States

A Pune startup is giving the iconic Bohri Ali lane an online twist

In the heart of old Pune, in the maze of narrow, congested by-lanes of Raviwar Peth, sits the sprawl of more than a hundred hardware shops in the Bohri Ali lane. Some of them have been in business for more than a century at least, and proprietors and customers have relationships going back generations.

But that congestion makes getting in and out of the area daunting, which is something three young men had been thinking about. Yusuf, 26, Huzefa (23) and Burhanuddin (22) are the fourth generation of the Hakim family, whose paint shop, A.A. Hakim’s, dates back to 1885. In 2015, the brothers decided they would set up an e-shop, complete with delivery options.

An e-commerce add-on to a brick-and-mortar store isn’t unusual. What is different, though, is that they decided to look beyond their family business, to the neighbourhood. This is reflected in the name and URL of their web site: bohriali.com.

Products from the family store — including their own-brand Haksons — are the core of the inventory, but the brothers have plugged into strong multi-generational networks in the area, and are getting their goods from 10 shops from the street (they hope to add more) as well as sourcing some goods, like power tools, from big-name international suppliers.

BohriAli.com serves busy Punekars who want to buy only from the area, but don’t have the time or patience to make their way through the traffic to go there. More importantly, Burhanuddin says, the model is to build, from the foundation of the trust that their forebears created, an extended clientele that stretches beyond the city.

The site has over 5,000 products, with more being added regularly. But the plan goes far beyond being a database of deliverable commodities. Aside from paint, you can look for all manner of hobby products, interior decoration products including furniture fittings and LEDs, and tools and safety gear. “The range is being carefully expanded each day,” says Burhanuddin. “The website is carefully calibrated, and the emphasis is on certain popular products, as 10% of products ensure 90% of returns.”

While they give their customers a price incentive, they seek to make their mark with the quality of customer service. Rather than have a call-centre, Huzefa says, they ensure that “our best and most knowledgeable employees handle chats with prospective clients. This way we try and ensure a striking first impression on the customer.”

The Hakims take pains over the site, monitoring it and keeping it updated. “A common problem with e-commerce sites is the mismatch in products ordered and received,” Yusuf says. “We are especially particular about the resolution of photos uploaded to ensure that the customer gets precisely what she or he ordered.”

Their online customer outreach includes a blog with tips and lucid video guides on everything from solving plumbing problems to generating epoxy resin art. And they maintain several social media feeds which — aside from acting as a customer service window — share art made by their customers, as well as crafts ideas that utilise the products they make.

They are pleased to see their efforts paying off. “The website has proved a blessing [for locals] when it comes to eliminating the logistics of coming to the shop,” Yusuf says. “At the same time, it is attracting people from the farthest reaches of the country.” Their customers range from artists to engineers to homemakers, and the site clocks 1,000 queries a day.

“Some of them even come to the shop when they visit Pune, to explore our vast range of products in person,” Yusuf says. He fondly recalls a Polish carpenter, based in Goa, who came to the shop after he discovered the web site and spent an entire day marvelling at the range of products. A perpetual source of delight for the brothers is the messages from children who win prizes in designing and costuming competitions using Haksons resins, pigments and spray-on colours.

One bestseller is the Haksons resin and hardener sets, which create a hard, transparent coat on flat surfaces like table-tops or set in moulds, as well as mixed with pigments, and have a myriad creative applications. “A client from rural Aurangabad wanted to recreate the effect of a 3-D waterfall on his floor,” Yusuf says. “He had seen a video on YouTube about a house in the US which did the same thing, and when he was looking for the necessary products, he chanced upon our website. We couriered him his requirements and he created the effects by himself.”

DIY kits have been a big success too. “The DIY culture in India is on the upswing,” Yusuf says. “There may be security concerns about the labour engaged. With our products, and the instructions for use on our website, anyone can do a number of tasks, from solving plumbing issues to furnishing interiors with paint and designs of their preference.”Santosh Shetty, who works with an MNC in Pune, is a frequent customer. “They are extremely knowledgeable about their products,” he says. “The store operates on trust and its emphasis is to understand precisely what the customer wants rather than merely selling their wares. For BohriAli, most of the products stocked are on decades of customer interaction. Furthermore, their products are fairly priced charges and are generally 20-25% cheaper.”

Success notwithstanding, the self-effacing Yusuf says that the long-term project — integrating all of Bohri Ali’s renowned hardware stores under an umbrella website — is still in its ‘pilot phase.’ Eventually, tey want to the world to be Bohri Ali — and bohriali.com — fans.

bohriali.com

Founder: Yusuf Hakim, Huzefa Hakim, Burhanuddin Hakim

Funding: bootstrapped [family funds]

Employees: 25

Founded: 2015

Web: bohriali.com


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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 5:47:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/states/the-online-street-of-many-colours/article20946109.ece

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