The Footpath Dialogues

The Footpath Dialogues

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7 min read

A few days back, a notification popped up on my phone with a text from a junior colleague, with the happenstance of a common alma mater & occasional hangouts once or twice before that.

He had recently shifted to vicinity of mine & had asked for a meeting next day.

The invitation from him pushed me to don my walking shoes once more after the daily discipline of morning walk had taken a back seat for nearly three weeks, due to the unforeseen circumstance. The laziness had engulfed my mind, just like Hrithik’s dance moves on the IIFA Stage!

But this occasion brought a companion for the first time, challenging my usual solo routine and prompting me to bring along my smartphone! It signaled a return to the path, and the adventure commenced the next morning.

Introducing Satish: My Guest on The Footpath Dialogues!

Satish, the 23-something young folk, had recently come out of college at the end of an engineering degree.

During his time at the college, with just a year spent, the outbreak of COVID pushed him to pack his bags & land at his hometown.

The vacation, presumed to be a fun short gap from academics, was destined to be a way-long break of nearly two years.

The days went in strolling around the markets, playing casual games with friends & staying glued to the monitor screen in pursuing the online lectures.

Let’s venture into the unknown!

Meanwhile, Mohan, a close confidant of Satish, had returned from Surat after the factories got shut down, with a dull face, little savings and a blurry view of the life ahead. On top of it, he had a little education to his credit to bag another job.

The local market turned out as his hub for daily hangouts with Satish exploring different shops and asking about products and prices. This made him want to have his own retail shop.

Soon, the ground realities hit, when the traders expressed a trust issue upon taking a bet on the young lads to supply the stocks on credits. On top of it, the growing burden of unemployment was causing a social dilemma.

My guest Satish had always been a tinkerer and had managed to put out some decent chunks through his side gigs. He thought of deploying that capital to work by offering the same to his struggling friend to buy out the initial stocks & set up a store.

The ever-increasing aspirations to quash the competitive exams in a small town appeared to be a scope to cash in for the duo, which resulted in traveling the nearby cities to understand the business of a books-cum-stationary store & establish connections with the wholesalers.

While offboarding from the bus on return with a few visiting cards holding close to their chests, they had declared themselves in the business, at least in their minds. Satish, being in a running academics course, had an underlying fear of criticism for trying their hands at the perceived odd assignments like this.

Time for a Shelter!

Still, with a hope for making the dreams see its daylight, the next morning he woke up to the task of hunting a spot for the brick mortar store. What could be a more suitable space than from where it had started! The aspiration of cracking the toughest exams!

The old abandoned cabin in the vicinity of the school appeared to be the rented destination to lock in, with a need of some renovation. On top of it, the signage board, banners & handouts took a few more days to get ready & installed.

It was the time to put those visiting cards into use & secure the first consignments. With an advance of a token amount, the sealed cartoons arrived at the location. The carrying vehicle got packed with the stocks barring no seats left for the duo!

They traveled back in a separate bus to home. Upon reaching their destination, they began the process of unloading the packages they had transported. The experience was filled with a profound sense of satisfaction and happiness, leading Satish and Mohan to break into joyful perspiration.

Their parents, along with the watchful gaze of the school headmaster, gathered around in a show of support and encouragement.

Together, they took part in a small ceremonious event where they collectively participated in cutting a ribbon, which marked the official beginning of their business endeavor.

Problem Begins!

The shop started gaining some initial momentum, though the regular cash flow was a distant dream! Amidst the existing competition in the market, certain latest materials weren’t at the disposal of the customers, which caused a drop in sales after receiving the initial inquiries.

Mohan was duly taking notes to ensure that material was available & informing the customer via call to avoid missing sales.

There were moments when he’d struggle to remember the costing of a product & had passed it at a lower value! Later on, spreadsheets were added to the army to stay on top of the things.

There were incidents to say when the natural calamity hit the town & weeks passed by without any revenue! The pressure from both the families was mounting to shut the shop & get back to something else!

But, Wait!

The teachers’ day was around & what could be a better masterstroke than picking pens at a low cost & getting out of stock in a few hours due to the heavy demands! The guys were back!

On top of that, the preceding Independence Day generated a peak in seasonal sales for the store, thanks to the captivating marketing strategy of setting up the shop’s entrance with planted flags.

Slowly, over the next year, the business grew multifold & established a reputation in the market, especially during March to June, when the academic temperament kicks off across the state due to various exams & starting of new educational sessions!

The endeavor had also sought out a job for one more person in that shop, adding wings to the supply chain for a few local retailers, who were starting afresh or in business for a while!

This story reminds me of Captain Raghu Raman, a distinguished leader from the Armed Forces, who highlighted in his Josh Talk regarding the informal sector that runs the show of this country’s economy.

A significant percentage of revenue in informal businesses goes directly to the workers and suppliers in the supply chain, unlike in the organized sector, where a disproportionate amount stays at the top.

And the stats presented by Ministry of MSME before the Lok Sabha goes on to back the glory of the significant contribution to country’s GDP:

Back to College!

Amidst the small stint of business experience, the call for hostel-coming had just arrived for Satish from the college authority.

The semester exam was waiting! But, wait! Before that, you are required to submit long sheets of assignments! Don’t you?

Who even asks for printed copies of source code, might be a very Indian thing! So, it’s more than a hundred copies of printouts each! Also, the code needs to be submitted written on a CD, like seriously!

Satish could afford no delay in utilizing the online delivery to his benefit & placing an order for a portable printer & multiple empty CDs from his shop at a lower cost.

The cheaper ink, A4 Sheets & the almost-free of cost electricity of the hostel had made him land at a business opportunity with his roommates.

The initial offer was almost half the price of the shop present at the university main gate & that too backed with free door-to-door delivery! The news took no time to catch quick fire across the campus!

Starting from the roommate’s crush to her other referral had almost created a monopoly of printing services on the campus! Along with this, the cheaper CD investment was paying off as an additional service to up-sell the business.

Success breeds competition & the same was true with Satish. Someone from the same floor tried his hands at replicating the model. That finally led to a price war, resulting in discounts & referral schemes to win customers, in addition to the services of free document editing consultancy.

Well, nevertheless finally with the overuse of the printer, it got short-circuited! But, who cares! It had already made multiple folds in returns than its investment!

̶B̶e̶a̶u̶t̶y̶ Opportunity lies in the eyes of the beholder!

During my walks with Satish, it made me realize that in our predominantly socialist nation, the significance of Profit or Wealth is often treated with a lesser priority, almost like a taboo.

Startups, positioned under the guise of progress, exhaust their funds, leading to deficits and workforce reductions. Despite this, they manage to grab the spotlight, while the real heroes remain unsung.

This blog goes out in🙏 honor of the shopkeepers, hawkers, street vendors & many more who make our lives easier. Entrepreneur Rajiv Talreja sums it up well:

P.S:

Though this is inspired by a real-life story, due care is exercised bymodifyingthe names, details & incidents to protect privacy.