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#3| Prakash — Kirana Chronicles

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us — J. R. R. Tolkien

Do you know where Times Square is?’, I asked a stranger on the road, ‘Straight, dead-end left, tall building at the junction’ he said; the standard way of giving directions in Bengaluru.

A row of flashy display of phones and wall clocks greeted me as I entered the store. Seated at the corner, in a counter next to the display, was a man in his early fifties, earphones in his ears, laughing at a video that was playing on his phone. A moment later he notices me standing at the counter. ‘Ah, yes you are here’ he says, as he takes off the tangled earphones. He pauses the video and laughs; ‘I was watching a cricket match, it is very entertaining’, says Prakash with the smirk on his face unerased.

Short Story

51-year-old Prakash has been running his electronics store in Bengaluru for the past 30 years. The store started by selling and repairing watches in the verandah of his house is now home to more than 300 variants of clocks, multiple brands of electronic items like phones and TVs. Prakash’s store — Times Square is situated at the junction of 3 roads, amidst shopping complexes and food stalls.

Image courtesy: iStockPhoto

Business

  • The summer of 68' was a particularly memorable year for Prakash. Then a young 19-year-old boy, traveled to Bombay to visit his cousin. His cousin who ran a small watch store in the South of Bombay introduced him to this new world of watches. Mesmerized by the working and functioning of the watch, he spent a considerable amount of time at the store —dismantling watches, one part at a time.
  • For the next two years, he continued to live in Bombay, attending school in the morning and helping his cousin at the store in the evening. Having spent a few years doing this, he soon dropped out of school and decided to dedicate all his time to helping his cousin increase sales at his shop.
  • Prakash’s family back in Bangalore soon began to feel his absence. Prakash’s father who was then in Bangalore made him an offer he could not refuse. He said to him — Come back home, we’ll set up a watch shop here. A month later, Times Square was up in business.
  • The shop was set up in the verandah of his small house. As the years went by, the size of the shop increased along with the items sold there. From watches to clocks, Times Square now sells the latest mobile phones and LED televisions too. Although the type of clocks sold range from analogue to digital, Prakash boasts about his large collection of analogue clocks; We have around 300 clocks upstairs, he says.
  • In the late 90s, when phones entered the Indian market, the country started to see more mobile phones in the hands of the people; Prakash seized this opportunity. He was one of the early adopters of the mobile phone.
  • Prakash and his brother now run Times Square as partners. However, all major financial decisions for the store are taken by Prakash himself.

“I had some goals before starting this shop. I think I was around 16–17 years old. That time I thought I should have my own store with my staff. I wanted to run the store. I have all of that now.”

“We are satisfied with our business. We have to improve and do whatever work here only, we don’t want to make one more store.”

“Young people come for phone, old people come for watches and repair. For purchasing watches all young people come.”

Payments

  • A few years back, Prakash used to pay his vendors through post-dated cheques. In case the business of a particular month did not meet the estimated amount in the cheque, he would either have to pay that money or request vendors to postpone the cheque encashment. This also meant losing his reputation and respect among his vendors. Soon RTGS came to his rescue.
  • Prakash first came across the digital payments apps through an ad in the evening newspaper. He was very intrigued; payments without carrying your wallet around, he thought.
  • An avid user of digital payment apps for the past 3 years, Prakash finds it easy to navigate through these apps. When a digital lending app sent him a notification informing him of his eligibility to avail a loan, he immediately decided to opt for one.
  • Most customers who visit Times Square prefer paying through card or digital payment app. Prakash mentions that cash transactions have reduced at a radical rate.

“Earlier, once we gave the cheque, irrespective of making any business or not, we could not tell them to not consider the cheque. It would look very awkward and ruin our reputation. So, to maintain our reputation we started doing RTGS. It is really good. They feel nice, even we feel nice.”

“Most of the customers pay through credit cards and apps now, cash is very less. Nowadays everyone prefers to uses these payment apps.”

“Before, 2–3 years back we used to give cheques. But after the market went down, we stopped giving cheques. We can’t predict how much business will happen these days. Before we used to know — say if it is a Saturday it will be crowded, Sunday will be crowded. Now we can’t predict.”

Banking

  • Prakash visits the bank on a daily basis to deposit money from the daily transactions made at the shop.
  • Although Prakash’s previous experiences with banking institutions have been pleasant, he finds the process of documentation very tedious and time-consuming.
  • Prakash predicts a seasonal demand for products during festivals like Diwali, Dussehra, and Christmas. The market offers various offers and discounts to customers, stores are seen with flashy signboards, all saying — Diwali offer, Festival Dhamaka, Buy 1 get 2 free, etc. As the offers in the market increase, so do the consumption rates. To meet this seasonal demand, he procures excess inventory for the store. The money required to procure this is a relatively lower amount; Prakash thinks this amount is not worth the hassle of availing a loan at the bank.

“ Everyday there will be cash, we will definitely go to the bank.”

“But the thing is if we have to take small amounts for these festival offers and all this is very easy. If you got to the bank they’ll again ask so many things — what is your turnover, what is your profit, are you maintaining audit, etc. In an app no such questions are being asked, that is the advantage of doing it online.”

“I just wanted to try, to see how it works. If someone is coming and giving a loan like that which is hassle-free, we see what is this thing. Moreover, we have been using their products every day to make transactions, so we took a chance. See whatever the thing is, even if we have to pay 1–2% more, we can not make out (it does not burden us). It should be hassle-free. If we take a loan from someone and that party/person comes and sits in front of us, we can’t do business. So it is not like that. There is no harassment. Every day we know how much money is going, how much is left, etc. It is easier. When you become free you can do a lot of things.”

“When the loan was taken, I used to check the app every day, it shows how much customers have made payments through the QR code and how much the app has deducted for the loan and what balance amount has been sent to our account.”

Accounting

  • The store has a good setup system for accounting. Every transaction is billed and accounted for. An accountant looks after maintaining and tracking daily, weekly and monthly transactions of the store.

“There is a billing system, whatever items get sold goes with the bill only. Everything is with GST only.”

“There is one accountant, whatever item comes he enters in the system.”

Customer Management

  • In the age of increased tech usage and literacy, Prakash is quite aware that customers will not fall into the trap of sales and offers. With product prices and other product-related information just a few clicks away, prospective buyers now have access to everything they need — to authenticate, verify and compare the prices of products at the store with those available online.
  • Online platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, and e-bay have allowed new-age buyers to access, purchase and sell products over the internet while being in the comfort of their homes. The recent economic slowdown in the country has also hit Prakash’s business.
  • Many years of working has helped Prakash identify the buying patterns of customers. The younger customers purchase phones and watches while the older crowd visits the store to repair watches or clocks.

“I get around 200 customers every day. Before it used to be around 600, now only 200. Recession no, now online products are also there.”

“If some company wants a particular model and they want it from us only, that time we purchase on Amazon and sell it.”

“The market situation has made it really difficult for everyone. But we have our own property and we don’t pay rent and all, so it is ok for us. A lot of competition is there from Amazon and all. They are actually huge, they are not competitors.”

Employee Management

  • Times Square has a total of 30 staff working at the store, out of which 15 are Prakash’s employees and the rest are company promoters for brands like iPhone, OnePlus, etc. The company promoters are responsible for sales and promotion of products from their respective brands.
  • Prakash often seeks the help of his staff while making business-related decisions. Products and services are used only if Prakash and his staff perceive value in spending their time and effort on the product or service.

“I only pay salary for my staff . The respective brands pay for their promotors in the store.”

“I take these business-related decisions myself. I ask my staff if it’s useful or not, if we think it’s useful then we go ahead.”

Vendor Management

  • Many years of running the store at one of Bengaluru’s prime shopping locations has made his store visible to distributors of multiple brands.
  • Prakash makes deals with an average of 40 vendors every month. These include distributors of brands like Mi, iPhone, OnePlus, etc. His vendors provide him with a credit period of 30 days.
  • On some occasions brands like Amazon approach Times Square when they do not have a particular product to sell to their customers.

“When some company is coming, someone from the company will visit the store as a distributor. So the distributor visits whoever is selling those things. Then they’ll start the business. We don’t have to select them, they only come. They see the outlet, they also know our background.”

“We got a product as a loan from the market. Like the watches that come from the distributors. They gave us 30 days time. It’s normally there in businesses. 30 days after the delivery we have to give a cheque, that’s there even now. But because this was our own space we did not take any loan.”

Technology

  • Prakash believes that technology can be both a boon or a bane depending on how people decide to take advantage of it. With faster internet and better access to it, there is a sea of information available to us. He mentions that it is upon us to smartly consume it or be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information.
  • Although Prakash uses all the digital payment apps, they are only used for business purposes. He spends his free time browsing through Pinterest; pinning images with spiritual and motivational quotes.

“Technology is very easy. It is up to us to utilize it. Now Google and Youtube has everything, you’ll get so much information. What information and how much information is taken completely depends on you. It is very simple.”

All that was not told

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

From fixing tiny watch parts at 17, starting a business in the verandah, to setting up a shop that sells a hundred variants of clocks, Prakash has seen it all. According to him, three factors are the deal breakers for the business — time, transparency and reputation. For Prakash, time is more valuable than the products sold at his store. Our conversation ends with some free advice — ‘Time is very important. If you can earn time, you are the richest person. More than the money we have to earn time.’, he says.

As products get smarter and accessing these products is becoming increasingly easier, the Indian market continues to witness the emergence of new buying patterns amongst consumers. These changing times require Prakash and others like him to demonstrate what is most necessary for their businesses to sustain and grow — (i.e) to become resilient, to doing business in the world today.

As the information age is upon us, providing us with better access to products and services, will Times Square stand the test of time?

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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