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: Platinum   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.

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