Monday, April 30, 2012

(Universal) Ups & Downs of Retail

Bhawna (left) with a few customers
It's month 5 in Rangoli's operations.  And it seems that the ups and downs of the retail business are in full swing.

A few weeks ago, Rangoli had one of the slowest weeks since its launch back in December.  Bhawna called me in very low spirits.  No one is coming to the shop, she told me.  She was losing interest in the business, and questioning whether she had done the right thing in deciding to continue.

The situation rang all too familiar.  I remembered growing up in Jamaica and seeing the family business through the inevitable slow seasons.  And the continuous struggle in retail (read: unrelenting hope?) to make tomorrow, next week, next month, next year a better one.

I empathized with Bhawna.  But as I reflected on the situation, I realized that I couldn't truly understand her despair, as the scales of magnitude here are so distorted.  What may initially seem like a small loss, was actually much larger than I could truly appreciate.

As I struggled to find genuine words of support and encouragement, let's wait and see seemed to be all I could truly muster.

And so we waited.  And the next week, she called me in one of the most jovial moods I'd ever heard her in.  All smiles and laughter.  She needed more products from Delhi as things were selling out fast in the new wave of weddings that was taking place across the village.  And just like that, her mood was instantly transformed.

As we go through these up-down cycles, I try to remind myself that I can't judge success only based on last week's sales, and the tone in Bhawna's voice.  But at that moment, I couldn't help but smile as I heard her in uplifted spirits.

On the more 'objective' front, the model seems to be taking shape well as overall sales grow.  And what's even more exciting is that Bhawna and her family are taking greater ownership.  They are much more involved and enthusiastic about planning the inventory, and have taken ownership of some of the local purchasing for basic goods.

Here in Delhi, I've been focusing on the larger product portfolio and future sourcing plans.  I've been spending time exploring the wholesale markets to identify how product purchasing will be done in the future as we plan for more Women's Shops.   Squeezing through the narrow lanes of Sadar Bazar (one of the largest wholesale markets near Chandi Chowk) amongst people, cargo and animal traffic alike, has been one heck of an experience!  And not to mention, I'm learning more and more about Indian style and fashion, and the art of bargaining.  A few pictures from my excursions:

On a rickshaw from Chandni Chowk to Sadar Bazar

Along the way...

One of the crowded lanes at Sadar

Some of the costume jewelry we purchased

Jewelry, Hair Clips, Pins etc.

Some of our cool finds