Business Bandhan – Story of Siblings Behind ‘The University Store’

Started over an impromptu conversation on a visit to their father’s factory, The University Store, which aims to be an umbrella brand for all the needs of students, has now reached colleges across North India. Co-founder siblings Samaksh and Saloni Malhotra have grown the business leaps and bounds to fulfilling requirements of college students across India. In a candid conversation with Sruthi Bhat, the duo, share their story for the #Volocals Campaign.

Hailing from a family which is primarily into manufacturing of warm winter wear, their father offered Samaksh an opportunity to expand the business that is when the business innovation student in him took over. He decided to venture into a summer cotton clothing line as well.

Co-founder siblings Samaksh and Saloni Malhotra with their products.

When I was pursuing my graduation in the Delhi University, I was a part of clubs which required T-Shirts for events, but, usually, they were expensive, and the quality was not up to the mark; so, I wanted to venture into that line,” recalls Samaksh about the initial idea for the University Store.

Business was not new to them as Saloni had already given it a go while in college with making and selling homemade chocolates to her peers on campus and Samaksh had been part of entrepreneurship communities like Enactus. With their collective business knowledge, they brainstormed all their ideas, materialising them into the brand.

The Siblings consider they are lucky and that they have been fortunate to have grown the brand to what it is today. “When we decided to start with our pilot order for customised printed T-shirts, I was at my father’s factory, a person walked in stating that he prints on clothes and wanted to enquire if our unit would have any business for him,” says Saloni, recalling the encounter with their first vendor.

What is interesting about the pair is that the business is not the only thing they do, Saloni is a full-time Economics Professor with the Punjab Technical University, and Samaksh is currently pursuing his Masters in Business Innovation from the Punjab University. Their primary commitments to work and studies made it difficult for them to manage during the incubation stage of the brand.

One day, we had scheduled a meeting in Jalandhar, which is about an hour’s drive from our home, and we had our respective colleges to attend. We finished college, drove there and back closing the business deal within 4 hours without our parents even realising that we had gone off for work,” recalls Saloni.

Despite having the best of luck, they did face their challenges and hurdles along the way. During the planning and development phase, they had technical issues with their developer who bailed in the last stages, and they had to get one of their friends to fill in. They faced problems in fulfilment of their pilot orders with regards to timely deliveries, and quality which led them to test the website multiple times with friends and family before finally launching it.

If that was not enough, right after the brand was finally launched in February 2020, the pandemic hit in March, what was looking hopeful a month ago had left them little sad and pessimistic. Stuck with a lot of inventory and delivery partners being non-operative, somehow, with their closely-knit team of 10, they have braved the pandemic and come out stronger.

“Our dad, who bootstrapped the initial finance, had complete faith in us and encouraged us to go ahead as long as we were confident,” they say. So, what began with an idea of providing affordable customised printed apparel has now moved to include stationery and accessories, designed and keeping the smallest detail in mind.

“My students test checked the website, products and constantly gave suggestions to improve,” says Saloni. Working on constructive criticism from family, friends and students, they were able to come up with creative solutions for every detail.

For example, aiming to be a Gender-neutral brand, all the wash instructions on their apparel say ‘Both men and women can wash this’, and they also have separate ‘Pride Collection’ of all the products.

They always put themselves in the shoes of their customers to develop the products. The Happy Diary is a brainchild of Samaksh; a happy go lucky person by nature while Saloni, who loves jotting thoughts fostered the One line a day diary. Their product designs are inspired by the kind of people they are and the nature of customers they wish to reach out to, as for the taglines and descriptions, all are creatively drafted to make their brand a relatable one with the student community.

They also are ambassadors of sustainable living and have featured paper pens by Project Syahi, a brainchild of Enactus KMC, Delhi. In addition to that, their product tags are made out of seed paper, they use eco-friendly packaging, and hence they give back to the society and the environment in every little way they can.

Started solely to fulfil all the needs of a college student, the brand aims to keep their prices low and quality high. “Since I had first-hand experience with bad quality event T-shirts and their expensive tags, once we commenced business and came to know about the actual costing, we decided to keep the prices low and our margins the bare minimum without compromising on the quality,” says Samaksh.

“Colleges came back to us time and again, and we are also partnering with them for a few online events in the lockdown,” he adds.

When asked if they did have a healthy sibling rivalry in place, they affirm, but, they know and acknowledge that they have each other’s backs. “I couldn’t have been able to do this all by myself, I am glad we did this together supporting each other,” says Saloni. They extend this support to various colleges’ entrepreneurial ventures, especially the ENACTUS and published their stories on the blog on their website. “I want to connect with Enactus Projects in colleges across the country,” says Samaksh.

As for the brand, they do plan and hope to expand into stores in the future pan India, and leave an impression on every college student’s life.

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