Designer, hotelier, entrepreneur, adventurer and developer. Jimmy Mistry is a man with many hats. He founded Della Group in 1991 with a core belief that anything “we design or create should be unique and should improve the lives of as many people as possible.” In an exclusive interview with Steena Joy, he elucidates on how design can be used to create experiential spaces
From college dropout to entrepreneur, what made you opt for hospitality rather than any other sector?
The calling has been there right from childhood. To try and take a product or a given environment and improvise it. That has been ingrained in me since my school days. After I finished school I enrolled for a diploma in mechanical engineering. Those days I was very fond of automobile and motorcycle modifications and motorcycle racing. That took me on to the next level of my life and I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I dibbled in contracting, furniture imports, manufacturing, interiors, architecture, designing offices that stood out from the crowd – the idea was better and better environments for people. In interiors when we reached a stage in our careers when we realised we have designed enough across the length and breadth of the country, we wanted to design hospitality for ourselves. But I wanted to do hospitality with a difference or what was not available in the country. We started off with a very humble 30 room resort, an adventure park, a small cafeteria that was made into a restaurant. The beginnings were very very humble and even today we are very close to the ground and listen to what the guest wants. We always put ourselves in our guest’s shoes and understand what is it that they would want.
How is Della different?
I wanted to have a place where I can have fun with my family, friends and which is different. Not the same mundane menu and the same mundane restaurant with nothing else to do. How much can you attract people with only food or only ambience? You need something much much more than that. Hence we decided to do experiential hospitality – the whole experience, not just food or the décor. And experience needs to be theme based so that’s how Della Adventure was born. We are the pioneers in this space- there was nothing like extreme adventure in the country. We started the adventure park, restaurants inside it so that when someone is doing dirt bike riding they can come and sit in the restaurants on the edge of the racetrack. And all this comes from my personal experiences while working and growing up. Same is with interaction with animals. I am very fond of dogs, pets, horses, and activities like milking cows, etc. simple things that give tremendous sense of satisfaction to the soul within. Buying a cow is not that costly, doesn’t need much investment but the experience of milking a cow is not available. So my job as an entrepreneur has always been to identify the missing gap – what is not available and then recreate those experiences.
From the heritage styles of the Taj and the Oberois to hotels with contemporary design, how has hospitality design in India evolved over the years?
Hospitality design has gone through a sea change. It was an organised segment so to speak but it was old world. We were lost in an bygone era. I think there was a time in 80s and 90s when we didn’t keep up with the world. And that was the time when international hotel brands were just entering India. By 2000, most of the brands had entered and they came in with their international designers, their contractors, their standards – that standardisation really took the country by storm. So the hotel avatar you see today is very different from the one say 20 years ago. We being in the world of design, we were keenly observing the entire change. And our designs were always more motivated and inclined towards international designs and the standardisation therein. When we set up, we made sure all the customer touchpoints are the same, like the safes, door locks, phones etc. decor and design was contemporary because we were always on the cutting edge of design and this is our forte. At the same time using deeprooted design thinking, getting into human centric design and trying to give consumers what they are NOT getting in a Taj or Oberoi – this is where we specialise in, creating a small niche for ourselves. We have installed aeration knobs in all our washrooms, we use VOC free paints, no use of wood, we don’t even promote wood from recycleable forests, we do not use melamine polish – we were the first in the country to launch water-based paints in our factory. I firmly believe that we must leave this planet a better place for our children. This is not a corporate mantra, not a management philosophy – it is deeprooted in me – love for Nature, love for environment and love for plants and animals – that’s who I am.
Your resorts have design themes all across from grenade shaped and gun shaped door handles to animal shaped lampshade bases. How do you source these elements?
When you use design thinking to work on a concept or an idea, you take a deep dive into that idea. And you spend a lot of time at the listening stage asking a lot o questions and ideation stage and keep doing the exercise again and again. It has to be deep rooted. So when we came up with a military theme concept, a first in India, arms are not available so we would sit hours doing research and drawings of an AK 47 or assault rifle recreating it in a one to one scale, making a diecast or mould in aluminium and finishing in our factory. Similarly with the grenades and the military look throughout the resort, keeping to the theme but at the same time giving it an ultra luxury look. I keep looking for the vaccum, what others are not doing and where I can stand out. Of course I idealise the Taj, I am hard core fan of theirs, and I love the Four Seasons, but I try to use design to give my guests that core element of surprise and we do it deliberately. So we have guests coming out of our washrooms smiling, they are floored when they visit D.A.T A and then they become your brand ambassadors.
Future roadmap for the group?
After 25 years, I have realised that I am tired of designing. And came up with the idea where I design the products and then let the designers do their interior designing using my products. So this gives me an opportunity to collaborate with interior designers. That’s the idea behind Della Concept Stores or Experience Centres. Where I design products and concepts that are truly global. We have got about 2,500 products designed and manufactured by Brand Della. Our factories in Daman have been upgraded for luxury furniture. We have finest of tiles, very unique and different from other tiles available in India. We have decorative lights, a range of sanitaryware manufactured in China, faucets, so anything that is upmarket design will be showcased here – architects and interior designers needn’t travel across the world to source these products. We always try to price our products at an ‘optimal’ level. We are not cheap but we are not super expensive either. Just like Della, every product is value for money. We are putting up our first store in Lonavla, of 50,000 sq ft and it’s going to redefine the user interface and experience of interior shopping completely, that’s why it’s an Experience Centre rather than a Store. Later we plan to set up a little smaller format in Delhi Gurugram and Bengaluru as well. Once we set up these three company owned stores, we are open to give out our franchise to about 30 cities across India that we have identified.