In one of Asia’s biggest markets, one man dares a post-pandemic dream

Feb 10, 2022

Karol Bagh has been described as the largest shopping area in Asia but that doesn’t quite capture what Karol Bagh truly represents.

Rows and rows of glimmering stores jostle for space with fast food and fast fashion outlets, more than enough wares to furnish an entire home or the latest SUV, and hordes of haggling hawkers, tourists, and pucca-Delhi folks all trying to make every rupee count. There’s even a licensed opium shop and a helicopter rental provider. Karol Bagh is also headquarters for the thousands of traders attempting to launch products into the Karol Bagh market, the larger Delhi market, as well as the retail hubs nationwide. Crores are made and lost in Karol Bagh – sometimes over a single day. 

And every day, 32-year-old Kapil Ram enters this retail heartland to do business. “I left school in class VIII. As a teenager, I had lost interest in my studies. I started my own ladies garments manufacturing wholesale business in 2010,” says the Delhi-born-and-raised gentleman.

It took a while to see success, despite putting in substantial investment and effort, he explains. “We have only seen growth in the last four to five years. In the initial years, we saw no profits,” he says. Eventually, he says, he found a foothold in the market. “In 2016, we were offering customers 200 to 300 samples. We increased that to 500 to 600 samples.” It took time but doubling the company’s bundle of offerings quickly set them apart. Eventually, Kapil’s business was receiving orders from almost half of the country. 

In the process, Kapil also learned the business value of time. Kapil operates like a one-man army, spending his workday navigating business orders, speaking to customers, ensuring that nothing stops his supply chain, and even doing the accounts. It is the account-keeping that used to vex him the most. “In ten years of business, the number one problem I faced was the lack of an accountant. I used to maintain a paper khatabook (ledger) and spend a daily half-hour just updating it.”

His peers either did pen-and-paper accounts or had a dedicated computer with software to crunch the numbers. Both took time, and neither addressed another, more time-consuming task – communicating these numbers to customers. Precious business minutes would get eaten up, every day, with customers visiting his shop to pore over their debts and credits. He searched for an easier way, and in 2019, he spotted the Khatabook app on a YouTube video. He downloaded the app the next day and began using it instantly. He also got in touch with Avinash Rai, Business & Strategy Manager at Khatabook with business-related questions about the app, including how it stores and shares data. “He assured me that the transaction data remains with you and doesn’t go out of our phone. He also educated me about the backup and that my data will be secure even if I lose my phone. That is when I began moving most of my accounts to this app.”

He quickly became a fluent Khatabooker – a fan of features like instantly compiling and sending transaction data to contacts via WhatsApp and SMS. “Accounting has become much, much easier. I am not using a laptop. I don’t need software. I can do all my accounting on my phone, and that too, free of cost. I update the app may be two to five times a day,” he says. Today, Avinash knows Kapil as a prosumer, whose feedback also represents the market sentiment of his customer demographic. 

Though there are still people who visit his office and demand a pen and paper khata, Kapil has spread the word. “I have recommended the app to all of my customers. Almost 80 percent of them have downloaded it. They all say that it is easy to use and makes work easy.”

Just as Kapil had gotten the hang of business, the pandemic struck. Among the hardest hit were small wholesale players like him, whose customers cancelled orders overnight, sold off their current inventory, and shut shop. “We had over 100 customers. Before Covid, 60 to 70 were active. Now, not many are active, due to state lockdowns. Many customers have defaulted on payments. Before Covid, we were earning a healthy income. Now, we aren’t focusing on income at all. We are just in survival mode.” he says.   The only way out, he says, is the online market, where demand grew resiliently. “We want to shift to the online market. We are planning a new setup and unit, and we are forecasting 20-30 percent growth.”

It may seem ambitious. But if someone can strike on their own in a market like Karol Bagh, then the online market, with its unlimited range and reach, only means infinite possibilities. Khatabook has given me confidence that I will have the right digital tools and support to enable my new business ambitions.