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