Happy Independence Day! Since today was a national holiday, we spent most of it working from our Pollachi office/warehouse. Our sixth Essmart team member has arrived, and watching our complementary skills come together to move Essmart forward has been a rewarding experience. Everyone has been occupied, since there is a lot to do.
Last night we had a first long team meeting. It came after a day of shop visits by motorbike with Selvan and the sales agent who had worked with us in January. We visited the stores that Jackie and Selvan had stopped by and left a catalogue with a few days prior. These five shops resulted in a variety of outcomes: we completed one sale’s transactions (our first rupees!), saw catalogues removed from windows (because households wanted to take them home — note taken), talked with end users who wanted different types of technologies, and learned from shop owners about why they wanted or did not want to work with Essmart.
From the visits that we went on, we saw three recurrent themes: value proposition for shop owners, local training, and warranties.
Value proposition: Why should shop owners work with Essmart? Why can’t they just work with the suppliers directly? Why would they want to sell more durable products instead of what they’re currently selling? When I heard shop owners asking these questions, I was reminded of the questions that we were asked by our business plan competition judges. Our answers then still hold, and I believe that they carry even more weight since we’ve confirmed again from Pollachi. We provide a diversity technologies that would be difficult for a single store to acquire. We know the technologies and vet them before attempting to sell them, ensuring that people actually continue benefiting from them. We support shops through marketing and through facilitating after sales service. We provide generous margins compared with fast moving consumer goods. After speaking with an array of different types of shops, we’re getting to the point where we can profile which stores would be interested in working with us based on this value proposition.
Local training: We need to make the user education process as easy as possible. This is more difficult than it sounds. Many of the training manuals do not come in Tamil, which is the local language. Understandably, this makes user education very difficult. It also prevents shop owners from wanting to sell our technologies, since they need to feel comfortable answering customer questions about them. We’re seeing that this knowledge gap is crucial to fill, and we have a few ideas in mind to address this in a way that is 1) cost-effective for Essmart and 2) time-effective for shop owners, who are busy typically busy attending to other customers.
Warranties: Facilitating manufacturers’ warranties is something we’re strategizing about. The current process involves shop owners filling out warranty cards with customers on purchase, which can be a bit time-consuming and easily forgotten for both parties. When a product breaks, the customer needs to find the warranty card. We’re still learning about peri-urban households’ attitudes toward warranty cards (whether or not they keep them safe and handy), and we’re trying to streamline the entire warranty process.
Of course, there are many more issues to consider as we work through the kinks in Essmart’s model. No one said that distribution of these technologies was easy — that is, of course, the reason why Essmart exists. Although we’ll experience trial and error from the field, I think that progress has happened and will continue to happen as we learn by doing.