Chinese wares, the latest craze

Customers purchasing Chinese goods at a roadside stall. - -Photo: K.R. Deepak  

Ever visited Burma Bazaar in Chennai? Well if one has not got the opportunity, no regrets. One can satiate that desire by picking up a few imported goods by walking down the road adjacent to the LIC Building.

The pavement on this road is currently lined with stalls selling China-made goods. "At present, there are over seven stalls on this road and over 40 spread over the city in different areas like MVP Colony, Jagadamba Junction and Gajuwaka," says Kumar, a shopowner. The displayed items at the stalls are so inviting that they would inveigle the passersby to stop and have a look. The stalls might look small but they are packed with over 200 items like imported soaps, body sprays, watches and table clocks, different varieties of table tops, calculators, FM radio sets and tape-recorders. For children a visit to the shop would be an exciting event as most of the stalls are loaded with toys of different varieties including the latest video and electronic games and cartoon figures.

But how did it all start? If one remembers vaguely, a couple of years ago Vizagites were witness to a unique marketing concept. Young boys dressed formally with a tie used to literally goad a person walking by to purchase Chinese goods. And that was the beginning of the Mandarin floods that made quite a few captains of the white goods industry to ponder over. That concept has boiled down to these stalls, which were initiated by a few smart young men who were baptised during that mass marketing movement.

"We cannot be called as exclusive imported shops as we sell even the local brands. The only imported goods available with us are the Chinese ones. It is during the last three years that the sales of Chinese goods have picked up in a big way. Earlier, the goods were brought by a few agents who claimed to be representatives of multi-national companies and they employed a few marketing executives like us to sell the products through the direct marketing concept. It was after some time that we realised that they were nothing but agents who were using us to push their products at exorbitant rates. While they were earning huge profits we were meagrely paid. Realising this we formed a group and decided to go to Mumbai and Chennai and study the scene at the purchasing point. Having learnt the tricks of the trade we invested a small sum of Rs.10, 000 and purchased a few items and set up a roadside stall on the other side of the LIC building. It has since been closed. The response was good and today we have over 200 items with prices ranging from Rs.5 to Rs.500," says Ravi, who started his career as one such marketing executive after completing intermediate.

The market starts by 10 a.m. and winds up by 11 p.m. One has to know the nuances of bargaining to strike a good deal at these stalls. Though the items look good from outside there is no guarantee, and the sellers clearly and candidly state that at the point of purchase.

The mushrooming of such shops has reduced their individual profits over the years, says Ravi. "Earlier we used to make over 40 per cent but now if we can make 10 per cent that would be good enough. However, the sudden craze of FM radio has stabilised our downtrend. This is the largest selling item. And at times a few corporate clients come to us for bulk supply of gift items and tabletops that is the only other time when our turnover swings upwards. Though our stalls are located on the pavements, people from all walks of life stop over at least to have a look," says he.

And that is true. One can find quite a few two-wheelers and four-wheelers parked on the roadside and see people busy bargaining.

"Bargaining is a big factor. They will quote sky-high. One has to strike carefully the deal and leave the rest to God since there is no guarantee. I bought an electronic toy car for my son last year and it is still running, but the electronic game that I bought last month is already out," says Sanjana, a customer.

Chinese goods are not only the latest passion for these hawkers but also seem to have caught the imagination of Vizagites. And why not, when one can satiate his or her desire by getting a look-alike Barbie doll that is at least four times less in price than the branded one?