Even after 60 years, Crawford Market store is a Christmas crowd-puller
With 60 years of history, Lobo Stores at Crawford Market is a crowd-puller every Xmas season. And, its success story has origins in a hospital’s path lab
Raymond Goveas worked in the pathology lab of Bombay Hospital for 18 years before quitting his job to work at the store
It's 8.30 am on a Saturday morning when we enter Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai, popularly known by its erstwhile name Crawford Market. The upcoming Christmas season hasn't done much to pull crowds so early in the day, and so, as we try to navigate from one lane to the other, cutting through the maze of closed shops, it becomes increasingly difficult to find our destination. It's not until we enter the third gully at the far end of the market that we see a beam of white light flash down on the flooring. When we draw closer, it appears to be just another busy day.
Raymond Goveas, 53, who's at the counter of Shop 295/296, is already surrounded by a bunch of customers. In between feverishly taking down a grocery list that is being dictated by a woman, he snatches some time out and says he can talk, but only from across the counter. When we suggest otherwise, he requests if we could make it the next day instead. "It's going to be a busy morning today," Goveas tells us. "It will be calmer on a Sunday," he assures.
While the store sees crowds throng through the year, a month before Christmas, it single-handedly manages to block the gully with patrons not just from all over Mumbai, but people from as far as Daman, Belgaum, Karwar, Panjim, Madgaon and even Navsari in Gujarat. And, all just to shop for groceries? "Yes," Goveas says without appearing smug, when we catch him early the next day.
All under one roof
For a family business that's occupied this part of the market lane for nearly 60 years, Goveas, who runs Mumbai's famous Lobo Stores, along with his brother-in-law Stany Lobo, had big shoes to fill when he started working here way back in 2000.
Today, Lobo's has become a household name to reckon with. From regular jam spreads, toiletries to lentils and pasta and noodle variants, the wholesale store boasts of over 1,000 grocery items.
Goveas steps out from his store for us, as promised, and first takes us through his three shops that stand adjacent to each other.
One shop has completely been dedicated to readymade Christmas specials like jujubes, marshmallows, sugar cherries and chocolates, which are often sprinkled, alongside the Goan and Mangalorean kuswar (plate of traditional sweets comprising plum cake, neuries, kalkals, doce, guava cheese, among others). The two other stores sell confectionery and baking ingredients, including silver balls, liquid glucose, vanilla essence, ginger preserve, cooking chocolate, gelatin, flour, mixed fruit fillings, margarine etc needed to prepare these sweets. What makes it different from the other shops at the market is that you get everything under one roof.
And then, there is the Malwani cashew that Goveas specially procures from Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra, which he claims is hard to find in Mumbai's stores. He stumbled upon this brand of cashew during one of his earlier trips across Maharashtra and Karnataka, to source good-quality products for his store. The readymade Goan and recheado masalas, and the different varieties of vinegar used to make traditional Goan curries, are all available here, making Goveas the go-to person among the city's Christian community.
It wasn't part of any business strategy, says Goveas, who lives in Colaba. "I just realised that the customers wanted a lot more from their ordinary grocery shop," he says.
The business of change
Until 2008, Goveas worked in his wife's uncle Francis Lobo's store Gloria, which abuts his own. "It used to be called Lobo Gloria's then," recalls Goveas. The year when he parted ways to start his own business, the owners split with Goveas taking ownership of the brand Lobo. "Before I started my own store, I visited places across India, especially the south, to source for my products. I would also keep engaging with my customers, asking them for feedback. Based on their requirements, Stany and I would look for dealers," he says.
Before Christmas, Goveas prepares a list of all the items and raw ingredients that one needs for making sweets. "Every year, the list keeps getting bigger," he says.
In less than a decade, the number of customers at Lobo's has risen phenomenally. By November end, shop owners, as well as housewives, come in from Goa and Karnataka with their Christmas shopping list to Goveas' store.
However, when asked, Goveas still cannot explain how he managed to win so many patrons. "I am just doing my job," Goveas says, in a matter of fact way, and then as if remembering something, he adds, "Keeping your customer happy is a lot of hardwork." "I don't just stand and sell items, I also talk to the people who come and visit my store. We even end up discussing each others' families," he says, adding that it's probably his genuine curiosity about people that makes work a breeze.
It comes as little surprise that Goveas, who originally hails from Mangalore, gave up his 18-year job in the pathology laboratory of Bombay Hospital to work in a store. "I can't work inside one room. I am a people's person. Also, I have always wanted to have my own business."
From November end till the day before Christmas, Goveas and his staff of nearly 10 people, six of whom work full time, clock in nearly 14 hours at work with hundreds of customers to attend to every day.
The store boasts of over 1,000 items. During the festive season, Lobo’s sells Christmas specials like jujubes, marshmallows, sugar cherries and cooking chocolate, apart from a wide range of confectionery and baking ingredients. Customers come from as far as Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat. Pic/BIPIN KOKATE
During the same period, they even push in four hours on a Sunday. In between our chat, Goveas' wife Jacintha gets breakfast for the workers. "You can't expect them to make their own meals, when they work so hard here," he says.
But, has business taken a beating due to demonetisation? "Not really," he says. Goveas has begun accepting cheques and cards, and sometimes even gives goods on credit, to allow smooth transactions. "It's taken years to build this relationship with my customers. I need to ensure that nothing holds them back. That's my job."
Other retails halts
With stores aplenty, there's never a dry day at Crawford Market. For those with a long Christmas shopping list, there are a number of places to visit. LaMoulde (Shop No. 556), for instance, offers a whole range of baking items. From cooking chocolate, gum paste, fruit fillings to moulds, mousse cups and double boilers, it's a one-stop destination for bakers. Vira Stores (Shop No. 379/380) specialises in dairy products. Whipped cream, margarine, cream cheese, you name it, they have it. For dry fruits, especially great quality almonds, cashews, and dates, there is the famous A-1 Dry Fruit (Shop No. 536) in the first lane of the market.
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