--By Shrijana Tha Shrestha
Economic empowerment is an essential mantra for empowering women and other marginalised groups. But what are the sutras that can deliver this mantra? Every entrepreneur has their own success sutras. Kamala Khatri, a home based woman entrepreneur in Kathmandu has climbed up the success ladder through struggle and hardships. Her efforts have earned a dignified living for her and for the families of the nearly hundred women that work for her from their own home. Considering the background from which she came and the heights she has gained, this article tries to explore her success sutras.
But before that, let me introduce her. Born in a remote village of Waling-9, Syangja, Kamala (42) lost both of her parents while she was just in the 9th grade. Left behind by parents with a hotel cum shop and a brother and sister to take care of, she was forced by destiny to assume responsibilities. The income she made from these was invested in the education of her siblings. After they completed their highers in Butwal and later in Kathmandu, she married them off. In 1990 she handed over the family businesses to his brother and left home for Kathmandu to “do something.”
Her city of dreams that year had welcomed democracy along with her. She was excited and for the next four years remained occupied in studies, in romance and in finding a way to make money. She completed her intermediate level, and though she could not get a job, she nonetheless decided to tie the nuptial knot. The quest for earning money brought her in touch with a women’s group that made rubber hair bands. She was hired by at 50 paisa per hairband. Six months into it, she borrowed a sewing machine from her husband’s relative, got raw materials and started producing her own. Though marketing them taught her very crucial lessons, in the end the enterprise paid off. A series of successes and failures through these fifteen years have mellowed her entrepreneurial enthusiasm into wisdom which she is happy to share.
Need is an important element for germinating, grooming and maturing a business. It’s the need that keeps an aspiring entrepreneur focused on the venture. “When success of the business is very crucial for you, you will do everything to make that happen,” she says going ahead to add that she had given up all her desires while working on her parents business. “Its success was crucial for us to sustain and same has been the case for my later ventures,” she shared adding that the success of their handmade product ventures including hair rubber bands and glass seed beads jewelry were crucial for the couple’s survival in Kathmandu. For her, focus is an important attribute for enterprise development. “Unless serious focus to groom and grow a venture is present in an entrepreneur, chances to success remain doubtful. And need ensures this.”
A single strategy or a single plan cannot ensure success. Business strategy is something that should be an action plan that can be modified as and when needed. Kamala says that she still remains a business student who sees, perceives, and replicates the hard-learned lessons in her marketing strategy. She has never received skill enhancement trainings or attended any workshops for operating business, yet she has created over hundred glass seed beads products and marketed them successfully through learning-by-doing method. “I have failed many times but every failure had taught me a lesson. I have never missed incorporating these lessons while designing, producing or marketing products,” she said adding that she has always been in the continuous process of learning and unlearning. For her market struggle is the best guru to teach business. “If you remain open to learning from experience and critical enough to draw lessons from it for future references, your business will not only survive but thrive in the long run.”
Trendy and Innovative Products
Innovation is the life line of every business because nothing remains in fashion forever. Consumer choice keep changing on the basis of trend and fad. “To survive in business you should produce products that correspond to the trend,” she opines elaborating how making trendy glass seed bead necklaces helped her in earning enough to make a house for her family. However this is not all. Kamala stresses on producing innovative products that would challenge the traditional consumer mindset. “There are few people who are always ready to try new things. If such trendsetters pick up your product, your business will thrive, like never before,” she said. “Initially the half-moon glass seed bead hair clip had flopped. But when actress Deepa Shri Niruala wore it and its demand sky rocketed,” she added.
Efficient Labour Market
Labour market is an important aspect of a business. Easy access to labour force as relatively competitive prices helps in producing products that are competitive in terms of price. Since the products made by Kamala’s un-named and unbranded home-based business are handmade she needed workforce that had sufficient time at cost effective rates. In search of such workforce she move to a remote part of Budhanilkantha. “We employ housewives - who make our products in their leisure. This semi-urban part of Kathmandu has many women who willingly take on such paid assignments,” she said adding that her business would not have succeeded in Syangja or in Dillibazar, as women there are relatively occupied. The lower production cost has reduced her products’ price and enabled her to offer them at better rates than that offered by institutional glass seed bead jewelry makers, who hire costly full-time professionals.
Direct Marketing Strategy
Marketing is an important aspect in determining product retail prices. Cutting down middlemen has always been an important ambition of many business - though the success rate to this end remains unpromising. However, Kamala’s success comes from her ability to direct market her products to retailers. Like other producers, in her initial days she had tried to market her products through wholesalers- but that didn’t work out. “They would take in our products in bulk, but we had to wait for nearly six months for getting the payment,” she said while telling why she opted instead for traveling across the country to market her products. “I have travelled most of the prominent markets and towns across the country to build my retail network. This network has remained backbone of my business to these days.” Apart from this retail network, she said more recently she has been pushed by some wholesaler to avail her products to them also and she readily agreed to these requests as they now mostly pay her upfront for the products.
Though her business has gained unprecedented growth since its launch, Kamala has greater plans up her sleeves. As part of her expansion drive, she has recently recruited two full time employees which includes her husband and long time supporter, has built a spacious separate working space at her newly built home, and has installed internet at home where her husband tries to explore better beading designs on the internet. “Business for me was always about doing something to fulfill my needs and this remains true to this days. As the competition grows fierce, it has become crucial than ever to produce unconventionally creative products and to explore potential foreign markets,” she said elaborating on her present sutra to grow here enterprise.
The author is the founder of www.craftswithstory.com - an online portal that explores the stories of handicraft entrepreneurs and avails their handmade products for purchase to the global market. She can be reached at [email protected]