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Desaiji ki Dastan

TLDR version:

Part 1 – Desaiji ki duniya

Meet Desaiji.

Desaiji is a 46-year-old dukaandaar from Surat. He runs a 250 sq. ft. kirana shop in front of his house in a typical residential neighbourhood of Surat. His family comprises of his 40-year-old wife, Sarla and his 19-year-old son, Prashant. He employs two people in his shop:

  • Amit, who is an ambitious 25-year-old boy from a nearby village. Amit is intelligent and responsible, but Desaiji feels he cannot be fully trusted. Amit has been working with Desaiji for 3 years now.

  • Then there is Raju, a 42-year-old man, also from Surat. He is trustworthy, but not highly intelligent nor ambitious. He has been working with Desaiji for 11 years.

Desai ki Dukaan.

Sarla sits in the shop in the afternoon when Desaiji goes home to eat lunch and take a short nap. The number of customers who visit in the afternoon are not too many anyway. This is the only break that Desaiji takes between 7am to 10pm at night, the hours of his dukaan.

When Prashant was a young boy, he would often spend hours in his father’s dukaan and help in whichever way he can. But over the past few years, he has spent less time at the dukaan, preferring to spend time with his friends and mobile phone, under the pretext of studying. He is an average student who prefers to speak in Gujarati and is not comfortable speaking in English. He dreams of becoming a TikTok star someday and does not like sitting in the shop like his father. He thinks being a dukaandaar is not cool and does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Desaiji himself inherited the dukaan from his father. But Desaiji was always very proud of his father and the dukaan; and he has been working there for more than 30 years, ever since he was a teenager. He worries about his son and thinks that getting him married will teach him how to be more responsible.

He is saddened that he will not be able to leave much to his son in terms of inheritance. Only the dukaan that he himself inherited – he rues not having added more value to pass on to his son.

Desaiji’s family was doing very well at the time of his marriage 22 years ago. It was 1998 and his PepUp supplier decided to put a big board on his shop for free! A brilliant blue signboard with the PepUp logo, Sachin’s beaming smile and the words “yeh heart maange more” embellished across. “Desai ki dukaan” was also written at the bottom of the signboard. That’s the name the neighbourhood used for the dukaan since the time of Desaiji’s father.

Meet Desaiji’s biradree.

Desaiji knows all his customers very well. He knows their professions, when their relatives visit, what their children are doing, marriages, deaths, etc. He knows them well.

Desai knows his customers.

He makes sure he keeps filter coffee for Mr. Iyer, the bank manager from Tamil Nadu. He stocks up on short bread cakes before Christmas for Braganza ma’am, the English teacher from Prashant’s old school. For Shah sahib and his family, he ensures a steady stock of sevaia before Eid or when their guests from Ahmedabad come visiting. He knows them well.

While Desaiji is immensely proud of his ability to know his customers so well, he is disappointed that he doesn’t get the necessary support from Amit, Raju or Prashant. He feels that they don’t think about their customers enough and that he has to think about everything himself.

But he is grateful for his reliable suppliers – without whom he won’t be able to serve the very specific needs of his customers. Nirav babu is a young man, probably in his mid-20s. His family has been supplying to Desai ki dukaan for more than 40 years. From the time of Nirav babu’s grandfather and Desaiji’s father. They are one of the biggest distributors in the entire city of Surat. Desaiji hopes his son could be as responsible and sensible as Nirav babu. Satya & Sons Distributors (named after Nirav babu’s great grandmother) has a particularly good relationship with Desaiji. They invite him to major family functions (Desaiji and family even attended Nirav babu’s wedding), they give him good credit terms and are very reasonable in dealing overall. Of course, there are minor disputes and differences, but by and large he is incredibly happy in dealing with Satya & Sons Distributors.

Desai's suppliers are his supporters.

Then there are the salesmen of all the big companies who visit Desaiji at his dukaan – ITSEE, Unilover, Perle, Amal, etc. They all come and visit him periodically. While he finds them annoying at times, he does like the feeling of importance he gets when salesmen of such big companies come and sell to him. He treats them well, serves them tea when they come to visit. They tell him about what is happening in the market: how is Jignesh bhai’s shop doing? what is Patel bhai’s kirana and cybercafé up to now? Desaiji feels it’s important to have an understanding of what is going on in the market so that he doesn’t get left behind.

The salesmen often urge him to buy products which he is unsure whether they will sell or not. Or maybe in quantities that Desaiji is almost certain he won’t be able to sell off easily. These situations normally arise during the end of the quarter. But Desaiji buys anyway, because they tell him stories of what other dukaandaars are doing in the city and how much they buy and sell. Because they give him long winded stories of how much he bought earlier and to have confidence that it will sell. These salesmen are full of information which is very useful, and it also becomes very difficult to argue with them!

The credit they offer is limited and fixed, not like local wholesalers/ distributors such as Satya & Sons. But it’s okay, if he ever needs extra money to pay suppliers, Nirav babu always helps out anyway. It’s a good relationship.

Part 2 – Desaiji ki samasya

Desaiji’s world was changing.

One hot summer afternoon, a new salesman came to Desai ki dukaan. Desaiji was at home and his wife, Sarla, was attending the store. She told him about this salesman who came wearing an orange cap from some company that home-delivers food from restaurants to customers. They wanted to deliver groceries now, from local kiranas to customers. She asked him to come in the evening again to speak to Desaiji about this directly.

After meeting the Swijjy salesman, Desaiji was excited by the idea and thought this would help expand his business. And the best part was that he didn’t have to spend a single naya paisa to get this started. The Swijjy app would message him on his phone the items that have been ordered, a Swijjy rider will come and collect the items and the money earned would be pocketed by Desaiji, with a reasonable and small fee for Swijjy.

This worked very well, and Desaiji felt that his business was expanding. Even Prashant was interested in dealing with the Swijjy people, always keeping an eye on the Swijjy app to see what orders were coming in. He was very curious to see the Swijjy salesman come and take stock of what items that Desaiji sold in his shop. He helped him make the full list, even adding items that were not currently being sold, but are high selling as per the Swijjy salesman. While Desaiji was not convinced about stocking new items, he nevertheless agreed because finally his son was taking an interest in the business.

Initially, business improved for Desaiji. He assumed that earnings were increasing by more than 10% since Swijjy onboarded his shop. However, Swijjy expenses kept increasing as they applied a penalty fee for items that were not delivered because of out-of-stock situations. They kept making small changes and adjustments to their delivery fee. This increased to the point that the net increase in Desaiji’s earnings were not very significant. But he still kept them on as there was an overall positive effect from using Swijjy’s delivery services.

After three months of this, the Swijjy salesman came to the dukaan. Desaiji wondered what the matter was, as they normally did not visit and preferred to communicate through the app only. The salesman said that Swijjy was stopping the service now. Desaiji was perplexed but said okay and offered him a cup of tea.

In a few days, Prashant (who was very disappointed once Swijjy discontinued), came running to Desaiji. He showed him the Swijjy app, which was still delivering, but not from local kirana shops like Desai ki dukaan, but from something called “Swijjy Dark Stores”. Then he showed him a news article in which it was written that Swijjy did a pilot with local kirana shops and learned the hyperlocal grocery business. Once learnt, they set up these “dark stores”.

Desaiji felt cheated. Desaiji felt his trust broken.

Desai and others are taken advantage of.

Everyone’s world was changing.

It was Patel bhai’s daughter’s engagement ceremony today. Desaiji was invited with family. Patel bhai was a close friend of Desaiji. Their fathers had come to Surat from Rajkot together and Desaiji regarded Patel bhai like an elder brother. The invitation was from 6pm to 9pm, and Sarla and Prashant were ready by 5.30pm. Prashant was sent to the dukaan to tell Desaiji to come and get ready quickly, they have to leave soon.

Desaiji was not in a pleasant mood. He didn’t like leaving his shop to Amit and Raju while he was away at an unnecessary party. Sarla and Prashant just didn’t understand that he just couldn’t leave his shop. Reluctantly, he took out most of the cash from the till and left the shop in the care of his employees. He asked them to wait till he returns.

Desai doesn't have samay for his family.

At the engagement ceremony, Desaiji met Jignesh bhai. Jignesh bhai was a few years younger than Desaiji. He had set up his own dukaan around 10 years ago just 15 minutes away from Desaiji’s dukaan. They met at the party and started discussing shop.

Desaiji told him about the whole Swijjy fiasco, and how it will now impact all of them. But Desaiji was shocked to hear that Jignesh’s story was more tragic!

Around the same time Swijjy set up their dark store, the Geo salesman who sold sim cards to Jignesh bhai came to him with a very interesting scheme that the Geo company had come up with. They sold him a beautiful POS device which was handheld – they called it mobile POS. It could connect to the internet and accept all kinds of payments. It had all the items already stored on it and Jignesh could use it to make transactions. Through this device, Jignesh bhai could also order products from Geo to be delivered to him at a cheaper price within 48 hours. And customers who used the Geo app, could place orders from home and a Geo rider would collect and deliver. It sounded fantastic, and was much better than the Swijjy deal, thought Desaiji.

Jignesh, too, was very excited and eager to start right away. He paid the salesman Rs. 10,000 and got set up immediately.

As days passed, Jignesh bhai realised that he could order everything from Geo and didn’t need to go to his regular suppliers like Satya & Sons or the FMCG salespeople who thronged the marketplace. They even had promo offers regularly, just like the ecommerce app Amajon. Jignesh bhai’s margins improved and there was a lot more business coming in.

After two months of this, Jignesh received delivery of some goods. He was confused because he didn’t recall placing an order. It had come from Geo’s warehouse. He called his Geo salesman, who explained that Jignesh bhai will need to start selling these items from now on. He said this is what customers want as per their data and this is what he’ll have to sell hereon. But Jignesh bhai had not even heard of some of these brands! There were biscuits, soaps, detergent… all in the Geo brand. He received some of the regular brands as well, but most of them were Geo brands.

Jignesh bhai, exasperated, explained that this is not okay. His customers have very specific brands. Very specific likes and dislikes. This was not like the new brand trials that the other FMCG companies conducted. This was going to upset his customers!

But the Geo salesman would have none of it. He threatened Jignesh bhai that if he did not sell what he was told to, the entire arrangement would be closed. Affronted, Jignesh yelled some expletives at him and told him to go ahead and close the arrangement. Jignesh bhai would go back to Satya & Sons.

Unfortunately, Jignesh had severely hurt his relationship with Nirav babu. When Geo had come knocking, Jignesh had stopped ordering from Nirav babu and disturbed a 10-year-old relationship. Nirav babu now considered Jignesh a risk and refused to offer the old credit terms or prices that they had negotiated. Jignesh bhai was starting from scratch once again! He didn’t know what to do and went begging back to the Geo salesman. He was now being ostracised by his own biradree and was now at the mercy of the big corporate organisations. He felt like “his retail market was an employee of Geo. Geo will not pay him, but he has to work for them in various capacities within the supply chain.

Jignesh bhai pleaded with Desaiji, “Please Desaiji, you must speak to Nirav babu and convince him to make things normal again. I have burned my fingers badly, and just want to conduct my business with freedom.”

Desaiji was shocked and scared. He put an arm around Jignesh’s shoulder and told him he will definitely help him. He may be his competitor in the market, but if he didn’t help him now, he could be next. If he would not help one of his kind, then who would? He promised that he would speak to Nirav babu and try to fix the situation.

But there was no sahara…

Sarla had gone to meet Patel bhai’s wife, Nirmala. Her daughter had just come back to her maika after 3 months. Nirmala bhabhi had called some relatives and friends over for lunch. Nirmala and Sarla were close friends and confided in each other every now and then. The moment Sarla got an alone moment with Nirmala, she enquired about her and her family’s well-being – hoping to get some gossip about her daughter’s sasural.

Instead, Nirmala spoke about Patel bhai and how he is now trying to expand his business. Their cybercafé was frequented by young students. Some of them were very bright and Patel bhai would often talk to them at lengths, trying to understand what he can do to improve his business. Three years ago, one of these bright students told Patel bhai to start digitising and using software – even in his kirana shop. He said that was the future, it would save him time and allow him to focus on expansion. Patel bhai was convinced.

But Nirmala was just fed-up. Instead of saving him time, this whole digital adventure was just taking more and more of his time with little benefit.

But Sarla was intrigued. She went home and told Desaiji about this conversation and asked him to speak to Patel bhai and understand this better. “Take Prashant with you, he understands these things and it will make him more interested in the business,” she said.

Desaiji thought it best to have this discussion. He wasn’t convinced, but even if there was a remote chance that it would interest Prashant, he was willing to give it a shot. Besides, he thought that it was something that would be under his control, and he would not be at the mercy of big companies like Swijjy and Geo.

Desaiji and Prashant went over to Patel bhai’s cybercafé one evening when business was slow. Patel bhai greeted them and got his staff to bring chai for Desaiji and PepUp for Prashant. He also brought the famous dhokla from the vendor set up in front of his cybercafé – it was a wonderfully symbiotic relationship and they both benefited from the time the students spent in their vicinity.

Patel bhai was more successful than Desaiji. He had 10 people working for him in his kirana and cybercafe. He even had an accountant.

After exchanging pleasantries, Desaiji asked Patel bhai about using software to improve his business. He had come to ask Patel bhai for guidance on the same. Patel bhai gave him a wry smile and told him that it is a big commitment in terms of money and time. After speaking to these students, he had gone and bought this software called Wally around three years ago. The Wally agent told him that it’s a great software, it would help him improve his business, he would always be on top of his business.

“What does this mean? On top of your business?” asked Desaiji. Patel explained that he would always know what is selling, what is not, it will help organise how much he should put in pakka, do his accounting, track his order history, etc. “But don’t you already know that?”, continued Desaiji’s questions. “Yes, but if I have a system, then my stress reduces na?” responded Patel bhai.

Even Patel bhai didn't know what to do.

Lekin, the problem is that to manage this software I need to hire more people. I have to pay thirty thousand for an accountant. The Wally software ka kharcha is also there. Har item ka entry karna padhta hai, and now I’m so frustrated because I want to open a second shop. So double kharcha hoga!

“And these Wally software people are also useless. Renewal ke samay yaad karte hai sirf, every time I call them for query solving, I have to pay them. They will come, do some hava ka baat, have free ka chai and then I’ll see them at the renewal time. Aaj kal you have Wally trained accountants, but most of them are not able to understand updates and changes to the software – they only know what they were trained in and got a Wally diploma. Socho Desaiji, I have to make an entry for every item I sell – think how many items are you selling in your dukaan and think how much work that is!”

“So basically, I use it as an accounting software. The big ideas those students told me about, that I am unable to use it for – to do that, I would have to hire some of these students only. And you know how much these engineering college students charge, na? Sometimes I think it’s a panauti!!!”

Patel bhai was an expressive man, and he heaved a sigh of frustration and took a dramatic sip of his chai. “Sorry Desaiji, I think you came here to get advice on this software. But my honest advice to you would be to stay away from it. The idea is great, but it’s too much of work for people like us. We already have so many things that we have to do on our own. I guess these kinds of high-tech solutions are not for people like us. These are for big people in big companies,” sighed Patel bhai.

Who will help Desai?

Desaiji ki samasya.

Desaiji sat with Patel bhai for another 10-15 minutes and then was on his way home with Prashant. He was confused and dejected. There was a great sadness in his heart now.

Walking back, he turned and looked at his son Prashant. He felt that he had failed his son. He had not equipped Prashant for this world. Being a dukaandaar in this world was not a great life to inherit. As they walked in silence, many thoughts passed his head. He realised that his life was full of stress… he didn’t trust his staff; government kept changing things rapidly and made it difficult to keep up; big companies used tech and kept taking away his customers; big companies even used him to become better kiranas (Swijjy); or they tried to control people like him (Jignesh), our supply lines, our relationships and made us their employees (Geo); and there was nobody there thinking about them and giving them solutions that would help them stay competitive and not be pushed to the brink of poverty.

Hum logo ka kya hoga? Hum log ka koi bhavishya nahi hai, hamara koi sahara nahi…” rued Desaiji in his mind as they walked back home in silence through the noisy market that dusky evening.

Part 3 – Desaiji ka sahara

Samay badal raha hai

It had been almost a year since that evening when Desaiji met with Patel bhai. The drudgery of life continued, Desaiji remained frustrated and short tempered. Prashant had started working as an Ole driver. He had taken 3 lakhs from Desaiji to start doing this. It was another one of those big ideas by big people, it seemed. Prashant thought he would work hard and make money, but the pay was not actually very great. And they didn’t give him any freedom whatsoever. If he was not always available, the company would not send business his way. Then they would cut his commissions for reasons he never understood. It was just like the Swijjy episode, they were too hi-fi for people like him.

Prashant felt like he was being blackmailed and he had no way out because of the money he had put in for the car. He did not have time to come and help at the dukaan at all. He was always whiling away his time in his cab. Life wasn’t great.

One evening, out of the blue, Desaiji got a call from Patel bhai. “Arre bhai, kaise ho?” he enquired. “Remember the discussion we had about Wally last year? Forget that now, I met a fantastic guy who has a solution for us. I’ve sent him to you, you should definitely listen to him. Kuchh small data bolta hai…”

“Patel bhai, I am pareshan, and I don’t trust these people one bit now. You know na what’s happening with Prashant. They’re all the same. Sab hume barbaad karne mein lage hue hai! Big branded stores, online waale, Swijjy, Geo… now there is another one! Waah!” was Desaiji’s response.

Arre haan, I understand. Just have one cup of tea with him and listen to him. He’s very frank, so you ask him whatever you want. Ek baar just listen to him, then do what you think is right.”

Theek hai, aap ko na nahi kar sakta. I’ll speak to him once. But please Patel bhai, I don’t have any expectations from this.”

Woh aa gaya

The very next morning, a bespectacled bearded man came to meet Desaiji at the dukaan. He introduced himself, “Namaste sir, I am Shravan from The Small Data Store. I got your reference from Patel bhai. I have a solution which will help you.” Desaiji, not too convinced, grunted, “Namaste. Yes, yes. Arre Amit, go get two cups of chai quickly.”

Desai ka sahara aa gaya (artist forgot the beard!)

He started talking right away, not waiting for the chai to arrive. “Sir, I am building a company to serve the needs of kiranas like yourself. I have been working with Patel bhai and other dukaandaars like yourself and helped improve their business over the last few months.

“I will give you and your staff an app. Through which you need to record all the bikri and khareedari that you do on a daily basis,” he said and took out his phone to show me the app. “The app is called Samay, because that’s what you need the most,” at which point Desaiji smiled as Shravan continued, “the objective is to help you maximise your business by reducing losses, increasing profit and identifying new ways of making money. All while ensuring you save time and don’t lose your independence.”

At this last point, Desaiji got animated and asked, “What do you mean by my independence?”

Shravan took a sip of his chai, which had just arrived, and said, “Patel bhai mentioned that you have also engaged with some new age tech businesses that have used you and your dukaan for their own benefit only. And in your market there are shops who have suffered heavily because of this.” He had Desaiji’s attention now, as he remembered Jignesh bhai’s experience with that Geo company and his own with Swijjy.

“See Desaiji, I have worked across the world with many big companies and business leaders. One of the fundamental reasons why companies are successful is because they know how to use data very well. Nowadays, everyone is talking about data. Data is simply information, jaankaari. When you go walking around the market to see what others are doing, or send your staff, or from your salespeople, you are basically collecting information to help you make better business decisions and ensure you don’t get left behind, correct?”

“Yes, yes, absolutely. I don’t go so much myself nowadays, but I send my staff and Prashant, my son, regularly. And of course, I make sure to sit and have long chats with the salespeople of these big companies. If I don’t keep abreast, how will I run my business? It’s very important. But you see these younger people, Amit & Prashant, they don’t understand the value of this only. They think I am only wasting time and don’t do it unless I shout at them!”

Shravan smiled at this, “Desaiji, you remind me of my father. We have our family business in Barra Bazaar of Calcutta. We have a shop and office there. He used to shout at me and my brother the same way. Only now do I understand the value of what he was saying.”

Desaiji gesticulated at Amit, “Dekho! See what he is saying. You people think I’m an old fool! This is called dukaandaari, kab samjhoge?!

“But Desaiji,” continued Shravan, “as times change, so must our methods. Today’s marketplace is much more difficult and complex than it was 20 years ago.” And he went back to showing him the Samay app. “See, here you sign up. You add all the details of your shop here. How many people work here, how big is it, location, wagerah, wagerah…”

At this point, Desaiji got suspicious. “Why do you want all this information. It is even asking for turnover and profit. Dukaan ka size se kya milega aap ko? This is too much na?”

“I will answer all your questions and explain everything. Actually, you will understand most of it yourself once I am finished showing this to you.” Desaiji nodded, and Shravan proceeded. “Here is the supply side. The khareedaari. You make an entry of who you buy from, and what all information you have about them. You may find some of them are already available in the system, which have been added by other dukaandaars like you. See here, Satya & Sons. Do you purchase from them?”

“Yes, yes, of course. We’ve been buying from them since my father’s time.”

“Yes, I think Patel bhai entered their details. So, you don’t need to fill their details. You can review the information about them, and if you think it is not fully correct, you can update the information if you want. Then you can proceed to enter your purchases from them. I am assuming, in total, you must be buying products around 15-20 times a month? Across all the suppliers?”

Haan, that sounds about right. Sometimes less, sometimes more. But on average, yes 15 times a month,” confirmed Desaiji.

“Yes. Now, you go back here and you can put in your sales. I’ll show you how,” and then he went about showing how a bill can be generated. He typed in c…o…l… and all Coldate products started appearing. He randomly selected the Coldate 300gm MixFresh Saver Pack (150+150). It had a picture there also. Then he said, “supposing the product you selected isn’t showing in the list. You can simply edit this existing product and add a new item. See, like this.” And he clicked on the product he had selected, and edited it to Coldate 600gm MixFresh (150x4). The price of the product also appeared, and he changed that from ₹150 to ₹220. “You can put whatever price you want to sell it at as well. I am assuming you give some discounts to old customers from time to time.” Desaiji nodded.

“If you don’t want to type, you can speak into it also, or scan the product bar code if it is available. But this is still being tested at our end and should become easier to use in some time. I will update you when it happens sir, abhi development chal raha hai.”

Desaiji liked what he saw. But still wasn’t really impressed. He asked, “But all this I have seen before. So many companies come to try and sell POS to us. I’ve even used it. But it’s too much of work. How is this different? And iska fayda kya hai?”

“Correct. You’re right, this is a POS only. Just making it simpler for you since you don’t have to make an entry of every item that you sell. Across kiranas in India, there are lakhs of items being sold. Different products, brands, sizes, bundles, etc. Even the biggest companies don’t organise this information very well, so how can a POS company expect a dukaandaar to have the time and training to do all this. That is my job sir. And I can make it more perfect if I get updates from people like you who add missing items or make edits. Isme sabka bhala hai.” As Shravan explained this, Desaiji was thinking of the discussion he had with Patel bhai about Wally software last year. This is a big help, he thought.

Shravan interrupted Desaiji’s thoughts as he continued, “See, you should do your job. Which is running your dukaan in the way you think is right. My job is to work for you. Aap ke seva ke liye hai hum.

Dukaandaari aap ki. Bina samjhaute wali.

Desaiji smiled at this last point. “Shravan naam ke layak hai yeh,” he mused in his mind.

“But there is a problem that can only be solved by you, not by me. See, purchase information is easy. Even if there are 50 purchases you make in a month, it is not a big ask to upload that. But sales data is more difficult. A shop like yours, must be having more than 100 sales in a day sometimes. I am assuming your minimum would be 50-70 customers a day. And that too mostly in the mornings and evenings, correct?”

“You’re right,” said Desaiji, “in the mornings especially, it becomes very difficult to manage the shop. If Amit or Raju are late, then it is just chaos.”

“Right. So that means you don’t keep complete track of your sales, nor do you give pakka bills to most of your customers. Especially during the rush time.”

“Correct. I tried to maintain a notebook for these boys to put entry. Lekin they don’t do it diligently. There is no record for most of it. When I do stock checking is when I understand kya bikri hui,” he leaned forward and whispered, “but I think Amit does pocket some of the money from time to time. I don’t know how to catch him, and it’s impossible to track!”

Shravan smiled and said, “haan, that is a problem for many small businesses. Losses owing to wastage, breakage and pilferage. One of the core goals of my solution is to reduce all such losses, hopefully stop them altogether.

“My philosophy is that some data is better than no data. So, while I appreciate the difficulty there is for the sales staff to record all sales transactions, the more they do it, the better the service I can provide to you. Matlab, if you record even 50% of the transactions, it will be helpful. If you do more than 90% then it will be fantastic.”

Desaiji nodded, but then gave a quizzical look, “but what service do you provide? What I have understood is that you want me to use my mobile phone as a POS, and you want me to record all purchase and sales. What is your service?”

“The service is that my system will take your data, analyse it and then give you suggestions on what you should buy and sell. It will tell you what is happening in your shop, and also what is happening in your area. For example, you know your customers very well. You supply products as per their preferences and when they need things. During summers, you may stock up on more ice cream because there are many families with children in your area.”

Haan, but that is obvious. I already know that information.”

“What if I tell you that people also use more soap, because they are washing their face more when it is hot. Or that people buy more kala namak, because they’re making more jal jeera or milk to make chhaas at home. And then by looking at your purchase and sales data, I can tell you when your stock is running out and when you should place a new order for these kinds of items. Or that you don’t have to wait for the big companies to come up with bundle offers. You can make your own offer of milk and kala namak for your customers. You should give less discount for running items, and more discount for items that don’t sell fast.

Desai makes his own offers.

“See, nobody knows dukaandaari better than you. But if you are going to sit and think about everything all alone, you will be taking too much of stress on your head. I am certain, you don’t have time for your family, you don’t go meet relatives and you don’t trust anyone else to make your business decisions.

“My job is to help you make these decisions. Even if I tell you nothing new to help you improve your business, I will at least save you time. So, my service is to give you more time, reduce your losses and help you find new ways of making money.”

“Hmmm…” pondered Desaiji, “this is interesting. Tell me more how this happens?”

“Through the app, you will provide all the information. Store information, purchase & sales entry, etc. Then, the app will give you information about how much stock you have, what is selling more, what is giving more profit, what is getting expired, etc.,” said Shravan as he started flipping through some charts and graphs on the app. “These can get technical and detailed, which you can review when you have time or interest. But the app will also send notifications to you about these things. This will be done on a periodic basis. Like daily report, weekly report, monthly report, etc. These notifications, that deliver the key insights, is what is called small data. Big data is for the machine, small data is for aam aadmi.

Big data is for the machine, small data is for aam aadmi.

“And just like you have salespeople from different companies coming to you, my researchers will come and visit you periodically. Initially they will come once a week and give you suggestions and help you read the data. After you are comfortable, say after 3-4 months, they will come once every 2 weeks. You will also be able to reach out on our call centres, but it is always good to have face to face conversation.”

“Yes, it is always better to have direct communication. But why are you doing this? What’s in it for you? I have seen several of these big companies come and take advantage. You can also take advantage of this in some way, I’m sure.”

Always better to have direct communication.

“I’m glad you asked this question. Firstly, I will charge ₹750 every month for this service. And my claim is that you will see at least a 20-50% increase in your earnings.

“Now I will answer your question and also some uncomfortable questions you haven’t asked yet. To give you my assurance, my company will sign a legal agreement with you. That agreement will state that TsDS will not share your data with anyone without your consent. It will also state that TsDS will not be in the same business as you. That means TsDS will not set up a shop of its own and sell any of these kinds of products. Whether online or offline. Neither will TsDS sell any of these products to you. The job is to enable you to do business with whoever you want. I won’t come back to you with TsDS branded potato wafers or soap or anything like that. I won’t come and tell you that you have to buy from my warehouse – TsDS will never have its own warehouse.”

“But why? If you are going to work with so many kiranas, then you can easily supply to them also na?”

“Yes, but I don’t want to remove you or anyone like you. For example, Satya & Sons is also part of your biradree. If I compete with them, then where will they go? After all, I know that most of the wholesalers and distributors started off in shops like yours only. And like you said, you have a very strong relationship with them – credit terms, good prices, an understanding. That’s valuable and there is no way that anyone can replicate that level of trust na?

“The objective is to represent the entire biradree, the entire ecosystem around you in a digital environment. So that you continue to do what you are doing, but in a more efficient and productive way. Incorporating people like Nirav babu into my system is the next step. Then delivery people, then ecommerce and so on. I want you to run like a big company.”

“Hmmm… very good, very good. You said one more thing. You said you will not share my data without my consent. What does that mean? What if I give you consent, what will you do with it?”

“Good question again. This is where the beauty of the system really comes out. So, the solution for you is to not just improve your business performance, but also to generate new revenue streams. Big companies spend a lot of money to know what is happening in the market. What is selling, what is not selling. What is their market share. What size items sell in which part of the country, etc. There are companies who measure this and sell to these big companies at very high prices.”

“Yes, yes. I know that those Nelson people go to Patel bhai’s dukaan every month. They spend 4-5 hours and check everything. Full stock.”

“Correct. So, we will also do that. We will take your data and sell it to the big companies. If you are okay with your name being attached to your data, then I will give you a 2/3rd share of the money earned by this. This means that company xyz will know what Desai ki dukaan is selling every month. For every category, say toothpaste is a category, I will charge them between ₹300-1500 per month. That means you will make between ₹200-1000 per month for every sale I make from this. This is per category. So, if you sell data for toothpaste, detergent, chocolates and soft drinks, you can make ₹4000 per month. If say five companies are interested in buying from your store, then that will become ₹20000 per month. TsDS earns the remaining 1/3rd.

Small data is for everyone.

“If your data is sold anonymously, that means I will collate all the data together and sell it to these companies. But then I won’t be sharing any earnings with you because that means putting 100-1000s of shop data together. So the earnings will be very low anyway. This kind of data I will sell at a very low price, so that even the small manufacturers can know what is happening in the market. For example, if the data is selling at ₹1.5 lakh per month today, I will sell it at ₹50000. I want more people to use data.”

“You mean to say that Nirav babu’s sala who is manufacturing these spices will be able to afford this data?” asked Desaiji as he showed him a local brand of haldi and garam masala.

“Yes, exactly. He may know his local market, but this way he will know whether his next focus should be Ahmedabad, Mumbai or Hyderabad. And my researchers will go to him also and help him understand how to use the data.

“One more thing about data sharing which you didn’t ask. All the information will be encrypted, so it will be very difficult to match your data with your shop – this means even if someone accesses it, it will be like khichdi. Nobody will understand what it is without your consent.”

Waah, this is a very good idea, Shravanji. Something tells me you have more plans. So, carry on.” Desaiji said as he indicated to Amit to get two more cups of tea. This was getting interesting.

Shravan continued with a serious expression, “Yes, there is lots more. I want you to earn more money from all this also,” he got up and stepped out of the shop as Desaiji followed. “See this,” he gestured to the faded blue PepUp board outside Desaiji’s dukaan. “You are advertising for them for free. Every day you have minimum 50-70 customers visiting you. Sometimes more than 100. So many more people pass through this busy neighbourhood. So, you have given them a free billboard for so many years. They should pay you!

“Then, look at this,” he animatedly walked back into the shop and pointed out the yellow rack full of potato wafers, nuts and mixes. “And this…” he pointed to the makeup poster on the left sided pillar of the entrance, “and this…!” pointing to the toothpaste ad on the right sided pillar.

“Your shop is a magnet of footfalls and eyeballs. These companies pay big money to TV channels, radio stations and on billboards. But this is the most effective place for ads, at the moment of truth, at the place of purchase. This is why there were questions in that form about your shop size and location. By using multiple pieces of information, we can measure the number of people who enter or pass by your shop. This way we will estimate a rate for all these ad spots and sell them to the highest bidder.

“You get 40%, and TsDS gets 60%. The base level calculations suggest that each shop should earn ₹10000 per month. So that means another ₹4000 for you. I’m certain it’s going to be much more as we go ahead.

“Then we will be looking to add not just your suppliers on the system, but also delivery partners. Look around you, the youth is sitting idle and not gainfully employed. Every neighbourhood can have its own independent delivery service. They can connect on the system and offer their services.

“Of course, we will also look to add your customers on this. Then they can order and pay you directly – so the bill is automatically created. Participate in consumer surveys and make money. Delivery, as I mentioned already. Matlab, e-commerce for Bharat. It’ll be as per your requirements and you will continue to compete with your neighbourhood, not the entire world.

“I have more thoughts, but one at a time, we will get there. Slowly, you will be as capable as the Amajons and Geos of the world. You will have more time on your hands, less money stress, your next generation will be more excited and interested to continue and we can all use our time to think of more and better things to do with our life. Go on a holiday, Desaiji, I’m sure you’ll enjoy traveling!”

“Hahaha,” guffawed Desaiji. “All this is very good. I am very happy to hear you speak and I take comfort from the fact that you also have your roots in dukaandaari. But you know very well that we humble kiranas have been taken for a ride for many years now. I want to also get onboarded, but what if tomorrow you do something like the others and cheat us? What will I do then?”

“First of all, you stop the service immediately. Then you go take this agreement and go straight to court. I am very clear on one thing, the niyat of my business. No matter what happens, our irada will not change – profit is very important, but not by taking advantage of people. And I will not wait for the government to set these rules, I will do it myself.”

Desaiji smiled, almost proud. He shook Shravan’s hand and bade him farewell, after having signed the onboarding agreement, scheduling a training session and one more cup of chai.

Samay badal gaya tha

Three years later, The Small Data Store had onboarded more than 2 lakh kiranas, like Desaiji’s, across India. Many of their suppliers were also on the system and the Kirana Ad Spot Measurement (KASM) was a big success – all participating stores were earning more than ₹10000 per month just from this.

There were more than 1 lakh store x category direct data sales. All major companies were buying data at a detail as yet unprecedented. And with SME manufacturers buying data and consultancy services now as well, the level of competitiveness across the country had reached a dizzying frenzy.

Delivery and e-commerce had just started taking shape and customers were able to transact with ease and loved the gamified surveys that they could participate in. And the offers they received sometimes felt like they were timed and tailored for them by a dukaandaar who knew them extremely well.

Even kiranas that had signed up with the Geos and Swijjys were signing up with TsDS despite pushback from these companies. After all, the data belonged to the shop and they could do with it as they please.

Prashant had stopped working with Ole. He enjoyed working in the dukaan now. He was getting married this year. It was a love marriage. She was enterprising and ran a small business with her sahelis of delivering groceries to customers in the area from dukaans like Desaiji’s – an empowered all-woman delivery service. That’s how he had met her and fell in love with her enterprising spirit.

Desaiji had just come back from a holiday. He and Sarla had gone to Darjeeling for a week-long trip as Prashant took care of the shop. He would check what was happening in the dukaan from his app. And just take status updates from Prashant every 1-2 days as that habit was hard to break.

Kyo Desaiji, kaisi lagi wohi purani azaadi, bina samjhauto wali?

But he wasn’t stressed anymore. Business was good.

The kiranas, the mom & pop stores, were fighting back.

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