The magic of the general store in India: all your needs hidden in a 30 square meter shop

G14-2442816 - © - Jeff GreenbergHave you ever heard about the ‘one stop shop’ concept? People generally revert to this concept while describing a service provider who handles all your specific needs. A travel agency could be considered as a one stop business, because it allows you to only have one contact for all your holiday needs. The agency will book tickets, arrange transportation, book hotels and suggest guides and even helps you to find the locations that will accommodate your travel-needs. There is no need for you to find or do anything, but packing your bags and enjoying your holiday. No stress!

One stop in retail: the introduction of the supermarket (and its effect on the main street)

The ‘one stop shop’ concept actually originated from retail. The first American supermarkets were built with this principle as their main concept; to provide locals with a very large inventory of items and cater to almost all of their household needs. Convenience for customers has been a huge success in the grocery-area and you can see the effects in almost all parts of the world. Go online and search for 50’s photos of a general main street and compare the images with the current street. The main street had to be restructured after almost all local shops – butchers, cheese sellers, liquor vendors – packed their stuff and closed their shops. It’s almost impossible to compete against large retail supermarkets, especially if you do not cater to very specific customer needs in the top notch market segment.

Supermarkets in India are a relatively new phenomenon. Reliance retail, owned by the wealthiest man in India – Mukesh Ambadi – is the largest retailer in India. The supermarket chain has been active in India since 2006. He has been working hard in expanding his customer acquisition, but it’s difficult to see growth in large numbers, even if you have strong ties with politicians. Thus, the supermarket business is comparatively small in India. I couldn’t find reliable statistics on the number of supermarkets, but in regard to my own views the numbers are relatively low.

Every town or street has a ‘General store’

During my time in India, I’ve seen quite a few places. I’ve visited multiple states and explored a couple of metropoles. Although large parts of India are still unexplored terrain for me, I can picture the average Indian town or city. Travelling in India will always be full of surprises, but there are things that one could expect in almost every city or town. The first thing – ofcourse – is the presence of an ‘MG Road’ in almost every city, named after Mahatma Gandhi, often referred to as the ‘father of the nation’. The other thing that is also very certain: you will find a ‘General store’ in almost every street in India.

The General store is something unique. you can find one in every corner of the country, providing the local neighbourhood with everything from eggs and milk to washing powder and all kinds of non-food items. General stores are generally owned and operated by families and more than often the store has been there for decades. Most of the family-owned stores will worship the initial owner;  a portrait of him (or her) is being worshipped with incense sticks and a lot of respect.

My local General Store(s) sells everything. I repeat: everything

Shops are generally not more than a large counter and a very large instalment of goods outside the shop. One of my most favorite shops in Aundh is Shree Market, a General Store which I love to go to, to fill up my fridge. This one is a bit larger than its competitors on the street, having a dozen of friendly family members or regular staff to help customers. When you enter the shop premises, the outside area is filled with stuff; multiple fridges will offer you milk, paneer & cool soft drinks. Furthermore: there is a small vegetable area, where one can buy all of the basic vegetables. The rest of the outside area is filled with other necessary household needs: from brooms to ladders and nibbles to cleaning accessories.

Inside the shop, behind the counter, is where you can find most of the goods. They generally categorize it as a modern supermarket, which makes it easy for customers to pick the right goods. Larger General Stores offer multiple brands of various products, smaller ones only have one specific brand in stock. The method is very easy: you point or name a product and the friendly shop clerk will get it for you in a couple of seconds, something that could have reminded me of the 50’s or 60’s if I were much older (which I’m not). The General store has been a well-known phenomenon in our country, but those days are over.

The real magic of the General Store: everything what you can’t see

Getting your stuff by choosing your picks by pointing at things is very convenient. But there is more, because the real magic of the General Store actually is the inventory of products which one can’t see. There are a lot of products which are being used in your house, but are not on the average grocery list. The good thing about the General Store: I’ve asked for quite a number of unusual products and have never had any disappointments. Ask for a big broom, a can opener, fire starters for a barbeque, batteries etc and 9 out of 10 times you will be in luck. They will ask a colleague and or disappear to the back, to come back with the product of your choice.

 

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