Gowri and her friends have been making one gram gold jewellery for ten years. Her products may grab eyeballs at the occasional local exhibitions but her clientele has not expanded much.
Today, there are dime a dozen self-help groups in the district turning out products as varied as snacks, candles, pickles, costume jewellery and sanitary napkins. In many cases, their products are confined to the neighbourhoods or sometimes to kith and kin of members.
Taking their products to a wider customer base is something that continues to evade SHGs. A reason cited by many is a lack of common space for selling or marketing merchandise, they say. “SHG products will reach customers better if we have a common sales place at a vantage point in the city,” says Gomathi, an SHG group leader.
The Poomalai commercial complex near Tiruchi city corporation was envisaged with the idea of providing a common space to popularise the goods.
The initiative conceived under Mahalir Thittam, boasting around a dozen shops and witnessing occasional exhibitions, served as a platform to popularise SHG products.
Today hike in rents have left only a handful of stores on the premises including a small cafeteria, an aquarium store, soft toys and photocopying facility provider.
“Initially the space was free of cost and we only had to pay electricity charges. Later a rent of Rs.300 was charged. A year ago, the rent was hiked and we pay Rs.6,500 today,” said Lakshmi, a shopkeeper. The cost incurred in operating generators for more than 14 hours is also hitting them hard, they claim.
The hike in rent subsequent to auctioning of spaces, forced out SHGs with limited revenue like the sanitary napkin production unit operated by Jacqueline and team. “We had to vacate the premises as we could not afford so much. It was a giant leap from Rs.300 to Rs.6,500.” The vacant spaces have been lying unoccupied for a year.
When contacted Ganesan, project officer, Mahalir Thittam, said these spaces would be renovated by April to accommodate stores under a new scheme, ‘One village, one product’, where one store would showcase variations of a single product.
Sivagami, a SHG member, says a concession in rent for shops at vantage points would help women expand production.
“We can aim at expanding production as a team as demand is sure to boost up. It is not possible with limited production at home.”
Zeroing in on the right space to reach out new clients is vital for self-help groups to thrive, notes Meera, another SHG group leader. Many women stocking goods at the current expo organised by the Corporation at Anna Nagar Uzhavar Sandhai felt the venue was a drawback. “An exhibition near schools and colleges or in venues along the main roads can attract more clients. An expo in a place with little bus connectivity means only richer customers will drop in. Our products here are cheaper and appeal to a wider clientele.”
(some names have been changed on request).