With small Indian businesses struggling to stay afloat amidst the present situation, the Founder-CEO Guhas localised approach to business is like a breath of fresh air.
Sanjay Guha is much more than being the Founder and CEO of Acquist Marketing & Information Solutions Private Limited. He is a visionary entrepreneur whose focus is on long-term returns. Earlier this year, moved by the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihood of lakhs of small business owners, he stepped into the retail market & online business with LOCALMARKET - a one-stop shop that is unique in its approach towards business. With small Indian businesses struggling to stay afloat amidst the present situation, the Founder-CEO Guha's localised approach to business is like a breath of fresh air. Their business motto is "You Ask - We Deliver - Anything!" In this tete-a-tete, the man with almost two decades of experience in aggressive sales and real estate, tells us what it means to go local and come up trumps!
Q 1 - What inspired you to think of Local Market as a business opportunity?
Answer - The imposition of lockdown in March this year changed my perspective in more ways than one. Partly from personal experience and partly from observing the surroundings, I realised there is a huge gap between the two spectrums of business - supply & demand. On the demand side, there was a gap because of a restriction on people's movement, forcing consumers to stay indoors and rely heavily on online portals for shopping, etc. This gap was further accentuated in absence of a humane approach to redressal of customers' grievances related to a product or services. It was true of both small as well as big businesses. In case of larger businesses, even those with pan-India presence it took a lot of time, effort and going around in circles to escalate one's genuine problem and seeks its resolution, leading to customer fatigue. Without naming anybody, I faced it even myself! So, the absence of a human element was one reason behind Local Market's conception. On the other hand, the livelihood of local vendors, the neighborhood shopkeepers, was increasingly being threatened by - 1. Lockdown, and 2. More and more consumers ordering from big brand e-commerce sites. These were the reasons that inspired me to think of a cloud-based system, focusing on customer service and technology. This was the thought with which we began and today we have more than 850 products and services to choose from.
Q 2 - Is it the right time to launch a business-like Local Market?
Answer - Frankly speaking, there is no way to know what is the right time to launch a business ever. At the same time, looking at the response in the last 4-5 months, I know we are absolutely in the right space at the right time.
Q3 - What were the challenges that you faced in getting Local Market on its feet?
Answer - The first challenge in getting Local Market started was finding reliable back-end suppliers, because they form the backbone of our supply chain. We were lucky to connect with these good, local guys, who have been in their respective businesses for years. Their vast presence throughout Mumbai, for starters, is reassuring. Be it Dadar, Borivali, Powai, Kurla, Kandivali or Ghatkopar, they all have their local clientele. The first step for us was to choose the most reliable ones from among those. Initially, when we started receiving orders, we looked for nearest local vendors who were selling other products as well. But we began to see a difference in quality. From the data generated after the first few months, we realised the strength of each vendor. For instance, we got to know that a particular vendor in Dadar provides the best groceries, at reasonable rates or a vendor in Powai has the best quality mutton or a Kurla vendor sells a huge variety of household items. It is through such detailed study and experience that we've built our robust supply chain as well as a demand-fulfillment chain in this business. Overcoming these challenges has made Local Market a uniquely-placed venture!
Q 4 - What are the highlights of your latest venture & how is it different from your past operations?
Answer - Tie-ups with the best of the local suppliers, who ensure timely and quality products and services. We ensure that we deploy a clean, hygienic supply chain, where we pick up the products from them & deliver it to the customer's doorstep safely. The most unique thing about our Local Market is that when a customer orders something, which could be anything, he gets the best of the lot through our safe procurement and delivery system. My past ventures were hardcore, B2B in nature, and corporate-centric. This being the first consumer-based team venture for us, it has been a huge learning experience for us. Though we've been familiar with client management, vendor management in our business ventures, but the amount of learning that we've garnered at Local Market has been an eye-opener. Of course, the team with which I am working has been a wonderful support. Most importantly, however, we've been able to build a beautiful ecosystem of vendors as well as clients that will hold us in good stead in the coming years.
Q 5 - You are an experienced Sales Leader, having led high-performance sales teams. Do you think Indian grocery market can benefit from some aggressive sales techniques?
Answer - Very interesting question! While I've done aggressive sales work all my life and my team, my bosses and colleagues would vouch for that, one game-changing aspect of running a business-like Local Market is that it is not about aggressive selling! Although, from the point of view of the first-time user or consumer, we have to take care of the sales part of the business but after that it is the quality of your product or service that matters the most. I believe that in this kind of business, instead of aggressive sales, it is the quality of experience that we give to your consumers that stays with them long after the product of service has been delivered.
Q 6 - From real estate to products & services, what changes did you have to make in your business strategy to succeed?
Answer - Success is a relative term and with an ongoing business like ours, I really can't say anything right now. More than success, we, as a team, believe in keeping our consumers happy & satisfied with our ethical manner of business. And we will continue to do that. As compared to other similar businesses, we follow some really strong practices and we have a zero-tolerance policy towards anything unethical or illegal. We've stuck to our business principles and that is what has helped us created an ideal ecosystem. Be it our vendors or customers, we have been blessed to be associated with people who value our principles as much as we do. Let me share an example - The other day, we received a complaint regarding a product or a service not being upto the mark by a customer. We arranged for a feedback procedure, zeroed in on the issue and got the product replaced. The customer insisted that there is no need for replacement and he just wanted to register his feedback with us, but we still got the product replaced because that is what we value the most. And that is the kind of attitude that has helped us bond well with our customers too. Similarly, our back-end vendors, who appreciate the surge in business that they're enjoying with us & many a times, they go out of their way to support us. Today, our vendors are in sync with us regarding the quality that our customers expect from us. Now, it is a triangular, unwritten bond between us, our customers and our end-suppliers!
Q 7 - With Covid-19 showing no signs of abatement, what special measures are you taking to make Local Market a safe venture?
Answer - First of all, we realise that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. Till that is the situation, we are serious about ensuring the implementation of all the protocol measures put in place by the authorities - such as the use of sanitizer, face-masks, PPE kits, etc. Moreover, we take great care in keeping our packaging and delivery process free of direct human touch as much as possible. We constantly monitor our staff members through CCTV and temperature checks throughout their work hours. We are concerned both for our workforce as well as our customers. So, while our workforce is insured against COVID-19 in every possible manner, we also ensure that the process of pick-up and delivery of our products is monitored closely as well. We take care to use our own staff for deliveries as well. In case we need to use certain apps, under special circumstances, we monitor them as well. We try to keep our operations as foolproof and safe as possible.
Q 8 - How has been the customer response so far to Local Market?
Answer - We are blessed with a very good customer response so far. In terms of repeat orders, our customer retention rate is above 60%. Once our iOS and Android apps are ready, we will be going all out in terms of marketing and, then, we hope to increase our retention rate further.
Q 9 - What are your future plans for Local Market? Any chance of diversifying in this direction?
Answer - There is a Japanese saying, "Ishibashi Tataite Wataru", which means "tap the stone bridge before crossing." It accentuates the importance of proceeding with caution and we've been following it in our previous businesses like London Realty and Acquist Asia, too. So, yes, we have plans to increase our national footprint but we will grow as much as we need to grow. Local Market is an organic, debt-free venture. Neither me nor my staff are under any pressure from any investors or a bank loan, etc. So, we don't need to push anyone out of our way to proceed further on our chosen path. As far as replicating our business model is concerned, we have Kolkata, Bengaluru, Pune and Delhi already on our radar. But that will happen only when our Mumbai enterprise is perfect and fully-functional.
Q 10 - What would be your advice for new businesses daring to open in the current pandemic situation?
Answer - No doubt, these are different but exciting times to do business because the pandemic has turned the world on its head. Whatever was essential earlier is no more essential now. Consumer's point of view has undertaken a 360 degree turn in the past 6-7 months. If a startup or new business owner is able to identify these trends early on, he may be able to carve a niche market before anybody else. Of course, the big businesses, the corporate giants will sooner or later, enter the fray and they have the resources to do so too but the one way small businesses can overtake the giants is by keeping time on their side. So, it is a good time for new beginnings!
Q 11 - Is it safe to assume that door-step delivery is the future of overall business in India?
Answer - I wish I could answer this question but I haven't seen the future, so I cannot comment on that. Online delivery is here to stay and we've already seen that in terms of huge sales volumes of websites like Amazon, etc. But is it the only option in the future, we don't know. I also cannot say how the consumer pattern is going to change. At the cost of sounding too futuristic, we may even go into hyper-local kitchen garden, where each family or individual might grow their own vegetables without being dependent upon any outside supply.
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