders has since grown.

In the same year, his sandals won second prize in the annual design competition held by the Small and Medium Enterprises and Cooperation Ministry, an achievement that “was priceless and was a great motivation to keep working”.

The work paid off: His sandal design won first place in the same competition the following year.
WH Shoes sandals are continuing to find favor internationally, with almost 70 percent of his production volume sold overseas before the global financial crisis hit last year, he says. The crisis flipped things the other way.

“Now it’s the local market that absorbs 70 percent of my products,” he says. “Luckily, I never put off orders from domestic buyers. When the overseas sales became listless, the domestic market came to the rescue.”

A year ago Ketut’s business expanded into making leather bags and belts with matching colored motifs. He uses the leather scraps to make key rings.

To boost appreciation of his work and thwart would-be copiers, in 2006 Ketut registered a number of his designs with related institutions. But because it is expensive and time-consuming to register his designs in Indonesia, he asked some of his overseas buyers to arrange copyright in their countries. 

“Overseas the process is easier and cheaper. It isn’t being done in my name or my company’s, but between myself and the other person, who has a special agreement. But I’ve only done this with one or two designs, just to see if it works.” Ketut’s next plan is to expand his business, mainly in a hope of being able to employ many more people.  “To make a work of beauty, that is easy; selling out brings satisfaction,” he says. “But when I help people, the satisfaction is priceless.”
source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/07/10/ketut-jaya-sugita-one-step-ahead.html
Wasti Atmodjo , CONTRIBUTOR , DENPASAR | Fri, 07/10/2009 11:42 AM | People