#1|Manjunath — Kirana Chronicles

“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.” — Chris Grosser

Apoorva Shetty
D91 Labs

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Manjunath is a 37-year-old businessman who runs a condiment store[1] in Bengaluru along with his wife. The store acts as their primary source of income to run their family and fund their children’s education. Here is a story of resilience and grit — of running a small business in an ever-changing world.

[1] Condiment store:
A condiment store typically refers to tea shop that also sells bakery items and snacks that are commonly found in and around Bangalore.
Image source: iStockPhoto

Business 🏪

  • Before venturing into his own business, Manjunath worked in the hotel management sector in Baroda for a few years. This helped him understand the functioning of the food industry in terms of vendors, suppliers, maintenance of stock, labour, etc. It also provided him with a foundational understanding of business, management and operations.
  • Manjunath despised the thought of having to work under someone all his life. A few years into the hotel management business, having worked under several people and followed instructions, Manjunath realized that he had learnt and gathered enough knowledge, enough to start and run a business by himself. It was then that he decided to take the leap of faith and start something of his own.
  • His brother played a major role in his decision to leave his old job and move to Bengaluru to set up a business — one that he could call his own and be the boss of. In the beginning, he often went to his brother to seek both monetary help as well as help in formulating new business strategies.
  • Manjunath later setup a condiments store with his wife in one of the residential areas in Bengaluru. He is constantly occupied by the challenges of running his store — the items needed for the next day, payments to be made, availability of cash in the store, etc.
  • The store opens at 9 am in the morning and runs till 10 pm. It becomes crucial for Manjunath and his wife to make themselves available at the store for most of the day. This helps them to make the money that meets the everyday needs of their family. The couple has two young kids who are currently studying in a primary school.
  • Manjunath and his wife together run the shop. While his wife prepares tea, Manjunath takes orders, serves snacks and collects money from customers. The absence of one of them at the store means the other person needs to juggle between making tea, taking up new orders and collecting cash from the customers.
  • His business acumen is crucial in helping the business sustain and thrive. He also mentions the need to have a ‘holistic view’ to excel at business — to be able to understand how different objects/strategies can add value to the store and to him.

“ When you’re in the business line, your mind will never be at peace. Even if you’re out, it’ll always be there at the back of your head. You’ll keep having thoughts about your business. That is not the case in the service line. If they take a leave, they don’t have to worry about work, they come back the next day and get back to it. For us it isn’t like that, we have to think about things like the hundreds of items we need for the shop.”

“ We are a normal simple family. If you go to the bigger stores they will be able to give you more knowledge about business.”

Payments 💰

  • Manjunath first heard of digital payments when the country’s Prime Minister introduced BHIM[2] app to the country.
  • Post demonetization, customers preferred to make digital payments and would often ask Manjunath if he accepted payments through QR codes.
  • In the meanwhile, Manjunath had field agents from Google Pay and Paytm asking him if he would like to install the applications. That is when he decided to give it a try.
  • As Manjunath started using digital payments, more customers started through mobile; even today he continues to see an increase in the usage of digital payments as more days go by.
  • However, Manjunath’s vendors — the people who supply him with daily and weekly items only accept payments through cash.
  • This, in turn, becomes a challenge as he does not have the luxury to make a trip to the ATM to withdraw cash in the midst of his ever-busy store.
  • Manjunath uses mobile apps like Paytm to pay his utility bills like electricity bill and to recharge his wife’s and his phone.
[2] BHIM:
BHIM
is a mobile payment app that enables you to make instant money transfers directly between two bank accounts. Additionally, you can also make payments to merchants who accept UPI (Unified Payment Interface) as a payment mode for transactions.

“Vendors don’t accept payments through app. Nothing has been paid online till now. If we get more cash here, it is easy for us. There is no need to go to the bank or the ATM. We can directly give cash from here only.”

“Sometimes customers come and ask — “Paytm jatha hai kya?” (Translation: Is Paytm accepted here?) Then we think — Oh, customers are asking for Paytm, maybe if we get it our business will improve.”

Banking 🏦

  • Manjunath holds a single savings account which he uses both for his personal an business purposes.
  • He regularly visits the ATM to withdraw cash, making sure he has enough cash to pay the vendors.
  • Manjunath uses mobile apps like Paytm for utility bill payments. He also transfers money from Paytm to his bank account.

Accounting 📒

  • Manjunath does not have any formal methods of keeping track of daily sales. No external tools like books, ledgers, etc. are used to keep track but make mental notes of what is needed and what has to be ordered when the vendors come to his store.
  • Manjunath believes that the method of accounting used in various stores largely depends on the size and type of business. Since he owns a small condiments store, he does not find the need to maintain accounts of day to day business transactions.
  • According to Manjunath, people who work under others need to maintain records for proof and accountability.
  • On a normal day at his store, customers come swarming in to have tea and snacks. This makes it impossible to jot down every single transaction in a day, especially when most of them are low ticket sized transactions of around 10–20 Rupees.

“We’re a small shop (‘chillare angadi’) no, we don’t need to maintain detailed accounts of everyday transactions made. Big businesses have a computerised billing system. This is a small store, money keeps coming in and going out.”

“Some small businesses maintain accounts in the book. In the computer, you can have everything from 5–6 years back too. You can open and check it whenever you want to. You can understand how your business is growing, how it was and how it has jumped. Now we sell tea, so we don’t have time to do it for small items of 1–2 rupees”

Credit 🏦

  • Manjunath currently has an outstanding loan from Stree Shakthi[3]Sangha[4] which his wife is a part of. The loan is taken in his wife’s name for business operations.
  • The payment cycles for regular vendors is 15 days, this gives him some breathing space to manage his cash flow. These vendors are usually the suppliers of products from well-known brands like Lays, Britannia, Coca Cola etc.
  • All the vendors only accept payment in cash. In case he does not have sufficient cash in the shop, he needs to quickly run to the ATM to withdraw some money.
  • Access to formal credit is a tedious and time-consuming process for a business like Manjunath’s. The turnaround time for the loans coupled with a lack of manpower to manage business acts as the primary barrier to formal credit.

“Sometimes we tell the collector that we did not make any business today so we’ll pay you next time. So they give us 2 weeks time to make the payment. In the second week we make orders as well as the pending bill payments. That is a benefit for us from the company. Parle, Britannia, Coca cola, Lays , they all have this option. So the payments are flexible. It is a plus point for us. We can empty the items, make some cash and then make payments.

[3] Stree Shakti:
The Stree Shakti is a unique scheme run by the SBI (State Bank of India), aimed at supporting entrepreneurship among women by providing certain concessions. An enterprise under this should have more than 50% of its share capital owned by women to qualify for the scheme.
[4] Sangha or Group lending:
Group lending is a mechanism which allows a group of individuals — often called a sangha to provide collateral or loan guarantee through a group repayment pledge. The incentive to repay the loan is based on peer pressure, if one group member defaults, the other group members make up the payment amount.

Vendor Management

  • His vendors deliver items on a daily, weekly and regular basis. On a daily basis, bakery items like puffs, aloo buns, samosas, dairy items like milk, curd are delivered. Items like cold beverages, snacks like chips and biscuits are delivered on a weekly basis.
  • Cash is regularly withdrawn from the ATM to pay the vendors.
  • The vendors take back items which damaged. This could include biscuit packets, dairy packets, etc. Edible bakery items like puffs, samosa, etc. cannot be returned.
  • The vendors he deals with are flexible in terms of payments. They also provide an option to return the damaged goods. This is a plus point for Manjunath since he gets the full price of the items he returns.

“ We observe how many items are there, how many we need to order. When they come next week they ask us what items we want, have in stock, if we will be paying the bill and if there are any damaged items. So they give us 2 weeks time to make the payment. In the second week we make orders as well as the pending bill payments. That is a benefit for us from the company.”

“ Another main thing is that we should be cautious about is wastage. Especially with items that cannot be exchanged. We have to make sure we empty them (get them sold). If anything gets damaged then it’s a loss for the business.”

Employee Management

  • In the past, Manjunath faced issues around retaining the employees in the shop.
  • Employee management is one of the biggest obstacles in his business. The lack of labour restricts him from involving in anything which requires him to step out of the store.
  • Manjunath earlier ran a bakery which he had to shut down due to issues of labour. The lack of labor has forced him to be confined to his existing shop — where Manjunath and his wife take turns in making tea, collecting cash,

“The labourers all do temporary jobs. No one stays around for more than a month. This is the usual case in all businesses these days. If you’re lucky, you get nice labourers and business flourishes.”

Technology 🖥️

  • Manjunath is well aware of the benefits of using technology (computers, billing systems, etc.) to handle accounts and transactions. However, he believes that the size of the business, dependency and the number of employers, need to present official records to a third party (CA, auditor, etc.) determines the type of technology in use.
  • Manjunath and his wife are also obligated to use a few apps which are mandated by their kid's school. These apps help them keep track of the location of the school bus, their kid's attendance and grades at school and even provides access to textbooks on the phone.

“Everything nowadays is available on the click of an app. Now technology has progressed so much that there is no tension at all. We just have to understand all these things. Our kids will be needing all this in the future, we don’t need all these things.”

All that was not told

Observations of the researcher that were not covered as a part of the research.

It’s not all accounts and numbers! For Manjunath, his role in doing business goes beyond daily accounts and transactions. His business requires him to be strategic — planning and evaluating how different objects can pose as value adds to the shop, to be able to make several trade-offs. In the line of business, it is these strategies that make businesses adapt and adopt to changing circumstances.

Nallina neeru yelli open aguthe alli hogi kudibeku
( Wherever the tap opens, you need to go there to drink)

Even though Manjunath has suffered severe business losses in the past, he seems content with his current life and has a positive outlook on life.

As I was sipping on the hot tea that his wife had offered me, Manjunath points out to a rusty old covered up pay-and-weigh machine and mentions that it’s basically there to collect coins which are then used in the shop to give back change to the customers. This, he says is how you have a ‘holistic business mind’.

About the research:

This documentation is a result of the in-person interview along with the participants’ consent. The interviews might be conducted in their native languages and translated to English in the best possible way to reach a large audience.

Disclaimer: The identities of people and places in this documentation have been changed to honour the privacy of the participants.

About D91 labs:

This research was executed and documented by D91 labs. D91 labs is an open-source initiative by setu.co to help Bharat build great fintech products. We organise and publish user research, insights and frameworks for fintech in India. Please follow us on medium for more exciting stories and insights on Bharat.

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