12th May 2012: On a cool Saturday Evening, I decided to walk through Mahabalipuram market, not knowing what to expect, I soon realized that the Mahabalipuram market had a deep spiritual inspiration. I saw many shops selling art, religious idols, antiques, and yogic sculptures. After roaming around Mahabalipuram for half an hour, I realized I wanted to take up one of the local sculpture shops for my marketing project, however there were N number of shops selling the same items with little to differentiate their products or sales practices. Suddenly, a shop caught my attention, a man dressed as a yoga guru and playing a spiritual song waved at me. I was drawn towards his shop because of his different dressing style than other salesmen in the area, as well as the peaceful tune playing in the background. This shop was also one of the best decorated and brightly lit in the area.
I stood outside the shop and asked the sales representative and owner – Shajjad Ahmad about the products that were sold, he showed me many items including art, bronze and brass sculptures, silk wall hangings, designer pillow covers, sculptures of goddesses and famous saints. Seeing the variety of products on display complemented by his unique style of drawing customers to his shop, I decided to take – Themes & Dreams art shop as my marketing project.
I informed Sajjad that I was a college student from Great Lakes and I was interested in knowing more about his business; hearing this, he excused himself for two minutes and returned again dressed in shorts and T-shirt. he had shunned the Yoga dress as that was his main method of advertisement to draw customers to the shop and once he realized that i was only interested in knowing about his business, he didn’t see the point of keeping the camouflage.
Shajjad Ahmad is born in Kashmir, he has completed his bachelors in Commerce from Shimla and he has completed his post-graduation from Delhi university and he is currently the owner of Themes & Dreams art shop in Mahabalipuram.
Shajjad and I discussed at length about art trade and the source of art products. I was amazed to know 99% of the products at his shop were not locally manufactured. Items were bought from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Nepal and Malaysia. I inquired that many of the sculptures of goddesses were native to India then how were they manufactured outside of India? His reply was excellent – he simply told me that products are manufactured where it makes most economic sense. It soon struck me that the main USP of my earlier company were off shoring and Global delivery model. I realized that economics of demand – supply and cost optimization affect all markets may it be local or international. Shajjad told me that most of the sculptures sold in Indian markets were from Nepal and Vietnam where cost of production is low and export to markets like Agra, Shimla, Mumbai, Chennai, Kerala is pretty easy and cost-effective. Shajjad also pointed out that the Indian sculpture manufacturing industry is a dying business as most sculptures demand prices 50-60% higher than their overseas counterparts, though the quality of Indian sculptures is better than Nepalese imports. Customers prefer buying cheaper and lower quality products as they are not well-trained in understanding the quality difference between Indian and imported products.
In the coming weeks, I will give vivid details about how Shajjad uses his unique sales and marketing skills to increase his market share in the overly crowded art market of Mahabalipuram.
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— Sohel Golwalla, FT13373