No known brand, no ambience, no visual merchandising Walk-ins: approximately 100 daily; conversions: 90 per cent ; brands stocked: none. This is the scene at almost every shop in the unorganised mass markets of Chandigarh. Ranjan Kaplish walks through the by-lanes of these frequented hubs that are a retail destination in their own right.
“We all wish to stock brands, but there are no brands that our customers can afford. So, we have to compromise on locally made products, else fakes are the only option we are left with.” This was the common reply from most of the fashion and lifestyle retailers from Sadar Bazaar/Palika Bazaar, sector-19, and Shastri Market, sector-22, in Chandigarh. The markets were set up in 1993 and 1994, respectively. In a move to bring the street vendors ( rehri / pheri wala s) to a common place and create a market for the masses, the plots were allotted in these sectors by the Chandigarh administration. These markets are now the lifeline of Chandigarhians. Both these shopping destinations are at par with Mumbai’s Fashion Street in terms of the product range available, as the latest in products – ranging from all kinds of apparel and accessories, to footwear and even fragrances and cosmetics – can be bought at rock-bottom prices.
In January 2007, the unstable and temporary arrangements were restructured and shaped like a proper marketplace. The shops that were fabricated of metal sheets are now proper concrete booths with enough movement space within the market. The parking space, too, has been organised with permanent police personnel deployed to keep a check.
Talking of size, the markets are small with each shop just 8’X8′, i.e., 64 square feet (encroachments excluded), in both the markets. The sector-19 market has a total of 432 shops totalling 27,648 square feet retail space, while sector 22 is comparatively small with 328 shops totalling 20,992 square feet. The size may seem smaller than a large-format store from an international brand, but in business terms, the collective turnover of these markets can give any shopping mall a run for its money. On an average, both these markets combined sell fashion worth approximately Rs 300 crore annually. The figure and the calculations do not include the business of temporary shops and vendors who sell within and outside the markets everyday.
The customer profile is heterogeneous, with people from all income segments visiting the markets. The flashy cars lined in the market parking indicate the presence of one segment, while the heaps of cheap/used clothes on sale prove the presence of another segment of buyers. “People from all sections and income groups visit sector-22 market, as there are some products that cannot be bought from any mall or showroom. For instance, the Punjabi jutti s and mojari s are favourite among women and are sold for Rs 150 onwards, while in any big footwear store the same would cost more than Rs 500,” Tejinder Pal Singh, joint secretary, sector-22 Market Traders Association, told Indiaretailing.
When asked about the fakes, Singh denied their presence in the market, but agreed that as there were no brands for the masses, some shopkeepers do lie and sell a low-quality product under a forged brand name. “If some good brand emerges for the masses and also offers margins like these unorganised players do, everybody in the market would be happy stocking the brands,” added Singh. When asked about the problems faced in the market, Singh had endless complaints against the Municipal Corporation and the Estate officials who keep raiding the premises to check for encroachments in the corridors. “Sometimes we are unnecessarily troubled by the authorities during the festive seasons, when we have extra stocks and have to use corridors for displays. We should be allowed to utilise the space in front of our shops,” said Singh.
Similar replies came from Vinod Panjeta, executive member, sector-19, Market Traders Association. He agreed that shopkeepers might stock the good brands for the masses, but as the competition within the market is intense, all of them cannot afford to stock the same products. “Here, you can see 10 shops in a row selling the same items; it’s almost like a vegetable market,” said Panjeta. The selling techniques are all a reverse of organised retail – nothing can be seen in terms of visual merchandising, and nor is it possible in a 8’X8′ booth, since there are no window displays and the ambience is markedly different.
What matters is one’s communication skills, for the message has to be crisp and attractive enough to attract a passerby. The PR skills of all sellers are unique in their own way. “About 90 per cent of my customers come back; they say that they like our dealing. I never keep record of any of my customers, but I do try remembering their names, and that matters,” Vijay Kumar, a footwear shop owner in Sadar Bazar, said. When asked if they faced any threat from the upcoming malls and the growing organised retail, Kumar replied, “We have our own importance and nothing can wipe us out. None of the organised retailers can compete with us. The variety and the prices we offer can never be matched by the organised or branded players.”
Customers, too, are happier shopping here than at exclusive stores or malls. “I do visit shopping malls and the sector-17 plaza sometimes, but shopping here is a unique experience. The bargains get us the cracking deals. I have bought two shirts for Rs 450; though unbranded, this guy has promised a guarantee for six months. What else do you require? Aren’t these in fashion (showing one of the shirts)?” remarked Sudeep Rawat, a shopper at sector-22 market.
“We regularly visit these markets to pick up the cheap and trendy tops, and a pair or two of footwear. For college goers, you have variety here,” said Sughanda, one of the girls shopping with a group of friends. “We can even pick up good deodorants at throwaway prices,” she added. When asked about the authenticity of these fragrances, she said that “perfumes must smell good, and who cares they are genuine or not, unless they harm you. I have been shopping here for years and have got no complaints!”
This is part of the nearly 95 per cent of the total retail sector, and one may be tempted to wonder if there is more to so-called unorganised retailing than meets the eye.