An online platform in Kerala for local business

‘Kerala Buys Local’ makes small shops accessible to other parts of Kochi

Geevarghese Boben Paul’s business idea was rejected several times by Bharath Cafe, one of Tripunithura, and Kochi’s, oldest cafes before they came on board with his idea. “They did not want to take on the commitment of keeping a product available as they kept their production to the usual consumption pattern. What if they couldn’t deliver an order after they accepted?” says Geevarghese.

Small shops, hit by the pandemic, were hesitant to transition to the online space. Bharath Cafe was one such. Geevarghese’s plan is simple – to connect local businesses such as this with customers. With his wife Elba, Geevarghese set up Kerala Buys Local (KBL), which provides an online platform for these businesses. He wants to bridge the gap, in a way that is beneficial for all parties involved – the business and the customer – while working out a ‘mutually beneficial solution’. “There are many local vendors, who are well-known within a particular area. I want to make their products accessible to a wider area, which would be great for their business and for customers.”

These shops have been in the town for decades, functioning out of that original outlet. Usually run by the second or third generation, they were hesitant to disturb the status quo, hence e-commerce was never part of their plans. Geevarghese wanted to reach these products, popular in Tripunithura, to other places in Ernakulam and even as far as Aluva. The hesitation was inevitable and something that Geevarghese understood. “They have been in the business for years and they have their customer base. They were content. The mindset, of not wanting to take unnecessary risks, was a roadblock initially. However, younger people were open to exploring this option.”

How it works is simple. Items are displayed across KBL social media platforms such as Instagram (@keralabuyslocal) and Facebook, the orders can be placed on the WhatsApp number provided. The service is provided at no extra cost to the vendor, however the customer has to pay a delivery charge of ₹ 50. There is no minimum quantity clause. Operational for four months, it has built a community of regular customers. The customer profile comprises senior citizens or children living outside placing orders for their parents.

Other products available via KBL are medicinal herbs, freshly ground coffee and spices, flowers, provisions, and even vegetables and fruits, mostly from Tripunithura-based businesses and farmers.

Geevarghese and his wife, both IT professionals, relocated to Tripunithura in July 2020 from the US where he had been working for two years. Both are engineering post-graduates, while Geevarghese has an MBA in entrepreneurship too. They started working on this idea in August last year and it was only by January 2021 that they managed to rope in more people before finally launching in May this year. Starting with five shops, today they have seven (from Tripunithura) and a few farmers on their rolls.

Geevarghese brings his experience in vendor relations, which was part of his previous job, into the operations. It gives him an insight into vendors’ problems and provides tools to help them work their way around them.

For now, Geevarghese is not looking at profitability. “It is too soon for that. It is more a means to offer support services to vendors at no extra cost to the vendor. For instance, we offer packaging solutions so that the vendor spends money efficiently on it.”

Long term plans include roping in more shops, from across Kochi, besides launching an app, which will be ready sometime later this year. “In the long run, I want KBL to be a platform for ‘made in Kerala’.”

@keralabuyslocal on Instagram/

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