Sunday, October 23, 2011

Heritage store in Chennai shows the way





There is always a lot to forward to in the second half of the year, especially after August when the weather tends to get a bit pleasant (where is the autumn of old!), the sun puts on a milder hue, and the curtains draw open for the festive season. The celebrations peak around Diwali; after the Festival of Lights, there’s only Christmas and New Year to look forward to, and of course winter in some parts of India (even the winter of old seems to have disappeared but for many, anything is better than the oppression of the heat).

Many years ago when I was in PR, I was taken on a tour of some of the major retail stores in Madras to witness firsthand the kind of shopping spree during Diwali. Many of the shop owners told me that the sales during the week preceding Diwali accounted for more than 50 per cent of the total sales during the year. I found it hard to believe then, but that seems to be the truth. For most families, purchasing something or the other for Diwali is a must, and some save up through the year to splurge during Diwali, to make the best bargains possible or to benefit from the best discounts on offer.

Retail stores and chains try their best to outdo each other to attract the customer. In Chennai for instance, the number of footfalls in stores such as Nalli’s, Pothys and Saravana Stores is to be seen to be believed. It’s almost like getting onto or out of trains in Mumbai – the surge of the crowd pushes you inside and out.

Less than two weeks ago I was in Anna Nagar, at the new retail store opened by Poppat Jamal & Sons. The name is well known – the enterprise was established in old Madras, in George Town 110 years ago before it moved to prime property on Mount Road. That’s a store worth visiting for anybody interested in buying high-quality crockery, cutlery, glassware and lighting products. You could call it a heritage block.

Those who run such stores are often happy carrying on as they have been all along, but in a changing world the younger generation who are at the helm in many of them have begun to realise that if business has to grow expansion is necessary. So, the Poppat Jamal outlet in Anna Nagar brings a cherished brand to another part of the city, in this case one of the prime areas that is a retailer’s delight (Mount Road, ever since the four-lane traffic system came into force, has lost its sheen and pride of place as a marketing hub).

There are three floors here, and you can, if you want, leisurely spend a few hours looking at the various products on display. The ambience is modern, the lighting just right, and the area devoid of any clutter. Care has even been taken to provide a history of the company (at the entrance). And, of course, it’s all air-conditioned. Am not quite sure whether the main Mount Road outlet has all these things going for it. Anyway, what more would a customer want! Yes, quality and the right price. The store has earned repute for the first; and what better time than Diwali to offer the ‘right price’, which in other words is discounting 15-20 per cent?

I was tempted to talk to the young owner, probably the fourth or fifth descendant of the man who started it all – Poppat Jamal. But things were going slow at the cash counter, with the computers playing up. And he was in the thick of things. It’s always interesting to talk to youngsters and understand their views on taking such businesses forward.

Pictures show the entrance to one of the floors; attractive glass dispensers on display; customers engaged in the magic of touch and feel as bright red balloons overlook; and the elegant reception area.

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