7 Entrepreneurship Lessons I Learned from my Kirana Store Owner!

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Last week, when I was home on my break, lazing in front of my laptop, my mother commanded me to go out and buy a few groceries and other household items. I think the command was more out of a concern for my laziness rather than an actual need for the groceries.

So, I ventured out of home and arrived at the main street and got instantly confused, with all the store options. But almost immediately, one particular shop caught my attention and in my ‘Blink’ moment I had made the decision. I ended up spending over an hour at this store.

Here are the 7 Entrepreneurship lessons I learned from this kirana store owner:

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Social Media and Customer Engagement

Within the time period of an hour, this guy must have serviced around 30 customers. He made it a point to speak to every single one of them whether it was asking Person X, when his son was coming from college for vacations or Person Y, how her mother’s kidney operation went. In fact, as soon as he saw me, first thing he asked me who I was and where I lived.

Many businesses have a notion that Social Media and Customer conversations can be outsourced. I firmly believe that the business person(s) should be the one engaging with the customer, one-on-one. Consistency in communication is very important for the brand image of a business setup.

Deep Understanding of Customer Preferences

I asked him for a bottle of shampoo, “Arre koi bhi chalega. Head & Shoulders de do.” (Any brand would do. Ok, give me Head & Shoulders.) To which he replied, “Par aapke ghar to ye waala jaata hai humesha.” (But your family generally prefers this brand.)

This guy knew about all customer’s preferences. And, this was not a one-off case. It happened two more times, while I was there. I tried to imagine all that data in his head. I was amused and surprised at the same time.

Recruiting the Influencers

“Why are you giving out free chocolate to these kids?”, I enquired. He smiled and said that those kids will go home and tell their parents about his store and how they got free toffee. This in turn will lead to repeat purchases.

He had nailed the concept of ‘recruiting the influencers’. Now, I am not advocating sending gift boxes to the influencers. But the point being driven is the importance of getting the key influencers to like your business.

Customer Service

He personally delivers to all his customers’ houses during his lunch break and after shutting shop at night. He also takes returns. I asked him if he encountered any problems due to returns. It turns out very few people actually return stuff and this is mostly the case with bulk purchases, in which case, he anyways ends up selling more in a day than he would generally in a week.

He makes it a point to discuss the quality complaints with his distributor. This ascertains that the distributor is always on his toes and delivers the best quality product to this store.

Differentiation based on Pricing Strategy

I decided to probe further and the next part turned out to be very interesting. This owner finds out from other customers what the other stores’ price points are. Then, he differentiates his pricing considerably for a few high-margin products.

He gave me the example of a Glucose-D 1 kg jar (MRP -INR 139; Wholesale cost- INR 102). So, the store owners have a margin of INR 37 off the shelf. He immediately priced it at INR 118 against the neighbor’s INR 125.

I wondered how many 1 Kg jars he would sell anyways to make a decent return, on the premise of selling more volume to offset for the lower margin. His long-term thinking blew me off.

It turns out the whole thing was about the conversation that it would start in the circles about how his store was selling stuff cheaper than the others nearby. He knew that people tend to generalize and Glucose-D would end up not even getting a mention in those conversations.

Thoughts on Competition and Competitors

This store owner resides 6 kilometers away from his store. He had figured out way back that he was not going to sell much near the area he lived in. After scouting for possible areas, he decided to do it in my community, which already had 10 kirana stores. Again, this guy did not see that as fierce competition, but as an opportunity of catering to a larger population.

There is too much hype about disruptive innovation and unique ideas. But we must not forget that sometimes it’s just about building a ‘better mouse trap’.

His store is open 24X7 (well, not literally)

The other store owners open shop at 9:30 am, despite the fact that they stay nearby. His, opens by 8 am and is generally the last one to close at 10 pm. Even on Sundays while the others are enjoying a holiday, he keeps his store open. Guess who’s selling while the others are busy sleeping.

No wonder he has a vocal army of loyal customers singing his praise and bringing in more and more of them.

Overwhelmed by the zeal, and pedigree of this entrepreneur and having taken a class in Marketing, Finance, Sales etc from him, I returned home.

I told my mother and grandmother about the amazing story that I had heard and recommended that they do their grocery shopping from this store. They smiled and told me that all the grocery at our house always came from the same store. “Of course”, I exclaimed.

  1. Sadek says

    well: Knowledge is everywhere, and BTW I love to shop at small retail stores rather than any super markets.

  2. Viral Dholakia says

    Nice post, Abhash. And good lively examples to explain the same. Nice to see Trak.in get liven up by authors like you.

    1. Abhash Kumar says

      Ohh!! Thankyou so much for all the kindness. :)

  3. Leo G says

    Hey,

    This is very nice Article, I have learnt a lot from it. Being from a Custom Service background I understand how important it is the get recurring customers.

    I just wanted to add that you don’t need to belong to a particular community to succeed you need to have passion for what you do and never do it for the money but coz you like doing it :)

    1. Abhash Kumar says

      Absolutely correct, Leo. Thanks for the nice words. :)

  4. Parthiban says

    Excellent work Abhash. Very well narrated with interesting facts. Now a days these qualities becomes basic to keep your business up and running. Many of us deviate or overlook these basics and I am going to do a self appraisal on how i handle these things in my start-up http://www.pricesbolo.com

    Overall it’s a good learning.

    1. Abhash Kumar says

      Thankyou so much, Parthiban. :)

  5. Abhash Kumar says

    Rajdeep, Thanks for the kind words.

    I do agree that it can get very cumbersome to reply and converse with all the customers. But, IMO, businesses should start seeing these conversations as a core part of their marketing message and not as a peripheral. I’ll give you two examples of people who embody this idea.

    Gary Vaynerchuk, of wine library TV and wayner media fame, replied to every single mail and tweet that he received for the period of 6 years. Even trolls. This helped him create a tribe of ardent followers who swear by his tenacity and product. No wonder he has 100000 followers on twitter and has become such a big name in the SM world.

    Another example is when I was attending ESPARKS’13 in Bangalore in February. Vivek Prabhakar, founder of Chumbak was asked by a guy in the audience who took care of all his facebook page. He replied, “I do.” But, that would take so much of your time? “Yeah, it takes 5-6 hrs everyday and I love doing it. After all they are my customers. I’d have no other person do it for me.”

  6. Rajdeep Das says

    A nice and succinct write-up Abhash. You touched upon the very basics of business. It’s more about creating relationships rather than making profits right away. If you can turn your target audience as your greatest supporter and broadcaster, nothing can be (more) better! I just have to say one thing. You said “Many businesses have a notion that Social Media and Customer conversations can be outsourced. I firmly believe that the business person(s) should be the one engaging with the customer, one-on-one.” Is it possible for every business owner to spend time on social media and (actually) engage with them, keep them entertained, informed and connected 24×7? Wouldn’t it be a big ask for them to leave all other aspects of their business management on hold and spend a whole lot of time in Social Media try to connect and interact with potential and return customers day in and day out? Being in the field of social media marketing and optimization I can vouch for my words. Dear, Social Media is different ball game and each social media channel has different set of rules for engagement, strategies and so on. This is much beyond the understanding and technical acumen of every business owner. Why not hire pros who are trained and experts in this trade and get better conversions and sustaining realtionships with your target audience? Think about it.

  7. Kinjal says

    I assume that he must be either Marwari or Gujju. They often have a tendency to understand their consumers closely. Your comparison although looks quite good, but doesn’t apply on large scale.

    Will he be able to understand the need of 1000-10,000 consumers? Of course, in such scenario, some of the aforementioned tactics will work but most will failed. There are definitely some key points like understanding the demand of the consumers, getting to know what your competitors are doing/offering etc.

    1. Abhash Kumar says

      :) Every body just assumes that he’d be a Marwari or a Gujju. Such is the legacy and tradition that the community has as entrepreneurs. No, but this guy is not one. Although, he exhibits the same traits.

      I do agree that it’ll be almost impossible to scale the personalization to bigger numbers. But, there is no excuse for businesses of any size for not replying to their customers or conversing with them.

  8. Sameer @ MBACrystalBall says

    Excellent post, Abhash! I picked up several ideas from this.

    And you’ve packaged and presented it all in a brilliant manner too.

    Hats off to you, buddy.

    – Sameer

    P.S. Arun, the new look for the blog is pretty cool. Nice work!

    1. Arun Prabhudesai says

      Hey Sameer – Thanks for the comment…and glad you liked the new design, we are still in the process of adding more stuff. Many new things also coming :)

    2. Abhash Kumar says

      Aaha!! Thank you Sameer for all the kindness. I still regret losing out on the opportunity to work with you. :)

  9. Roshan says

    Yes indeed there are many more things you can add. I have personally been in his shoes for more than 10 years at my family store and do all this stuff all day.

    An example of a loyalty of a customer, our customers wait for 2 days to shop if the store is closed and doesn’t move to other store. A store can kill a brand or establish a brand if he decides to do.

    I today run an online grocery portal in pune http://www.punexpress.com and have different community who buys online unlike customers you can predict when they stop at your store

    1. Abhash Kumar says

      Yeah, Roshan. This is like the ground floor of entrepreneurship in our country, the kirana store that is. I’ve seen and read about http://www.punexpress.com Good going, man. :)

  10. Malhar says

    Would it be safe to assume that the kirana store is run by a Marwari guy. While I am not trying to belittle any other group, having stayed at multiple places, I have seen the zeal to do business these guys bring in which no other groups does.

    And mind it, they play on volumes!! Interesting case nonetheless

    1. Abhash Kumar says

      Yeah, immense respect for the marwari community. The 0th generation ‘treps. But this guy is not one.
      His zeal is the same though. :)

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