Friday, April 4, 2008

The real taste of India - A rural market visit to Santhai @ Acharapakkam, Tamilnadu

Travel forms an essential part of my life. For someone who loves going to different places, interacting with people and getting to discover something new and interesting every time , this was a memorable experience. As a part of our rural marketing course requirement , we got this opportunity to travel to a place called Acharapakkam, near Melmaruvathur, 80km south of Chennai. We were accompanied by Mr.Shivaji Padmanabhan, Audio Visual Executive from Anugrah Madison and Prof.Sathya, Head- Marketing & Marcom Varsity, CBS

This place is known for the ‘Santhai’ that it hosts every weekend. Santhai is a small gathering of people , comprising of buyers and sellers from in and around the place, to create a market environment for goods to be sold and bought by the customers.This place is a common meeting point for 5 villages around that locality. Villagers from these surroundings bring in all their products, which range from Cattle to cosmetics, Fruits and vegetables to Accessories, and Apparels to Edibles, to sell them to the customers around the region.

The first sight on landing at the place was that of cattle, especially bullocks being sold and bought by villagers out there. It was an interesting way of doing business when it came to cattle, as they strike a deal with buyers , holding their hand covered by a piece of cloth. What happens underneath that cloth is a million dollar question!!!!The deal is struck and both the buyer and seller look satisfied. But they weren’t satisfied looking at us initially.But that was bound to happen as they were wondering , what were a group of people wearing school bags and with notes in their hands , doing on their land.

It was interesting to know some insights about the cattle trade !!! Only bullocks and not the cows that come to the market gender's because of a practical reason that the yield of the cow can be known only during the milking time in the mornings and the evenings !! Whereas for the bullocks very intuitive knowledge about the number of teeth, wear and tear in the teeth (!!) and the curve marks are taken into account in arriving at the right price. Here too the middlemen easily make 20% commission !!

We started venturing into the area slowly and had small conversations with the people out there to find out about the nitty gritties of doing business in such an environment. The santhai had myriads of small make-shift stalls selling chicks (Yes, the real ones!), fish, fruits, vegetables, garments, utensils, farming accessories, seeds, consumer goods, footwear, books, plastic toys, house-hold items, catapults, coconuts etc. There were also some interesting stalls with a parrot fortune teller, a herbal dentist (!), palmist etc. An interesting learning that we must have from the people out there is, their cognizance of consumer behaviour and people’s buying pattern. They are extremely well versed in this aspect ,as they are able to sustain their business , week after week, and retain their customer base strongly.

There were people who had been doing this since generations and they seemed to know exactly what the customer wants when he comes to a place like this. They were quite enthralled by the fact that they were being captured by our camera lens, they came ahead and clarified our doubts regarding every aspect of marketing in such a region.

Of course , there were a few people who did not appreciate our indulgence in their day to day business activities, so understandably their response to us was quite cold .But that’s fine, at least we felt the existence of cold this way, amidst such scorching sunlight .Gosh! it did take a toll on some of my colleagues. ..

But the amount of water lost to the quantity of knowledge gained , had a better ratio. So, effort taken never goes for a waste. Here I must quote one of the experiences undergone by a colleague of mine with a Palmist/Astrologer/Don’t know what else he does???

The effort taken by him in trying to interact with the palmist, led to him shelling out 300 bucks(Which I think he would never forget in this lifetime :)) and helped us gain knowledge on what not to do , while dealing with such people in a apart, it was all taken in the right spirit...But every penny of the Rs.300 was worth in understanding the salesman in the palmist...unrufflled, the way he started the deal, confronted the 'small enemies' within his clan (who were sitting in the periphery and discouraging his potential customers!), building up a fear factor and increasing the margin (well....sounds like insurance sale right ??!!) and finally, like a typical management consultant, telling the client what he already knows, well....for a fat professional fee ;-)

This reiterated the idea that marketing “Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products”. I truly believe in this ideology.

Another important thing was the availability of quite a lot of look-alikes of popular FMCG brands. The most interesting aspect was that several rural consumers buy them clearly knowing that they were fake and went home feeling happier with their own win-win equation of value for money. hmm....Welcome to the strange Indian marketplace !! Now I clearly understand why Ms. Rama Bijapurkar has named her book on consumer India as "We are like that only" !.

Class room sessions can teach us marketing only to an extent. Real learning comes in the form of trips like this, where we get the first hand experience of what is taught. This trip remains high on my travel catalogue as one of those most cherished and compelling journeys .

By Pradeep ,Marcom Varsity ,CBS

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