Once the first choice of city shoppers, are now a shadow of their original self, with hardly any replenishment of stock and a dwindling clientele.

Branding is the king in a globalised economy, at times more than the product that one sells. A design which registers in the layman’s memory and which can easily be recollected and recognised can go a long way in ensuring a brand’s success. By that logic, the Triveni supermarkets under Kerala State Cooperatives Consumers’ Federation (Consumerfed) Ltd. is a winner, with all its stores getting a red and white theme a few years ago.

The colours give the shops a distinct identity — they can be easily spotted in any crowded street corner.

But there is uniformity among these stores in one more aspect – in the almost empty racks that line them. For the past one year, customers who have walked into these stores have invariably returned empty-handed, as arrival of new stocks has ceased.

Little stock

The Triveni supermarkets, one of the State’s interventions in the retail sector, have, along with other initiatives such as Supplyco, worked as a kind of safety valve against increasing commodity prices in a volatile market. But at a time when prices of essential goods are shooting up on a daily basis and customers are bound to flock to these stores, the lack of stocks is perplexing.

When The Hindu visited some of the Triveni outlets in the city, all we could see were empty racks and shops, save for employees waiting for ‘customers.’

“This store used to be teeming with people round the clock. There were four billing machines; now even the one remaining needs to work only once in a while. Till last year, the racks used to be so full that we used to pile up the stock on the floor. We used to complain that we were not even getting time for lunch; now we pray for stocks to arrive and people to walk in,” says an employee at a city store, on condition of anonymity.

Other than a few items, half of which are not in demand according to the employees, none of the essential commodities, including several varieties of rice, sugar, chilli, and pulses, have arrived in the past several months. Some of the shops have found a novel method to make the racks look somewhat full.

“We reduced the area of the shop by boarding up a part with racks. Now, at least some of the racks look full.”

This reversal of fortune has come about in just a year. Till last year, the bigger shops had a turnover of anywhere between Rs.1 lakh to Rs.2 lakh daily. This has come down to a trickle of around Rs.5,000 now.

Delayed salaries

“Our salaries are given from the sale proceedings. So, with the sales dipping, we end up waiting several weeks to get salaries. All the expenses of the shop, including electricity bill and rent, have to be met from this sales amount. So, sometimes we have to forgo our salary to keep this running. We take some of the stock from local suppliers, but since they are not being paid for past purchases, even they have refused to give us stock.”

Due to the dwindling stocks, many a time, employees have to face the ire of the customers. “The old-timers understand our plight and they keep coming back to check if the stocks have been replenished. But some others think we are responsible for this, and get angry with us. We sometimes go and check the private retail stores around here and all the people who used to come here can be seen queuing up there. If we have stocks, we are sure at least some of them will come back here,” says another employee.

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