Thursday, January 8, 2015
Like many other businesses of the time, this one also started out as a family enterprise. Rather, as a one-boy business. Still in his teens, Ezhumalai decided that he had picked up enough in his six-year stint as a helper in one of Rattan Bazaar's workshops to go solo. In hindsight, it was probably a wise move for him to set up his workshop at Royapettah, quite a distance from Rattan Bazaar. As its name implies, this was the go-to place for cane furniture; opening a workshop there might have turned the full blast of competition on Ezhumalai. By basing himself in Royapettah, he cut the distance between the traditional furniture market and his customers,who were mostly based in south Madras.
When Ezhumalai launched his furniture business in 1937, the air must have been full of patriotic fervour. "Jayabharatham" resonated with the spirit of the times. It was probably that zeal which led him to train young men and women the art of re-wiring the cane strands onto the furniture frames. Some of them became competition, but the majority became his employees. Ezhumalai realized that if he had to expand his business, he would have to look beyond the city of Madras. His workforce could handle the volumes, and sales were driven through printed catalogues which were distributed free across the Presidency. Until his death in the late 1970s, Ezhumalai was actively involved in the business.
These days, when one thinks about buying furniture in Chennai, the place to head to is Royapettah. That change, from Rattan Bazaar to Royapettah, was brought about by this one man. And his successors have sustained that change. In 1989, a decade after Ezhumalai's passing away, his son Rajendran changed the proprietor-run business into a corporate entity. Now known as JFA Pvt Ltd, it has spun off a few brands and also niche products. The third generation is also into the business, which now has its presence in several parts of the city - but this building, on Royapettah High Road, is close to where it all began!