Day 1: “Hit the Ground Running” with Peri-Urban Surveys

Back-dated blog post entries, edited from Diana’s personal blog.

When I got off the plane and began walking to immigration, I took a whiff of the air and said to myself, “Yes, this is Chennai.” Immediately, my senses were transported to two years back, when I first arrived in Chennai to spend time at IIT Madras. I’m not sure how to describe the smell. It’s kind of a combination of mosquito repellent, spices, and body odor.

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After lunch, Prashanth and I drove out to one of Chennai’s peri-urban villages, Sriperumbudur, to begin surveying shop owners. According to Prashanth, Sriperumburdur is essentially a bus stand. The surveys that we are conducting are an essential part of Essmart’s field research. In essence, they are supposed to give us more information about our customers, who are rural shop owners. They will also give us more information about what types of products we should be distributing. Our survey questions include the following:

  • How do products get to your store?
  • How much does it cost for you to get products?
  • How many customers do you have?
  • Do you offer credit to your customers?
  • Where do you learn about new products?

The questions are accompanied by a list of potential products: a solar lantern and mobile phone charger, an improved cooking stove, a water filter, a water carrier, a drip irrigation system, and a bug bat (that is, a mosquito zapper in the shape of a tennis racket).

We asked three shop owners if they were willing to speak with us, and all three acquiesced. Their responses, when taken together, are intriguing. Each shop owner had a different risk level – some were more open to our products than others. The water filter and bug bat are already carried/can be found by another nearby store. Everyone is skeptical about solar because there is a lot of solar junk around. The shop owners mostly learn about new products from their suppliers, and they would be willing to carry Essmart’s distributed products if everyone else already is also doing it.

Surveying three stores required about 1.5 hours, so I wonder how many surveys Prashanth and I will be able to complete during our upcoming retail surveying blitz. We’re hoping to recruit students to conduct surveys for us, and Prashanth will get in touch with a university out there.

Day 1 was relatively productive, and I’m looking forward to getting more things done!

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