Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to accompany Selvan to shop #2 of Essmart’s 17, which is located maybe 20 minutes outside of Pollachi. Around 5:30 pm, Selvan and I set up a little solar lantern demonstration center in front of this store. We propped the lanterns atop plastic stools that were provided by the shop owner, and we (or rather Selvan, in Tamil) began striking up conversations interested customers.
We’re experimenting with different forms of marketing, and we’ve found that in-person demonstrations at these local shops are very effective. Granted, not every shop is the same – the effectiveness of live demonstrations depends on a number of factors, such as the distance of the shop from the city and foot traffic. At least for more rural shops, we’ve found that our assumptions about Essmart-led in-front-of-store demonstrations are true. Not only do they generate demand among end users, but they are also useful for getting buy-in from shop owners – the lynchpin to our entire operations.
Take, for example, the store we visited last night. Originally, the shop owner was hesitant about our products. He wasn’t sure about demand, and he wasn’t sure if Essmart’s solar lanterns and water filters would sell. However, he did let us set up demonstrations in front of his shop. By the third demonstration or so, the shop owner was encouraging on-the-fence, potential buyers to take the leap and make a purchase! And, just as we assumed, the end result demonstrated how much rural customers trust their shop owners.
After the evening’s demonstration, we could also see how one of our mentors was completely on the money. Professor Rangan of the Harvard Business School had actually recommended this marketing exercise, which he determined would be effective from his research on companies selling in the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). It’s so true. A lot of companies have tried to sell new products to the BOP through the traditional retail network. For the most part, they’ve failed. Much of the failure boils down to a lack of awareness and marketing. This is one of the first problems that Essmart is trying to address, hopefully to more future success.