Downtown

Now, an online connection with customers

(From left) T.V. Swamenathan and T.S. Ramachandran. Photo: V. Ganesan

(From left) T.V. Swamenathan and T.S. Ramachandran. Photo: V. Ganesan  

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From a modest store in Anna Nagar, Connexions has spread to all major neighbourhoods in the city. Its founders talk to LIFFY THOMAS about a 20-year-old journey that is now taking a digital route

The core team at Connexions is extremely busy. Their website www.connexionsonline.biz is being revamped, with the ecommerce pie in mind.

Through this digital selling platform, the store will offer more of the products — which include gifts, toys, books and stationery — it is already selling.

“Aren’t you late in entering the ecommerce segment? You have probably missed out on the advantages of being there early,” I say.

“Yes, we are late in entering the ecommerce market,” admits T.V. Swamenathan, one of the founders. He however points out that the late start has not affected the business.

The genesis of Connexions can be traced back to two cousins T.S. Ramachandran and T.V. Swamenathan teaming up with two brothers N. Sundar and N. Vilva. In the days when ecommerce giants swept in like a flood, they did not have to shut down any of their stores. They did not face any threat from the mom-and-pop stores either.

Each of the 12 stores they established in the last 20 years is considerably spacious.

T. S. Ramachandran, who is the managing director, is also optimistic about the move.

“We had a tie-up with Amazon, Flipcart and Snapdeal and our products were sold on their platforms. Now, seeing the way the market is moving, we have decided to launch our own site,” he says.

Late bloomers

In fact, the idea to enter the gifting segment came late to the promoters who hail from Kumbakonam. Both T. S. Ramachandran and T.V. Swamenathan were in their late 30s when they decided to bring a shopping experience similar to what Higginbothams and Landmark offers, to Anna Nagar.

“We hail from an agriculture family and were venturing into the business for the first time. We were also new to the city,” says Swamenathan, a chartered accountant, while discussing the initial hiccups. Their first store spread across 3,000 sq.ft. was started at a basement in Anna Nagar in 1995. They learnt the ropes of the business interacting with customers, spending long hours at the store and even packing goods. In the very first week, lady luck smiled on them.

“We did business worth Rs. 5,000 on the first day,” says Swamenathan, adding that the store broke even, within six months. Despite the success of the first store, they tread a cautious line, and did not open more outlets. After seven years, Connexions opened its second outlet at Saligramam. In 2004, they moved to a bigger location at Anna Nagar, this time offering customers a 12,000 sq.ft space to browse. Only in 2008 did the brothers think of expanding in a big way to other neighbourhoods. The stores at Velachery, Mogappair, Besant Nagar, Mahindra World City and at Coimbatore and Salem opened in the last seven years.

“We have never been aggressive in our approach to business. We don’t give discounts or offers. We believe in getting the basics right,” says Swamenathan who takes cares of the operations side of the business. “Location has been a key factor in driving our business. Also, we invest hugely in each of our showrooms where we make sure at least half-a-dozen cars can be accommodated,” he says. The brothers are not keen on expanding further in the city. Instead, they plan to have more stores in tier II and III cities. “The Chennai floods taught us a lesson that one should not focus on just one city. We were out of business for two months,” says Swamenathan.

Shop and create awareness

Some years ago, Connexions did its bit to create awareness about cancer by distributing pamphlets about the disease to customers at its stores. A rally was also held to spread awareness about the necessity of early screening. It also put up donation boxes and donated the money to Cancer Institute.

(A column about entities that started in a small way in a neighbourhood and grew bigger)

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 1:37:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/Now-an-online-connection-with-customers/article14630809.ece

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