#6| Latha — Kirana Chronicles
“But what do you want to know from me?”, she asks with a puzzled look on her face. I give her an explanation for the same. “What I do is not some big business, this is just my own thing, I don’t think I will be very helpful. Maybe you should go to Salim Saab’s store.”, Latha says on hearing women and business being used in the same sentence.
45-year-old Latha is a homepreneur who sells with sarees to her social circle. Being an extremely social person makes marketing a piece of cake for Latha. From wiling time away by reading magazines at home to starting her own small business, she has been able to move from being dependent on her husband for becoming a self-sustainable woman.
Latha lives with her husband and a young son in a cosy 2 BHK home in Bengaluru. With her husband in a government job bringing home a decent salary, they continued to live a decent life with a rather tight budget for several years.
One evening, on her visits to the vegetable store, a friend suggested something that would later change her way of living. Her friend suggested that she start selling sarees to women in the neighbourhood. “She told me it would be easier for me because I know many people in the colony. I do have a lot of friends”, Latha smiles.
With a little help from a friend who did the same business, Latha went ahead and bought the first set of sarees to be sold. The Stree Shakti group that Latha is a part of acted and continues to act as a platform to meet and sell to potential customers. By taking help from her friend, deciding prices, margins and vendors, the business took off. The first set of sarees were sold to 3 members from her Stree Shakti Sangha. The women in the Sangha provided her the push she needed for the business to take off.
As the years went by, Latha went from being an amateur, struggling to keep track and maintain accounts to creating an organized system for the convenience of her customers and for herself. The business now provides her with funds that enable her to plan and prioritize her expenses, making her less reliant on her husband.
Why does Latha’s business work?
- Latha buys sarees from a particular store which she has been visiting for many years. The women prefer buying from Latha over making a trip to the saree store. This saves them time, effort and money.
- Latha offers credit to her customers. They pay her back at the end of the month or over a series of instalments.
- The women who otherwise have to rely on their husbands or a family member to accompany them to the saree store now patiently wait for Latha’s call informing them of available stock.
- Latha’s taste in sarees matches that of her customers. They now trust her to bring them sarees with the best designs available in the market.
- Latha only makes cash transactions with vendors and customers.
- Her son uses payment apps like Google Pay to pays the monthly utility bills of the house.
- Latha has a bank account in her name. When she had approached the bank to borrow money for the business, the bank rejected her application claiming that a loan for any business requires the business to have a physical setup beyond the home.
- Several years back Latha had borrowed a loan from an NBFC. The loan was taken through an agent who visited her house for marketing and promotions. Latha has also taken a few loans from the Stree Shakti Sangha she is a part of. The loan was used for both business and personal purposes.
“I applied for a loan in the bank, it got rejected. I don’t have a physical store, I do all this at home only. But other people who have stores got loans from the bank.”
“I use it for other things as well. I put it in the chit fund. If we (Stree Shakthi Sangha) decide to go on a tour then I use it. I use it whenever I need it.”
- Latha maintains a ledger to keep track of transactions made by her customers. The ledger contains details like customer name, sarees bought, date and amount paid. The ledger is her only source of truth to keep track of due balances.
- The age-old Indian tradition of buying new clothes around the festival season works as an advantage for Latha. She buys the sarees a week before the festival, calls her buyers and informs them of the new stock at her place. Latha sells sarees to 20–25 buyers around in the neighbourhood.
- While most customers pay as they buy, others pay in instalments. Latha also mentions that there have been defaulters who she had to drop off and move on without receiving payments. However, having come out of an economic crisis herself, she’s very empathetic to their financial struggles and has accepted the fact that payments will not be regular.
- The cost of the sarees is decided based on their quality. A margin within the range of Rs. 50–200 is added depending on the actual price of the saree.
- Latha mentions that her customers can skip the hassle of travelling to stores to buy sarees. Buying from her saves them the time and effort required otherwise.
“A few of them pay immediately, others don’t. Some pay after a month. Sometimes they pay at the beginning of the month. They pay in instalments. Some of them find it difficult to pay since they do small housework, etc.”
“I know my customers will continue coming to me. Some of them are my friends. I don’t differentiate between rich or poor people. I sell it to everyone — people who work as maids and all. So I tell them, in whatever you get every month pay me in small instalments. Some of them get salary after a month or two no, so they come and pay.”
“Even if payment is delayed sometimes, I profit from the sold items no, so I use that and buy the next set. If I sell the sarees for 50–200 more than the actual price, then it will profit me. When they do pay back, I use that money as well.”
“If my taste matches theirs then they come to me. It becomes more convenient for them to buy from me. They will save the effort of having to visit the store themselves.”
- Latha has a vendor who she has been visiting for 8 years. Each visit is meticulously planned to make sure her son can accompany her to the store. Since transporting sarees back to the store requires her to travel by cab, she requires her son to help her with the logistics: booking the cab on the phone, etc.
- Vendors are paid as and when items are bought from them. Latha’s vendor sells her sarees at a discounted rate. She is also offered an option to exchange or return the unused and unsold items. However, returning these items would mean an additional trip to the store, also increasing her expenditure on the cab fare.
“I used to sell towels and nighties earlier. The people who used to sell were making and dying these things at home. But they soon stopped making it, so they stopped coming here to sell. Now since they stopped coming, I stopped selling.”
“I try to make sure that the sarees get sold, otherwise I’ll have to go to the store to return the sarees. My son needs to come with me, and for that he has to be free.”
“The shopkeepers generally tell us these things, about how much we can sell it for and all that.”
- Latha has a smartphone which is used by her son. Several utility apps like cab booking, gas booking, etc. are made on the phone.
- Latha, with her son’s help, uses WhatsApp to keep track of group meetings and other family events.
All that was not told
Observations of the researcher that were not covered as a part of the research.
With a long list of questions on paper and a small list in my head, I went to meet Latha at her home. She’s going to have a lot of free time for me to ‘dig deeper’, I thought to myself. Five minutes into the conversation, Latha’s phone rang, a neighbour had called her enquiring about the flower seller who had not appeared that afternoon. The phone conversation was cut short with Latha stating that she had to finish an interview. The phone rang again, and again. I was clearly wrong about her being free.
A homemaker, Latha is continuously engaged in work — housework or something else that comes up. Over the years she has learnt to juggle her homework and the small saree business; now figuring out prices and the logistics by herself.
As I look around her kitchen, I notice the way she had organized the boxes with cooking ingredients, probably the most organized kitchen I have ever stepped into. The containers were placed in the order of their sizes, small to big, all colour coded. A few sheets of stickers placed against the wall on the shelf full of containers caught my eye. “Oh, those are stickers to put the prices on the sarees.”, she says.
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.
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