Off late I have been travelling extensively across the state of Tamil Nadu on work – been conducting several Training Programs, to meet & work with Clients, etc. One such visit recently took me to a small town 500kms to the South of Chennai by the name Tirunelveli (Nellai in Tamil). The town is notorious for clashes among people at the drop of a hat although a lot has improved over the years in the areas of Law & Order, Crime, etc. The people in the surrounding areas have a certain slang of Tamil, which in itself is a famous way of speaking the native language. The Nellaiappar Temple in the town is world famous and is said to be 1.5 times bigger than the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. Bang opposite the temple is a shop that is as famous as the temple itself.
The temple goes by the name “Iruttu Kadai” meaning “dark shop” in Tamil. The shop has been around since 7 decades or more and is run by a North Indian family from Rajasthan. The shop, which doesn’t have a name – as in a Brand Name – is known by it’s colloquial name all over the world and makes just one product – a traditional sweet meat called Halwa. The sweet, although made across India in different forms is very unique to this particular shop. No one gets the same taste as they make and the family that runs the business have a unique recipe for the product which has been tried to be remade by so many people but no one gets “this” particular taste. And they don’t have branches either!
The shop doesn’t have a brand name and is open from 5.30pm to 8.30pm or till they run out of stocks whichever is earlier. Apparently, the shop owners produce 1 tonne – yes, you read that right, ONE Tonne of Halwa every day! And the sweet meat gets sold within a span of hours. Even till this day, the shop doesn’t have proper lighting or visual merchandising and has just one small bulb, a 10 watts bulb reminiscent of the olden days when they would run the business in almost pitch darkness with oil lamps. And it is no surprise that people queue up outside the shop from early evening to get their prized pick.
In today’s world of loud and glossy branding, insane amount of money being showered on advertising, needless to say the innumerable new age food businesses which are hyper funded and get so much of PR, shops such as these have carved a niche for themselves. To survive in 21st century in Retail without even a registered brand name, operate just for a few hours in the day (or evening) and managing with just One SKU – I personally think that there is more to this Retailer than just the Halwa itself.
I managed to get some Halwa for myself the previous evening through a friend before I visited the place next day (since it is closed all day) but couldn’t meet the owners and the family that runs the place although I plan to meet them soon. It was a sense of pride and satisfaction that Retail is a very simple business to be in. Keep the fuss away, focus on your product and be consistent with what you do – customers will reach you no matter what – these are some of the learning that I take away from this specialty food retailer. As I always say, Organized Retail has so much to learn from traditional Retailers and this is just one such example.