Sunday, August 7, 2011
Local Market Research
I began to learn about the local market for Chidiya’s jewelry products as soon as I met the women in Chidiya. When I started to ask questions about their lives and businesses, I learned early on that the local market conditions are very poor, which is why the women must travel far distances within and even outside India to sell their products. Even during the religious festival season, the only time when the demand for their traditionally made jewelry is considerably high, the women must still travel. The travel and raw material costs make it even more difficult for the women to make a decent profit, while some of the time they even struggle to break even. This is also caused by the undercutting of each others’ prices; every family in this Narikuravar village (there are 5 or 6 in Tamil Nadu alone) makes a living by making and selling their jewelry products.
Nest is currently Chidiya’s only client, besides the Yala partnership that was recently established. Chidiya does not receive any orders from retail stores or companies in India. I thought it would be really helpful for these women if they can find some local clientele, which will increase their income and further stabilize their lives, as well as allow the cooperative to take more ownership of their business. I started to ask about where their products were currently being sold. The women explained that they usually sell their traditional mala necklaces in front of temples. I immediately thought of the gift stores or stands that I saw in front of Rock Fort temple, the most famous temple in Trichy. I discussed the possibility of approaching the shop owners in front of the Rock Fort temple on behalf of Chidiya, but the members and the loan facilitator told me that they have already tried. The competition and undercutting of prices is so fierce that the rate that the shop owners ask for is simply unprofitable.
I later learned that the local demand for Chidiya’s style of jewelry is very low, but appeal very much to Westerners. I thought of the personal order that I was planning to place from Chidiya, consisting of jewelry that I wanted for my personal use as well as gifts for my family and friends, when it suddenly dawned on me: Chidiya can target foreign tourists visiting India. I then thought of the time I had dinner with the other interns at a really nice hotel in Trichy, where I saw Westerners and a gift shop. I discussed my plan to visit hotel gift shops in Trichy to see how making orders from Chidiya would be received with the cooperative, and the women explained that this seemed like a great idea. I learned that the culturally appropriate way to approach something like this is to simply drop by the store and ask to see the manager; I amusingly learned that you don’t make scheduled appointments in India.
I decided to try the hotel with the gift shop that I’ve been to before. I took some Chidiya samples and two NEWS Staffwomen to help translate if need be. We went inside the hotel gift shop and asked to see the manager, to find out that he wasn’t there. We talked to the shop workers about what we were going to pitch to the manager, and asked them if his boss might be interested in something like this. The shop workers exclaimed that this wasn't their call to make, but they said that the jewelry that they do sell in the shop are all natural stones and of the highest quality, unlike the samples that I showed them. Nonetheless, I got the manager’s business card and planned to stop by the shop again the following Monday when he would be there.
I called the Manager the following day to try to set up a meeting with him, but he simply told me that he wasn’t interested. I decided to still try other hotel gift shops in Trichy, and received some positive feedback at the next hotel that I went to, called Hotel Sangam. The man who was in the gift shop was not the manager, but told us that the gift shop is actually managed by a larger company that owns gift shops in hotels all over India. The company is based in Delhi, and is called “Cottage Industries Exposition Ltd.” I didn’t see any jewelry in the shop, so the company might be interested in making orders from Chidiya, which would be in bulk since they have shops across the country.
Unfortunately, the other hotels that we went to either did not have gift shops, the manager was not there, or there was no interest. I learned from one of the NEWS staffers (Tintu) who worked with Sarah Lee, the Skillshare worker who helped to start Chidiya, that the local market in India is really tough to break into. Sarah Lee tried all over Trichy and did not meet much success, except for one potential breakthrough that fell through because there was no one to follow up. Tintu even tried in her native Kerala but did not have such luck.
It seems that if Nest can make a partnership with this company, Cottage Industries, that has hotel gift shops across India, Chidiya would be greatly benefited. Approaching this one company would be like approaching hundreds of gift shops at once. I unfortunately did not have the time to look into this opportunity, but I would highly advise someone working with Nest or Chidiya to do so.
Another group that might be worth targeting consists of the civically minded citizens, like the local Rotary Club. Rachna and I were invited to the annual initiation ceremony where the local Rotary Club of BHEL (an industrial company) presents its newly appointed officers. The president of NEWS, Samuel, was the president of the Rotary Club the last year. The members of the Rotary Club are interested in giving back to their community, as they engage in many education and health projects on behalf of the underprivileged. I feel like those that are more socially conscious might be more willing to purchase jewelry from Chidiya if they know that they are helping to provide an income to these women which in turn goes towards feeding and educating their families. This is the audience that Nest caters to in the United States as well, so why not in India? :)