Senthil Natara­jan

Point of Purchase - - CONTENTS - N Jay­alak­shmi

To carve out a niche as a re­tail brand in a prod­uct seg­ment dom­i­nated by street side ven­dors cer­tainly re­quires some out-ofthe­box think­ing! And this is ex­actly what Coim­bat­ore based Ko­vai Pazhamudir Ni­layam has done (in­ci­den­tally, Ko­vai is Coim­bat­ore in Tamil and ‘Pazhamudir Ni­layam’ means Fruit Cen­tre). Start­ing as a ven­dor of fruits, this re­tail brand has qui­etly made its way to the top as one of the most recog­nis­able brands in Tamil­nadu in fruit re­tail­ing. In an in­ter­view with Point of Pur­chase, Mr Senthil Natara­jan Manag­ing Direc­tor, Ko­vai Pazhamudir Ni­layam, shares his rags-to-riches story which is in­spir­ing even as it re­veals some good in­sights into re­tail­ing and shop­per be­hav­ior. Read on.

Could you briefly share with us your jour­ney from a small en­tity to be­ing a big chain?

It didn’t hap­pen with a plan. Ba­si­cally it came from our cus­tomers & peo­ple who travel from dif­fer­ent places sug­gest­ing us to open out­lets near their res­i­dences etc. This busi­ness was started by dad and his broth­ers in 1967. Prior to that dad was work­ing in a street side shop and then he went on to sell fruits car­ry­ing them in bas­kets & sell­ing near bus stops and schools. He then went on to buy a push cart and sell fruits in that. All that ex­pe­ri­ence helped him in know­ing the short­com­ings in that kind of sell­ing. The pri­mary fac­tors are hy­giene and dam­ages due to sun and rain. Even back then things like shoes

and footwear used to have show­rooms. So dad won­dered, “if some­thing that peo­ple wear on their foot can have a show­room, why not have a show­room for some­thing they eat”. Hy­giene and qual­ity was his mantra. Now of course we open lit­tle more ag­gres­sively do­ing 4-6 stores ev­ery year. When we find a suit­able lo­ca­tion that suits all our cri­te­ria we want to open new stores. In an­other 5 years’ time we will be happy hav­ing 50-70 stores which are termed by cus­tomers as the best fruit and veg­etable store of their lo­cal­ity rather than hav­ing 150 stores which peo­ple don’t feel as fresh or the best.

For a cat­e­gory tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nated by street side ven­dors and hawk­ers, how chal­leng­ing was it to get into this re­tail for­mat?

Like most suc­cess sto­ries, mak­ing peo­ple ac­cept a fruit and veg­etable show­room happened af­ter strug­gles for close to 3 years. Peo­ple had to be con­vinced that just be­cause it’s a show­room it will not be ex­pen­sive. Also dad’s prin­ci­ples of no-bar­gain & fixed-price also took time for peo­ple to un­der­stand and place con­fi­dence in us. Now we are also very care­ful in en­sur­ing that our in­fra­struc­ture, sup­ply chain and our back end is strong enough to sup­port new stores.

Is there a spe­cific kind of shop­per that you were tar­get­ing when you got into this for­mat?

We tar­get shop­pers who are put­ting qual­ity as their cri­te­ria to buy. This could be a bank em­ployee, an af­flu­ent busi­ness man, a sim­ple house wife or a doc­tor. Once a house­wife un­der­stands that she is buy­ing some­thing spe­cial when she steps into our store and also when she re­alises that 100% of all things she buys from us is us­able without any wastages then we got a life­time cus­tomer. It is build­ing such loyal cus­tomers, which helps us in dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing our­selves from all other re­tail chains which pri­mar­ily tar­get on bring­ing foot­falls by throw­ing of­fers. Though of­fers might in­duce peo­ple to shop, they will not go back again if they are not fully sat­is­fied when they use the prod­ucts. Also peo­ple go­ing for of­fers will not go once the of­fers are taken away.

What were the fac­tors that you think in­flu­enced shop­pers to come to a shop like yours to buy veg­eta­bles and fruits?

Qual­ity, Va­ri­ety & Spread (of fruits and veg­eta­bles), Am­bi­ence and Com­fort while shop­ping, Quick Billing and most im­por­tantly, Last­ing Fresh­ness

To­wards the above what kind of value added ser­vices you be­gan to of­fer on your pat­ter? And what else are you look­ing at to­day?

We have started cut veg­eta­bles in some of our Chen­nai out­lets with the right kind of equip­ments and pro­cesses. It is re­ceived well and we are step­ping up to a mas­sive scale on it soon. Also we are look­ing at prod­ucts which peo­ple buy daily, prod­ucts that peo­ple can clas­sify as fresh like bread, milk, pa­neer, dairy pro­duce etc.

How much of shop­per per­sua­sive­ness of the above fac­tors are to do with the store am­bi­ence? And, what as­pects of the store do you fo­cus on so that shop­pers can spend more time inside the store?

Pri­mar­ily store am­bi­ence is where we can dif­fer­en­ti­ate our­selves from our com­peti­tors. We look at proper air­con­di­tion­ing, hav­ing enough billing coun­ters, hav­ing good dis­play racks and also pro­vid­ing am­ple space to con­sumers to move around freely. Once the AC is work­ing well and they have am­ple space to move around with a beau­ti­ful ar­ray of prod­ucts dis­played and also some pleas­ant mu­sic in the back­ground, cus­tomers are go­ing to spend more time inside the store.

Go­ing fur­ther do you see your prod­ucts as in­de­pen­dent brands re­tail­ing in other stores as well?

Only this year we have started brand­ing man­goes and ba­nanas af­ter go­ing through lot of pro­cesses. We don’t see our prod­ucts be­ing re­tailed in other stores in near fu­ture. Our in­ten­tion is to make our cus­tomer step and shop in our store for our prod­ucts.

Given the com­pe­ti­tion in this area, what do you think gives Ko­vai Pazhamudir Ni­layam an edge? And how do you think you will main­tain this edge con­sis­tently over the years?

The edge right now stands in the spread and the qual­ity of prod­ucts. Also we have a strong sup­ply chain built over so many years that en­sures fresh­ness of our prod­ucts. But to main­tain this edge, we con­stantly keep ques­tion­ing our­selves on what it takes to be the best fruit and veg­etable re­tailer in the coun­try and what will be the fu­ture of this trade in the next 5 years. It’s about con­stantly im­prov­ing our­selves

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