“I don’t think anyone running a business had ever witnessed such a period of intense challenge until the lockdown came into effect. Anyone within this ecosystem can vouch for how revenues get negatively impacted even if the business shuts for a day or two without prior planning. In that respect, three weeks of lockdown is a long time,” says 27-year old Tinku Malhotra. A resident of Panipat, Tinku runs an online home furnishing business on Flipkart under the name Vivati Online.
While the past few weeks were one of the most challenging times he faced in his two-year journey as an online seller, Tinku says he realised that the lockdown was the need of the hour. “At that time, COVID-19 was a new territory to tread upon. We didn’t know the gravity of the pandemic or the protocols and systems that we needed to stay safe. While the business mattered to me, what mattered even more, is my responsibility towards my family and the families of my 30 employees. So, in hindsight, we could not have done without the lockdown. Today, as a business, as a country, we are probably better prepared to deal with the pandemic.”
Getting the business up and running
The relaxation for e-commerce businesses, with the exception of operating in containment zones, brought in the much-needed relief.
“We were able to immediately connect with the Flipkart category managers to see how we could get the business up and going. Even though they were still working from home, there were no hiccups in communication or coordination. A few hours into the announcement, we were able to go live on Flipkart,” shares Tinku.
Meanwhile, the workplace and warehouses were sanitised, a few employees critical to operations were asked to report to work and thermal screening and sanitisation mechanisms were put in place.
In a matter of three or four days, not only did the business bounce back, but it also doubled. “Before COVID-19, we received 600-700 orders a day, now we receive anywhere between 1200-1500 orders a day,” shares Tinku. While a part of the rise in demand has been due to retail stores continuing to stay shut, the other big reason is because of the change in consumer psyche to limit the visit to stores only for essentials. “In addition, like many other businesses, we have also added masks to our product catalogue.”
Like every other business today, Tinku says the business follows hygiene and safety protocol every step of the way. Right from the time they received the products from the manufacturer, wherein the products are disinfected on arrival and untouched for the next 48 hours to making it mandatory for employees to install the Arogya Setu app, undergo regular thermal checks and sanitisation. “It goes without saying that masks and gloves are now part of everyday wear.”
Online to the rescue
While he is happy with the spike in demand, Tinku says he is grateful to be an online seller as he was able to make up for the lost time.
“The biggest advantage that I see as an online seller is that unlike a traditional Kirana store or even the branded retail store, I am able to continue running the business. We can even work from home supported by a limited number of employees. Most importantly, because we are associated with Flipkart, logistics and delivery too is seamless.”
Given that the COVID-19 spread is not showing signs of a downward curve yet, Tinku believes that it might be time for offline retailers to make the shift wherever possible.
“Everyone is scared to step out of their homes today. That fear will compel people to limit their interactions and commute until the virus continues to stay a visible threat. So, it's time for small businesses to onboard platforms like Flipkart and take a chance at thriving amid what looks like one of the most difficult days in a lifetime.”
Incidentally, Tinku was instrumental in helping his family-run business branch out with an online arm.
Becoming an online seller
Tinku’s family had an offline home furnishing business in Panipat, a manufacturing hub for home furnishings. Tinku always saw his future as a businessman. It was while pursuing his CA that he had a eureka moment that was to change his career trajectory. “I was pursuing my studies online. That’s when it hit me that if I could study online, why hadn’t the family business ventured online?” he shares. Tinku then decided to put that thought into action and quit his studies. “While my family persuaded me to complete my education, I felt I needed to seize the moment and the opportunity that lay there.”
Seeing his steadfast determination, his family eventually came around to support his decision. Tinku’s brother, who was managing the family business offline, guided the younger sibling and helped him understand the intricacies of running a business. Tinku then registered as a seller on Flipkart as Vivati Online. “The online business took off well. We received good traction quite early on in this journey. We were able to reach out to customers directly and more importantly, to customers across the country and not just limited to a small geographical footprint. This helped the family business grow exponentially.” Today, he is joined by his sister, Heena, who helps him manage the day-to-day demands of running an online business.
While Vivati Online majorly retailed bedsheets and curtains manufactured in-house, they also retailed handbags, backpacks and other miscellaneous products that they source from other manufacturers to feed into market demand. They are now in the process of finalising the manufacturing process for antimicrobial fabric. “Given the gravity of the current situation, we believe people will take all possible precautions to stay safe.” There are plans on the cards to venture into the fashion segment with in-house manufactured clothing.
While the online business has helped Tinku’s family-run business to tide over the current economic crunch, he credits Flipkart for helping him get a strong foothold of running an online business.
“Right from registration to training to helping me learn all about product listing, promotion, visibility, pricing, all of these lessons that I learnt in the early days as a seller on Flipkart is helping me even today,”
And in this journey as an online seller, Tinku says that there have been many moments such as – giving his mother her dream house, with what she calls her “bacchon ki kamai” to be able to provide to consumers in the most challenging situations – that make up for being an invisible but intrinsic part of people’s lives. “I remember, I once got a call from a customer who was planning her wedding and placed a bulk order. In another instance, a father wanted the delivery to be done in a day because it was his daughter’s birthday. These are probably small moments, but it is these kinds of moments that keep you going in tough times like day.”
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