Software Pro Turned Fruit Vending Bizman
Customer centric, employee satisfaction and a modern outlook is what makes Kovai Pazhamudhir Nilayam, a front runner, in fruit vending business in Tamil Nadu. Managing this booming conglomerate is Senthil Natarajan, a Coimbatorean is modest about his contributions to the company. A graduate of software engineering from PSG Tech, Senthil joined Kovai Pazhamudhir Nilayam in 2005. He tried his hands on starting a juice and salad bar in RS Puram but joining the family company and taking it to new heights was his calling. A workaholic by nature, Senthil, a 30-year-old successful business model, credits an active lifestyle with dedication and business drive as the pointers to a productive life.
The young entrepreneur narrates the road he had travelled with Grishma Raj.
When was the first Kovai Pazhamudhir outlet opened?
Back in 1950s my father and his brother made fruit juice at the shop, and sold fruits at bus stands. Doing so, they always nurtured a dream of setting up their own business someday. We were predominantly an agricultural background family. So even at the age of 10 and 11, they struggled their way through pushing carts, selling fruits in baskets to learn the ropes of the trade. Progressively in 1965, they set up the first outlet near PSG Technology in Peelamedu and named it ‘Pazhamudir Nilayam’. It took long time to scale up, being conservative my father and brothers gathered their own funds and eventually it gave them stability and customer confidence. Then, over the years, his other brothers also joined and all four brothers started and managed four outlets in Coimbatore. The first outlet outside Coimbatore was started in 1998. It was set up in Tirupur. And that is how this calculated and conventional expansion has now resulted in 65 outlets across 10 cities including Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode Karur, Pollachi, Kadalur, Trichy, Tanjavur, Pondicherry and Chennai.
When did your journey into business begin?
It was in 2005 that I joined business. By then, we had around 8 outlets in 4 cities. Initially, I was trying to set my own business and so after completing Msc Software Engineering from PSG, I began a juice and salad bar named “Seasons” in R S Puram. Gradually I saw great potential in my father’s business. I was always interested in food line of commerce, after joining I realized this is what drove me and this was the right decision to make. Today, I manage 52 outlets in and around Tamilnadu.
People have different notions about eating fruits and vegetable that are imported from other states, what is your take on that?
I do agree by the concept of growing your own veggies in your terrace or may be having locally grown eatables. It is definitely more healthy and nutritious. But the major purpose why imported fruits serve the purpose is because we have seasonal fruits. For example, apple is a limited seasonal fruit and it is not available every time. Today, the one healthy fruit we give our kids is definitely apple. Hence, millennials are more concerned about the availability of such fruits and so for that reason, importing globally or within country is important. Hence, we have to take the route of both local produce in India and import from other countries. We cannot stop people who desire to have apple or buy apple throughout the year. Hence, being in a global ear we have to serve them and give them what they want despite of the seasonal availability of these fruits and vegetables.
How do you want our Indian agricultural industry to develop in the next 5 years?
Worldwide agriculture has modernized a lot and one of the major concerns in India is that wastages should be prevented in big way. At the same time, India can improve in product packaging, preservation, right way to grow fruit, right usage of pesticide and fertilizer.
One of the major improvements in the last few years have been a huge number of people consciously starting to grow vegetables in a natural way and through that I hope agriculture will be poised to have a good growth. We are definitely an agricultural country and so in the next 5 years, I wish the yield per acre increases dramatically and we try to outdo China because our production is low when compared to them.
With food safety issues circling on many social media platforms around us, what is your opinion on adulterated fruits and vegetables?
I feel that we are moving era of food security to food safety. In past century, not enough food was available to the famines, due to the revolution in agriculture that food security has been achieved. But when there are a huge population to be fed, the main problems that arise are the abuse of fertilizers, abuse of pesticides and other genetically modified crops. Now we have come to a stage that food security is not an issue, rather fruit safety is issue. Lot of initiatives are done by government and agriculture universities to teach safe agriculture for both organic and conventional vegetables. Most of pesticide and fertilizers are safe to use but the only concern is that not many have the knowledge of using it properly. I agree that it is very important to wash vegetables before having them. Especially, Indian grapes or cauliflowers need extra care as people use more pesticides on them because they are more prone to pests. Some fruits like mangoes don’t need much pesticide as they are grown in tropical weather where pests and insects are less. Hence, not everything needs to be of concern when it comes to adulteration but it is definitely always good to wash and have them.
65 outlets and a huge employee base, can you spill the beans on the mantra of running a successful business?
The biggest mantra is customer happiness! We began this group in a neighbourhood stall format and whatever success it has achieved, I must definitely owe it to the employees. We are extremely close knit with employees and their families, customers also trust us well, most of our staffs are female staff and these are local ladies working on shifts and they have flexible timings, that way we manage employees loads. It’s a good rapport from employees that goes out to customers and they improve our standing with customers. I believe it is important to maintain a healthy symbiosis with both employees and customers to make sure the business is successful.
You have reached a great height as such a young age, there many who are curious to know how your daily schedule looks like….
I start early at 5 am and follow a small health routine – playing badminton, visit market, and reach the office by 8.30 am. As we are running a big fruit vending outlet, it is important to start the day at dawn. After that, I do take a mid-day break, rest for an hour and then by evening 9.30 or 10pm, I wind my day. Visiting the outlets are mandatory every day because it is essential to know how the sales are going every day and if the customers are happy with our products. On Thursday and Friday, I also travel to Chennai and Tirupur. I keep learning and finding ways to continuously improve and raise the customer pulse. So, it is definitely, quite a schedule!
I don’t feel I am being very successful, I can’t say what could be done and what not to be done, I would ask youngsters to pick their passion, it could be job, entrepreneurial, they should have a passion to do. There are lot of learnings to take, read books, do lot of self-learning. If they are really interested in field, learn and take the plunge and work a little harder.
Any plans of launching an online platform for the business?
We wish to be an Omni channel in the coming years and help people get what they want. We already have a website that is providing close to 1000 deliveries online only in Chennai.
We have plans to launch an app in iOS and android and also plan to grow the website channel in all cities to meet the mobile customer market. Hence, the big step into e-commerce is definitely in our cards.