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Three cheers to the Kirana shops

In India, the kirana shops are here to stay. No matter how rapid the growth of organized retail is or will be, the kirana shops are also expanding and will never reach saturation levels. They serve useful purposes such as ease of purchase and localized service. This article is an attempt at discussing what makes these kirana shops click.


The Kirana revolution in India is still on. These Kirana shops, that is, shops that are called "general merchants" shops that sell a huge variety of every day needs, are found in every nook and corner. There will be at least a small shop in a village of just seventy families. As the village starts growing, the shop becomes the center of all attraction. Contrary to all public perception, the kirana shop "uncle" or "annachi" as he is called in Tamil, does not merely sell goods. He is a multi-task personality. He is an expert in a) building very personal and constructive relationships b) keeping a tab on movements of people in the locality c) provides vital information and d) scores so high on ingenuity. These dimensions are sought to be described in some detail in this article.

Building very personal and constructive relationships

The kirana owner always has a personal word for you. He would interact with you on a personal basis in the afternoons and in the evenings. He would be very shrewd to gauge the kind of purchasing power you have. Of course, he will keep this information to find a way into your heart.

Here is a real world case study. I struck a personal friendship with a kirana shop owner near a gated community in the Velacheri area of Chennai city. Let us call him Mr Guru Annachi. (the first part has been changed but the second remains) .This gated community has people from all over India. Even those who speak only Hindi will elicit the appropriate response from him. He may not know Hindi, but will understand the core message and respond.

His unique style of forging personal relationships stumped me. He was known in the locality as a person of impeachable integrity. At exactly 7.25 AM on a day, I saw a very young lady approaching him with her daughter and handing over the key of her residence. The child happily came inside the shop and sat on a stool. She was given a toffee immediately. The kirana owner saw the puzzled look on my face. He explained that the lady was a banker. Her chartered accountant husband would be abroad for a minimum ten days in a month. During these days, the shop keeper would faithfully ensure that the child would safely board the school mini bus at 8AM and also ensure that the child is put back safe in the house under the careful care of the part-time cook everyday. If the cook does not show up, the child would be taken care till the mother is back.

The relationship gets the kirana owner an assured business of over nine thousand per month from the family. The parents trust this owner more than anyone else. Of course many others in the gated community also share so much of personal relationships and information with him. Hew knows many hundreds of customers by name. He even knows what special dish will be liked by a particular member of the family and who does like eating out and so on.

In fact I did notice him sharing a bit of information I never knew. He mentioned the name of a small hotel that is hugely personalized and offers vegetarian organic food, more suitable for youngsters who want to experiment with food, in another locality. More so on Sundays. This small hotel was managed so well and the food was really delicious. All thanks to our Guru, who shared this information with the young person working with TCS and living with his wife. He was married just ten months ago and his wife was a school teacher. The owner not only knew her, but her parents too. He had made friends with them when they had visited the house a month ago. He had requested his assistant to fetch a particular variety of coconut water from a particular vendor, some three kilometers away and deliver at their house. He knew all details. The coconuts came from Pollachi. The taste was superb. This is the sort of information and service that can win even more customers.

At 530 AM, customers can purchase at least eight varieties of spinach, all vegetables, eggs, fresh bread, all newspapers, milk packets and all groceries. The customers bring their own jute bags. The day never stops for the gentleman. He personally delivers groceries to most families. If there are elders in the family, he ensures that the groceries are delivered before 10AM. The late evening deliveries are restricted to a few who want such deliveries. He has four helpers and all the four are from his native village near Nagercoil. He belongs to the famous Nadar community, who have a tradition of managing all kirana shops so well, throughout Tamil Nadu. What is true of Mr Guru would be true of every single kirana shop owner. In fact, I have seen home deliveries being done in Mumbai in many localities.

Gated communities offer the owner a big opportunity as the flats are not only nearby but also require the services of TV mechanics, plumbers, electricians, servant maids and such other service people. Chances are that the kirana owner would know at least one specialist in each of these specializations.

Mention the name of Big Bazaar and Mr Guru does not see red. He knows the competition is round the corner. But his level of personal relationships is so huge that Big Bazaar will find it difficult to match. Combine this with his knowledge of local markets. This is a sure recipe for success.

I would use this case study for one of my guest lectures on marketing. This in fact enthused a couple of good students to do similar research in another area. My visits were spread over some twenty five days. On each day, Mr Guru would happily receive me and answer my querries only after 10AM. Till then, I would interact with some customers to understand what is going on. Mr Guru would have interacted with at least three hundred regular customers and at least one hundred casual customers who would be visitors to the gated community.

Of late, kirana shop owners throughout India, have also started giving discounts for various items of daily use and reports of such discounts are regularly doing the rounds in the local media. In fact, these discounts match that of the Big Bazaar. Sometimes they are a bit more too.

Keeping a tab of people in the locality

The kirana shop owner doubles up as an unpaid security keeper of the locality. He would ask any stranger as to who he or she is. He would alert the security guard about any suspicious movement and would also know all police officials. He would have cell numbers of the powerful people among his own customers. He also keeps a big tab on young unemployed men who could create any trouble. In this fashion, the kirana show owner does some social service too.

Providing vital information

The kirana shop owner provides free of cost, information about houses that are available on rent. He knows the by lanes in the locality very well and provides directions. He also information about good colleges, bus routes, timings and even timings of trains that start from particular stations. He is a virtual encyclopedia on matters that concern our everyday lives. His level of information gathering is unique but simple. He is always available for any help in this regard.

High score on Ingenuity

The Kirana shop owner scores very high on ingenuity. This is concerned with what we call as "native intelligence". This is always related to the quantity and quality of of information about sources of a huge variety of groceries. For example in Chennai, there are hundreds of kirana shop owners like our Mr Guru, who are dedicated customers of some suppliers of very high quality red chillies in far away Guntur, in Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, there are suppliers of quality eggs all the way from Namakkal, a town near Salem in Tamil Nadu, which is a huge center for egg manufacture for the whole country. These kirana shop owners have a big uncanny ability of identifying sources from where he or she can get a huge amount of groceries, more specifically, those that are rare and wanted only by some customers. At times, the kirana shop owners would even open the shop after midnight, if customers want something so urgent.

Many of these kirana shop owners stock a huge amount of plastic items and so on and move with the times.

It is quite appropriate to say "three cheers to the Kirana shops!". They are very unique and will continue to be, forever.


Author: K Mohan20 Jul 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

I am also in total support of Kirana shop culture and in my case, though many supermarkets are in the vicinity of my home, I prefer to take the provisions and other items from my Kirana shop only for various reasons. First of all, If I give the list, he shall pack the things in the same order and keep the things ready in a single cloth bag so that I can take the same on the return direction. And he accepts money whenever I give and won't demand the money in between or so. And when I feel the quality is shabby and not good, I shall return the item and get the new one. There is no problem with pricing also as I get items at wholesale prices. And he sends information regarding the new introduction of any brand or product and also gives the sample for testing. For example, when Arogya milk was first introduced, he gave us the sample packet to use and give feedback. Such kind of personal attention may not be present in supermarkets and other provision stores.

Author: Juana25 Jul 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 2

The Kirana shop owner who has been glorified in this writeup is a potential security threat. He indulges in loose talk and gossip something which contradicts the ‘impeachable integrity’ tag that the author has given him.

To begin with, he receives a hefty payment for the service he provides, so what he does is just a job, and nothing more.

How can someone who voluntarily gives out details about another family be trustworthy? Can you imagine the risk he poses? A puzzled look on your face was enough for him to blurt out a family’s details. In a matter of minutes, you had details of the family. You came to know that the lady was a banker, and her chartered accountant husband is usually away for a minimum of 10 days in a month. And that the child is at home with a part-time cook. He jeopardized the safety of a family.

He gave out personal details of other families too. What business is it of his to share when someone got married or what that person’s wife does? It was wrong for him to pass on that information and improper to encourage him to tell details about others.

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Author: ABSivakumar25 Jul 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

The information gathered was always kept confidential. I had met a couple of customers in the gated community and they still live there. They then told me the massive amount of help the Kirana guy would do for all.

It is your opinion that there is a security risk. I had clearly explained my entire background and they always trust people who are educated. To this day, I have not shared any information he gave me. When we do market research, we always get to know customers. And Kirana guys are good at customer relationship management. There is absolutely no security threat and all that. The child's parents were known to two of my close friends who happened to live in rented houses. This I could know much later when I met them there. In our community, we do so many things together. One gets introduced to another very fast. When they were known to me, I asked about the Kirana shop. Even they did not buy anything from Big Bazaar.

For your kind information, in the same Velacheri area I have been introduced to three high net worth individuals who live in another gated community. They are all members of my own community and it is only through the Kirana guy I got to know them. The objective was to find out what brands of so many goods they buy and why. I have completed this research as well.

The article itself was entirely based on first-hand research. There are several aspects of Marketing that interest me. I also have MBA students doing such research projects.

[This comment has been edited.]

Author: ABSivakumar25 Jul 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 4

And one more thing. Where is the hefty payment? Does he take any bribe? People trust him because he gives very good quality. He opens the shop at 5 pm. Naturally, people on the move naturally like everything fresh. Every detail reported is true. The customers trust him because he knows many things. He does not charge a single pie for any information.

In another gated community in Anna Nagar of Chennai, my friend was able to locate a very good flat, only through a Kirana guy. And on top of it, he knew plumbers, electricians, motor mechanics and so on, by name and got them to service my friend in no time. It is not only here. It has happened in Coimbatore city as well. I have hundreds of friends everywhere and every single guy will only praise Kirana guys as they are local guys who know everything about the various services. Their native intelligence is very good.

If they get business by serving customers, what is the problem? And these guys know how to beat Kishore Biryani of Big Bazaar. And once again, for your kind information, Kishore Biryani himself is now talking about opening thousands of small shops in residential areas, pan-India. But he cannot enter Cheyyar or Tindivanam or Villupuram or Tenali or towns like that. He can't do anything to Kirana guys in such centers, where we are still doing research. Anyway, this is just to clarify how the likes of Big Bazaar are reacting to competition. Organized retail is not even ten percent of the multi-million dollar Indian retail industry.

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Author: Juana02 Aug 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 10

Let me explain why the man is a security risk.

Information about the personal lives of people should never be shared with anyone, be the person educated or illiterate. Elders and children in the family are instructed not to share details of the schedules of the people living in the house.

The Kirana shop owner divulged personal information about residents. Your article does not indicate that you were gathering information for research purpose. What's the relevance of collecting info about someone's schedule or when someone was married? A shopkeeper should not be the source for the collection of such data. It’s infringing on another’s privacy.

My point is that if personal information was relevant to the research, it should have been obtained directly from people and not a shopkeeper. If it wasn’t essential, then it just goes to prove my point, about the guy being a security threat.

I would not like it if the Kirana shop person tells random strangers about my trips abroad or where I work or what goes on in my family. Even if I have shared that info with him, it is not for public consumption.

For market research, the details should be relevant to the study. In this case, the research seemed to be outsourced to the Kirana shop owner. Whereas, families should have been interviewed about their working and travelling patterns if those were relevant to the research. Today the man shared info with you, tomorrow he will share it with some other suave gentleman.

The objective of the survey it appears was to find the goods and brands people buy, but other info was divulged to you – that makes it a security threat.

Hefty payment = Rs. 9000 he gets for handling the keys of the house and ensuring that the child boards the school van. That is the amount people earn working six days a week, in the hot sun.

There is no denying that small shopkeepers are informed about plumbers and electricians etc. However, there is a problem when they share private details about families with others, whatever be the purpose, it is not correct. You may possess all the right credentials, but it still isn’t proper for a shopkeeper to pass on info about someone going abroad every month etc.

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