Monday, May 3, 2010

A Rural Visit as part of my MBA

As we got down from the bus, eager to see the “chandie”, we were greeted by several cows right at the entrance, some tied to a tree, others lose, while the men stared at us. Hesitant, a little wary, we huddled together at first, watching, a little wide-eyed, all the activities around us. Gradually we split into smaller groups and started walking down the narrow lane (in fact only a restricted passage).


When we tried to talk to a few vendors, one of them, busily arranging his wares, categorically told us to go away, because he was interested only in sales and not in talking to us. Amused, we realized that he must have seen many such students coming in to simply gather information and not buy anything. There was a small boy, handling a stall selling tools and other utilities, who shyly told us that they had come early in the morning and would be here for the whole day. When we asked him if he came every week, he simply nodded and quickly looked away, discouraging further questions.


As we proceeded, we saw that some women sat alone under old umbrellas selling seeds, or ground spices, or some trivial items such as tooth brushes, safety pins, rubber bands etc. There were many spurious products (as mentioned earlier), with names very similar to the original brands such as “Pokia” powder instead of “Ponds”, or “Eyepax” instead of “Eyetex” etc. In fact, it was very interesting to see the branded items sold next to the fake ones, with minor price differences. Unless we were very observant, it is actually quite difficult to catch these phony items, since everything else in the design remained the same. So we are sure that the common customer would have no idea that he / she wasn’t buying the real branded goods. There were such replicas not only in the personal care segment but also in the other categories, such as watches and clocks, and obviously movie DVDs and CDs.

There was even an old astrologer, taking advantage of the market day, to latch onto several gullible customers and recount to them a very rosy picture of their futures. One could always contemplate to completely rest in peace and happiness in the future, after listening to his recital. Everything would be so wonderful! Even our guide warned us not to believe a single word of the poor old gentleman, but it was an enjoyable experience watching him predicting the future so passionately.

As we made our way back, I saw two men selling ‘chickoos’ from the back of a van. They were blaring some of the latest Tamil songs. It caught my attention because of the loud noise, which was to an extent jarring, since no one else was making any such unnatural sounds. As we came back close to the entrance / exit of the market place, I caught sight of a hut, behind several stalls, serving some cooked meals. I believe it must have been for the vendors to have their meals there, since the ‘chandie’ had to be manned for the whole day.

At the entrance, we rushed to a small store selling orange drinks in ‘Mirinda’ bottles, with labels on them of a local brand. We were parched and exhausted from the excess heat. As we shared the drink, we noticed the difference in taste from the original Mirinda drink, but wondered if the rural folks would... After the refreshments, some of us went back in and bought fresh vegetables and fruits, which were cheaper here than in Chennai, and the quality was better too.

Strangely, we did not notice any big banners or other advertisements around the place for known national or local brands. It is not to say that the customers coming to this market were from the lowest strata of the society, in reality most of them had mobiles and appeared to be at ease in using them. They had two-wheelers as in mopeds or bikes, or even owned small vans. Some even understood a little of English, and responded in Tamil. And we also spotted some men who appeared to be well educated and from the middle class society, buying from their favourite vendors. However, it looks as if the bigger companies have not tapped into this market as yet, or have overlooked this prospect.

To conclude, the ‘chandie’ is not only a weekly market place, but also a meeting ground for the farmers (and other vendors too). It is here that they can gossip about the other villagers and the major events that have occurred in the past week, and most importantly, they can exchange news about their own harvest and the difficulties they faced with certain crops, the fertility of their lands, etc.

Moreover, the rural folks are not strangers to technology, and are on the contrary often eager to learn and adopt new ways that would enhance their lives. Therefore, it is a great chance for marketers to grab their attention at such a location, where they are relaxed and receptive to new ideas. On the other hand, this visit was an eye-opener, as to how close to a metropolitan city lies a market as yet untouched by the aggressive and ungentle hands of the modern marketer.

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