How Four Dimensions Built A Strong Business Using A Simple Strategy: An Interview with Mostafizur Rahman, CEO and Designer, Four Dimensions

How Four Dimensions Built A Strong Business Using A Simple Strategy: An Interview with Mostafizur Rahman, CEO and Designer, Four Dimensions

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When Mostafizur Rahman, CEO and Designer of Four Dimensions, a fashion retailer selling designer bags and t-shirts in Dhaka, decided to start his business along with two of his friends in 2007, starting a business was neither a trend nor an easy job. Moreover, selling bags was a challenging affair given the competition in the market from Chinese and local products. But Mr. Rahman felt a demand for great quality designer bags in the market. “The journey of Four Dimensions, which I started along with two of my friends in 2007 when I was still a student of Fine Arts, is more of a personal story. Back in those days, I was an avid follower of youth trends. I was particularly fascinated by design of bags and at any given time, I used to have several bags in my collection, says Rahman. That fascination for bags led to the founding of Four Dimensions.

Today, Four Dimensions has a thriving business. Apart from its two retail locations in Dhaka, it also sells through its website, social media platforms and on platforms like Ajkerdeal. It has a studio manufacturing facility that employees over 25 people and is growing consistently.

Over the past years, through offering great products and excellent customer service, it has built a loyal community of customers that remain its key channel for growth and promotion. We recently spoke to Mr. Rahman to know more about his journey to what he is doing today, the current state of Four Dimensions, playbook he used to break into a cluttered market like bags and his thought on building a business from scratch. This brilliant story of passion, hard work, and dedication is brought you by AjkerDeal.

Future Startup

Please tell us about yourself and your journey to what you are doing today.

Mostafizur Rahman

I originally hailed from Sirajganj where I spent a significant part of my early life. After my HSC, I attended Institute Of Fine Arts at Dhaka University and did my graduation and post graduation on ceramic background from there.

I have been involved in design related works since my undergrad. Design is something that I am deeply passionate about, that I find intellectually fascinating. While working on Four Dimensions, I also regularly work on design projects on the side. I’m currently involved in a couple of graphics design and interior design works apart from the Four Dimensions.

The journey of Four Dimensions, which I started along with two of my friends in 2007 when I was still a student of Fine Arts, is more of a personal story. I have always been a fashion conscious person. Back in those days, I was an avid follower of youth trends. I was particularly fascinated by design of bags and at any given time, I used to have several bags in my collection.

Culturally, we don’t see boys having a lot of accessories in our society. In fact, many of the things that girls own are very gender specific. I thought a bag is something boys can use as an expression of their aesthetic sense.

We started Four Dimensions with two product lines: t-shirts and bags. We rented a small corner shop in Aziz Super Market in 2007. Back then Aziz Super was mainly a book market. The building was not fully operational yet. Only a handful of bookshops were in operations on the ground floor. The number of branded shops like ours was a handful in number. The rent was relatively affordable. We’re confident that we could make it work. That’s how Four Dimensions came into being.

We made t-shirts with distinct designs based on Bengali traditional festivals. We put great effort to make great quality bags at affordable price. Initially, manufacturing bags was not an easy affair. Making a t-shirt was relatively simple – sewing machine, local raw materials, fabrics, buttons and other related accessories were easier to put together – but the bag was different.

Manufacturing bags requires superior skills and different materials than t-shirts – zipper, runner, buckles, push lock, extension lock, stopper and many more components are involved in making a bag. The process is quite complex. We had to maintain a meticulous management of all these distinct parts in order to ensure best quality products. In 2007, it was a difficult job for us to manage all these things.

Although our ambition was to offer superior quality products at a competitive price, bags and t-shirts shop was in no way an inspiring idea. The market was flooded with Chinese bags. There were local products as well. The competition was quite high. We had to face insurmountable challenges in order to make a position in the market.

The advantage, however, was that Chinese products were of relatively low quality. These products were shiny in nature but after 3 months of use, the zipper would wear off, the clothes would become discolored. The local products were also poor in quality and fit for only 3 to 4 months of use.

We saw an opportunity in the market for quality products and decided to take it. From the day one, we worked really hard to make best quality bags at best price possible. Our effort has paid off slowly. Our initial sales volume was not huge but response and feedback from our customers were overwhelmingly positive which was an empowering experience for us and inspired us to make even better products.

I think it is about the work, not the outcome. I love my work at Four Dimensions. I’m minimally driven by money we earn from the business or the conventional success for that matter. Rather I love designs and feel satisfied when I see that our customers are happy with my design. I think that is the entire point. Do something that you enjoy, that adds value to the lives of other people, often good business happens at the intersection of these two things. Be concerned about what you can do instead of worrying about what will happen.

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Future Startup

Why did you choose to start a business in this sector i.e. designing and selling bags and t-shirt?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

I have been deeply passionate about fashion. Bag has always been an object of fascination to me. But at times, I could not find products that could provide both a great design sense coupled with superb quality. I felt that since I love a good quality well-designed bag, there might also be other people who maintain similar passion.

At University, I used to receive regular compliments for my bags which helped me to realize that there, in fact, is a demand for good quality and well-designed products in the market.

Bag is something that we use daily. For young people who are fashion conscious, a bag is not only a mere bag, it is a style statement and expression of personal aesthetic sense.

In a way, we started out of our passion of which we found out that there is a demand for our passion in the market, that we may make a living out of it. When we started to offer unique products with great quality and design, we immediately found a ready market.

Over the years, we have been able to build a loyal user base, particularly students and young people who value both the usability of a product and design. We now consistently receive orders from students at Rajshahi University, Chittagong University among other places. We are also selling online through our website as well as using other platforms.

Future Startup

Can you please tell us a bit more about the early days of Four Dimensions including initial investment, operations and any particular incident that we should know?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

When we started, we were still students and money was not one of our strengths. Being Fine Arts Students, we used to work as freelancers in different design projects for seniors and different businesses that allowed us to earn some extra money on the side which we put into the business.

Our initial capital was around BDT 200,000. The monthly showroom rent was BDT 3,000. We had to pay an advance of BDT 60,000 for the shop. The rest of the capital went into production and advance payments for products.

Although we started the business, initially, we were stressed about the fact that whether we would be able to earn the rent or not. But we were confident about our product quality, pricing, and design which helped us to deal well with the self-doubt.

We started with around 500 t-shirts and 300 bags of different designs and quality. We ran countless experiments to understand the demand and taste of our customers before selling on final products. As I mentioned earlier, the initial response was slow. But gradually we managed to grow our users base.

While financial stability is a critical metric for us, we don’t consider it as the only success criteria. We look at our financial success as byproduct of something that we do for our customers.

Four Dimensions Store in Dhaka | image by Four Dimensions

Four Dimensions Store in Dhaka | image by Four Dimensions

Future Startup

If you look back to your years of journey as an entrepreneur and a designer, what would be the biggest lessons from all those years?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

First of all, you have to be dedicated. It does not matter what you do if you are dedicated to your work, things will happen.

Be patient. So many great things we miss in life by simply being impatient. When things get tough, our journey becomes fraught with challenges, that’s when it calls for greater patience. That’s when we need to keep our heads down and work harder.

Everything is about time. If you work on anything for a long period of time, it will certainly yield some result. If you work on your business for a few years, you will be able to understand it better and can forge a way for yourself. After working for a few years, you will also be able to build connections with different stakeholders which will increase your chance of success.

I think it is about the work, not the outcome. I love my work at Four Dimensions. I’m minimally driven by money we earn from the business or the conventional success for that matter. Rather I love designs and feel satisfied when I see that our customers are happy with my design. I think that is the entire point. Do something that you enjoy, that adds value to the lives of other people, often good business happens at the intersection of these two things. Be concerned about what you can do instead of worrying about what will happen.

Future Startup

Please give us an overview of Four Dimensions now including your size of operations and business and people among other things.

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

We currently make and offer bags, t-shirt, Panjabi, fotua and other men’s clothing. All of our production related works happen in-house. We have a studio factory with about 30 people working there who take care of our production. We mostly use local materials in manufacturing. However, we do import a few materials, mostly fabric, from China because sometimes our garments do not take orders for a smaller quantity of fabrics.

We sell couple hundred thousands worth of products per month – on an average monthly around 500 bags and 250 t-shirts and other items in small quantity. Additionally, the bag business is affected by the seasonality and we are no exception.

We currently have two showrooms in Aziz Super Market. We had two more showrooms in Waari and Baily road that we closed when we realized that it would take significant effort and time to build an audience in each location. We decided to focus on our existing location first. Our original two shops remain hugely popular. Apart from showroom sales, we also take orders for events and occasions. Our existing strategy is to focus more on the retail than the wholesale market.

Our overall profit margin is relatively small because we produce in smaller quantity resulting in higher production and overhead cost. In any manufacturing business volume significantly influences unit cost. For instance, if I produce 1000 units of a product and my cost for per unit stands at TK 500. The cost would simply go up if I make total 100 units. Since we maintain a small studio production unit, our production cost is normally higher than those who produce at large volume.

That said, our main objective has never been to make a huge profit and get rich. Our target customers are mostly students and young people who are always short on money. We actively try to offer our products at a reasonable price while maintaining highest possible quality. Our aim has been to make sure that Four Dimensions remain self-sustainable.

We maintain the strict financial discipline to make things work. Since I pursue freelance design projects, it allows me not to fully rely on Four Dimensions for my remuneration all the time.

The interesting thing about starting anything yourself is that it is an all-consuming experience. It was true for us as well. We had to go through challenges that every early stage companies face. In fact, more so because we did not have much experience in the business. But we’re too excited to notice or occupy ourselves with those challenges. We were excited about the work we’re doing. We were designing our own products, our shop and we could see the result of our hard work which helped us to carry through.

Future Startup

How do you define success or achievement in your business?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

While financial stability is a critical metric for us, we don’t consider it as the only success criteria. We look at our financial success as a byproduct of something that we do for our customers. From the day one, we have put our customers at the center of everything that we do. To us, the satisfaction of our customers is the key success criteria.

Over the past years, we have succeeded, to some degree, in serving our customers better. We now have customers who have been with us since our early days. Many of them bring their relatives, friends and close ones to buy our products. This is what we aspire to achieve.

Future Startup

What challenges did you face in the early days and what are the challenges now?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

The interesting thing about starting anything yourself is that it is an all-consuming experience. It was true for us as well. We had to go through challenges that every early stage companies face. In fact, more so because we did not have much experience in the business. But we’re too excited to notice or occupy ourselves with those challenges. We were excited about the work we’re doing. We were designing our own products, our shop and we could see the result of our hard work which helped us to carry through.

Our operation was not big, we had few products to offer. Our sales number was not huge but whatever we had was ours. This is an incredible feeling when you start something. I really enjoyed the hard work of designing, hustling and seeing the outcome of our hustle.

Opening a bag shop was nothing new in 2007. There were (and are) large bag shops in the market. But they did not offer much diversity in the collection. Most of the shops used to offer similar types of design and were dependent on the Chinese bags and import.

Compared to the market, at Four Dimensions, we were offering unique designs with higher quality. Since we were manufacturing our own products, we could control both the design and quality. We were offering a new standard to the market.

That said, we had to work really hard to find a place in the market. Initially, our sales was slow in pace. It was not unexpected given that we were new in the market and customers did not know much about us. We had to gain the confidence of people in our products.

We never wanted to compete in the market in the sense of competition. We wanted to design high-quality unique products that would stand out in the market. And it served us well in those early days.

The challenges are different now. Competition has grown over the past years. You can have products of different quality from different companies at different price points. Pricing has become a key factor in the competition.

Over the years, the perception of people has changed as well. People now consider Chinese bags relatively better than bags produced locally. There are local producers who don’t always offer best quality products causing negative perception among customers about the local products. More often than not, customers who have a sub par experience of using a local product start perceiving other products similarly of compromised quality. This is creating a new kind of challenge for those of us who are trying to build a brand offering best quality products in the market.

On the top of that, many people are unaware of the fact that bags can be produced in Bangladesh. They perceive that any and every bag is imported from China which simply a misconception. We get to fight this perception on a daily basis.

The other major challenge that we face is the perception of customers. Customers in our context seldom want to pay for a designer’s collection. We are yet to give proper value to design in our culture.

For instance, leather bags are expensive and these bags get more beautiful as they old. The more you use a leather, the better it will look. Canvas and leather combination bags are almost same. Chinese bags are shiny and at times, you can buy cheap but they don’t last long. There are bags that are sold for BDT 1 to 2 lakhs with a lifetime warranty which one bag can be used by several generations.

A designer spends long hours behind perfecting a design. A single bag requires the involvement of several steps and people starting from pattern master to sample design to sample production and more. On the top of that, we produce only a limited edition of a single design. For instance, we only produce 100 units of a particular design of a bag which means only 100 people will use that same design all over the country. All these contribute to the cost which at times our customers do not want to understand. Many people seldom consider the quality, uniqueness, usefulness and the value of design when purchasing a bag. The market awareness around design is not there yet which is a challenge for us.

The only marketing and communication strategy that we have is our customer satisfaction. A satisfied customer is your best marketer. We aim for ensuring the best experience for our customers so that they return and buy again from us and also recommend us to others. This strategy has served us well so far.

Four Dimensions Store in Dhaka | image by Four Dimensions

Four Dimensions Store in Dhaka | image by Four Dimensions

Future Startup

How are you addressing these challenges?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

Our only option is making sure that we offer superior products and we communicate that with our customers. We maintain a meticulous process to ensure best quality products. We use best quality materials in the market to make our bags. We work hard to keep our designs simple and beautiful.

We run multiple experiments to perfect balance, weight and other measurements on our finished products before taking it to our customers. We conduct experiments for at least 15 days on an individual design and if we find a problem we fix it and only then we launch the product in the market.

Along with the best quality products, we have been putting great importance on ensuring the best possible after sale customer service in the recent years. We now offer one year warranty on our products and provide free servicing if there is a problem within a year. In fact, we offer support even after warranty.

Through our relentless effort, over the past years, we have been able to build a loyal customer base who love our products and refer us to others. Our goal is to make more of this in the coming years.

Future Startup

What is your marketing and communication strategy?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

We are a small production unit and thus we never felt the need for large scale marketing activities.

The only marketing and communication strategy that we have is our customer satisfaction. A satisfied customer is your best marketer. We aim for ensuring the best experience for our customers so that they return and buy again from us and also recommend us to others. This strategy has served us well so far.

Being a studio production unit has its advantage. While it is expensive because we can’t go for a large number of production, it also offers a greater freedom to experiment and make different designs in smaller units in short notice.

Future Startup

What other avenues are you exploring to increase your sales?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

We have launched our own website recently. Apart from that, we are available on ecommerce marketplaces as well as on social media platforms.

Future Startup

What factors have contributed to the growth of your business?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

Passion has been a key driving force for us. I’m a designer first and then a businessman. I’m doing this because I love design and I find satisfaction in seeing my design is helping people in living a better life in whatever small way possible. Even today, I could sell Chinese products and earn much more profits. But I had never felt the temptation to do that. I enjoy my design and my work and that has been one of the driving force for me.

In a more material way, we have been working hard to provide best quality products and best possible service to our customers. We normally give one year warranty during which we offer free servicing. But if people come to us after two years of usage, we still help our customers for free to fix their problems. There are people who have been with us since the very beginning of our journey and still buy from us.

Future Startup

As you mentioned earlier, this is a relatively crowded area. How do you differentiate yourself from other similar brands in the market?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

We are more of a designer collection. Our designs are unique in nature. Not only that our products are of higher quality and durable, we also ensure superior customer service for a very long time which is relatively rare in our industry.

This is not a mere business to us. We are in this business because we love our work and it really hurts when someone complains about our products. We try to avoid that feeling. We work hard to make sure that everything that goes in our products is of great quality.

We aim for perfection when we design and manufacture a product. Despite that, if there are some minor errors in a product and we receive complaints from our customers we immediately change it or if it is fixable we fix it.

Passion has been a key driving force for us. I’m a designer first and then a businessman. I’m doing this because I love design and I find satisfaction in seeing my design is helping people in living a better life in whatever small way possible. Even today, I could sell Chinese products and earn much more profits. But I had never felt the temptation to do that. I enjoy my design and my work and that has been one of the driving force for me.

Future Startup

How long have you been working with Ajkerdeal.com? How has your experience been with Ajkerdeal?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

We have been working with Ajkerdeal for around 2 years now. So far, it has been a good experience. One of the best things about Ajkerdeal is their merchant panel which is much smarter than many other marketplaces. Moreover, it allows merchants to exercise greater control over how they run their business on the platform along with greater access to the merchant panel. We can update the panel and maintain a rather seamless customer experience while also gathering better intelligence about our customers.

We also like their policy and procedure when it comes to dealing with the merchants.

We sell a fairly good amount of products through Ajkerdeal. It should be between 15% to 20% of our monthly sales. In fact, we receive a huge amount of orders through Ajkerdeal per month. The challenge, however, is that return rate is also quite high. At times, customers do not really understand the product utility from the description and picture and place orders without understanding which results in returns. For example, we have bags for different purposes. We have small notepad size bags, laptop hand bags or large laptop bags. You have to really understand what you are looking for before buying a bag.

At the same time, it is also the responsibility of the salesman to make customers understand the product properly so that they can make an informed decision.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

Mostafizur Rahman (Mridul)

You have to be passionate, honest and dedicated to your work. Work hard to deliver on your promise. Try not make promises that you can’t keep. If you promise something, it may be about certain quality or customer service, make sure that you keep it. In business and life, reputation will take you places.

Never take shelter of deception or fraud in order to make some quick bucks. In the long run, deception does not win. The only objective of any business is to find customers who love it. If you are not honest with your customers they would never love you.

Invest in yourself. If you want to start a design business, learn design and so forth. Knowledge will always give you a competitive advantage over your competitors in the market.

You have to be passionate, honest and dedicated to your work. Work hard to deliver on your promise. Try not make promises that you can’t keep. If you promise something, it may be about certain quality or customer service, make sure that you keep it. In business and life, reputation will take you places.

(Interview by Mohammad Tashnim, Edited by Ruhul Kader, Photo courtesy, Four Dimensions)

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Mohammad Tashnim

Tashnim is a reporting intern at Future Startup. He is studying BBA at Bangladesh University of Professionals. Previously, Tashnim was involved with ‘Project – Green Light’, a road safety awareness campaign, House of Youth Dialogue (HYD), a voluntary organization and EVENT 52, an event management firm.

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