Tasty Sweets

1)      Asynchronous communication: Generation Gap
2)      Scope of Business: Opening a grocery shop is doing business!
3)      Sweet shop is a lucrative business!
4)      Asynchronous communication strategy works!
5)      Execution
6)      Lesson learned

Asynchronous communication: Generation Gap

After completing his MA Prabhat Bhaiya started trying for jobs. It is usually said that people’s dream depends on the exposure they have. So Prabhat Bhaiya joined classes to learn short-hand and typing which will make him eligible to get a job of a clerk though he’ll still require tons of luck. The inspiration induced by Dad as he used to think getting a good job in a government organization will make his life settled. He couldn’t develop interest however for his new aspiring skills and after 3 months he left the classes tagging them as a “boring time pass” though he has made some friends there.

He was an extrovert and an average student in his studies. The day since Prabhat Bhaiya grown enough to articulate and analyze he seldom had similar opinion as that of dad.
The strange thing was that they both tell their totally opposite views to mom on any situation being discussed and mom some how knew to manage both opinions.

Dad used to say, “Every adversity of today will be added in glories of tomorrow; just believe and stay firm and focused”. We certainly did not have belief; can’t say about the other suggested virtues of dad.

Whenever dad discuss about the new openings of clerk and register his anger on the decision of Prabhat Bhaiya of leaving the classes, Prabhat Bhaiya had different opinion that his friend got selected in spite of not being competent in the required skills. Why didn’t dad recommend him for the positions? Dad responded in the same well expected way that he’ll recommend only if Prabhat Bhaiya is competent for that position.  Both of them got to know each other’s opinion by mom in an asynchronous manner.

It’s not difficult to understand that these differences in opinion won’t help Prabhat Bhaiya getting that clerical job so he decided to look for some other options also.
“If no body in family is doing business doesn’t means I can’t do that”, he had disclosed his idea at the time of dinner and we all had interrogative gestures. Dad started asking about what, how, where etc. He said, “I don’t know”.

Scope of Business: Opening a grocery shop is doing business!

We all kept discussing for weeks about the business complexities and capability to pour money if it gets success without having any idea of what he’ll actually do.

God had made world driven by the struggle of survival, man had made it driven by business; today at the age of 30 I believe this. Those days we used to think that opening some grocery store is doing some business and riding your bicycle and going office daily is doing service. So Prabhat Bhaiya was talking about opening some shop, may be grocery shop or whatever.

The big question was which shop store. Dad had a strong resistance for that, he still wanted him to try for some job and think for business only if no other option is left. He used to say, “Business is a bigger risk, play safe; try hard to get a job”.

Almost half a year passed and nothing was decided. I and Shekhar (my younger brother) had appeared for exams of 12th and 10th respectively and were enjoying our summer vacations. I share a good camaraderie with both of my brothers and we used to discuss a lot, be it cricket, movies, great men or profit earning businesses. For some reasons Prabhat Bhaiya had stopped applying for jobs and he had developed a habit of analyzing every other shop in the neighborhood; the revenue, the profit etc.   

Prabhat Bhaiya once discussed about a cosmetic store and a gift shop. We discarded both the ideas saying; people are very brand conscious now a days and it’ll need lots of capital to have products of multiple brands. Further, gift shop is a seasonal business people look at the shop only on Valentine’s Day or New Year. We were passing by a sweet house and decided to have cold drinks. We had observed many people waiting for garam samosa and the shop keeper was totally busy satisfying his customer. Since we were on the mode of discussing revenues and profits, we resumed our discussion here with the perspective of sweet shop.

Sweet shop is a lucrative business!

It was a very lucrative business; you sell sugar at the rate of khoya or sometimes more. There will not be a problem of brand, people come to eat sweets, samosa etc. There is nothing like sweet of Park Avenue or samosa of L’oreal Paris so demerit of cosmetic shop had been over ruled. People usually have habit of taking some refreshment whiles their day out so this is not a seasonal business either.

We enlisted the even of sweet shop and odds of any other business in our head and planned to present it to dad as if we had to persuade a client presenting some business case study. Dad was our client for this project after all he had to fund this project.

I would like to mention some of the points here also to emphasis that we did analyse and arrived at a decision that Mithai walas are doing a good business.

Electronics Vs Mithai shop: One has to have an understanding of a product which you are selling to convince the customer. Here we were very good at telling the properties of mithai, thanks to dad for that!

Medical Store Vs Mithai shop: One should have done a course of pharmacy whereas there is no such type of requirement in the department of Mithai, though I’m very sure in future some kind of certification would be required to scientifically test and demonstrate customer that the khoya you are using is not made of synthetic.

Readymade garments Vs Mithai shop: Mithai wala doesn’t have to worry about sizes or fashion. Many mithai items we enjoy now days are centuries old; thanks to our fore fathers!

The analysis might look funny but I must admit there are points we pondered and we did do the brain storming over them.

Many people believe that hard work results in success only if it is done in right direction however I believe you start doing hard work it’ll be directed in the right direction by the Almighty Director. Hard work cumulates and results every bit of it.

Asynchronous communication strategy works!

We had decided to present the thoughts to dad over dinner and we did the same. He asked same old question, “Why don’t you try for job? It’s safe.” “Safe is risky”, Seth Godin has written in his book. If I would have known this then also I couldn’t have collected my courage and argued with dad no matter what Seth Godin had said. The silence was our obvious reaction and then dad asked other question, “what business?”

We had got a narrow opening to enter into the discussion and we utilized the question and started putting out thoughts as if he had OKed the idea of doing business. Dad shouted,” What, mithai shop. Don’t you guys have some better idea, at least doing something niche business? Where will you get a chance to utilize whatever you have studied in mithai shop?”
I said, “It’ll need lesser capital money if we compare establishing other businesses.” Dad said, “This is not the answer of my question.”

Dinner was adjourned and discussion was still dangling. We knew that not every discussion results in the decision but it at least engage fluids to work in the brain.
I’m a big supporter of start ups. If somebody asks me whether he should do for a right cause, I always say at least start, you’ll soon get a direction.

Prabhat Bhaiya didn’t utter even a word and I guess he had given commands of hibernation to his brain. I kept searching the answer of dad’s question for days and decided to go for asynchronous communication strategy, dad’s and Bhaiya’s favorite way of communication.

 I convinced mom that you only used to say that knowledge is never wasted you’ll need it in every walk of life and I’m sure no matter what we do we’ll utilize our knowledge in some or the other way. Honestly telling, I didn’t have a suitable answer at that time. Mom affirmed us to take this further with dad and 2 days later we received positive node, obviously with the asynchronous communication channel.


Having an approval of your family adds confidence on your steps a head on whatever you are doing. Prabhat Bhaiya was also confident and he started working on planning. We had got the answer of “what” now the next step was “How”.

The plan was to call mason and get the shop built in our own house; our second house almost 8 KM away from our home since it was located in a commercial zone. Mason had given estimate of 20K Rs and 30 days time. Work has got started under Prabhat Bhaiya’s super vision. The shop got completed with electric wiring, painting etc and now only the real show was due.

Market survey is task every startup company does and we had also done that without knowing that it’s called so. I’m mentioning here the outcome of the survey:

There are 3 sweet shops in the 2 KM radius.

They have very limited variety of stuff available with them.

  • Every other shop had a long queue for samosa daily evening because this was a developing area and lots of laborers working here need some refreshment in the evening.

  • All the shops are playing the low cost strategy game and selling samosa 1 Rs/piece. The strategy is when customer comes for samosa then he’ll eventually come for other stuff also and hence they will earn their profit.

  • The infrastructure of shops was so bad that one can’t assume any hygienic stuff being sold by them.

  • All the shops are very sub standard and people go to 4-5 KM market if they want to take fresh and hygiene stuff.

To make our shop remarkable and attract the people who want fresh and hygienic stuff we had focused on infrastructure and thought that initially we’ll also sell our stuff the same rate everyone else is selling and will think of raising once people will start differentiating the quality with the existing players.

With the help of one relative we talked to a Halwai who was actually the Halwai consultant. Believe me be it MNCs or business running on your town everybody is following similar processes the difference is just about the documentation. Even a small shop owner takes help of consultants, out source part of his business, does a market research and takes necessary steps to make his business remarkable. Thakur, halwai consultant was usually called with the name had prepared a list of utensils and other tools (called as Baardaana) which will be required and agreed to accompany us when we go to purchase the same. We didn’t know the best shop to purchase these utensils so we went by Thakur’s suggestion.

Thakur had asked us some key questions at the shop of utensils.
1)      How many customers are you expecting at the startup and for next 2 months?
2)      How much growth is expected in the coming years?
3)      Do you want to start with same varieties other competitors are offering or you want to go big-bang?
4)      How many head halwais and subordinates (pachhad as called in this profession) would you employ at the beginning? He further said,” This is the month of Diwali, remember before taking a decision”.

He was trying to do a sizing estimate; the concerns are similar as if they had been raised by some software consultant. We all were clueless and couldn’t hide this gestures. Thakur smartly noticed this and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you”. He was doing his job well.

Thakur had instructed the baardaana shop owner and asked us to enjoy the tea by the time baardaana is getting packed. It’s worth noticing here that above questions were still open and nobody was bothered.

We had finished the tea and baardana was also packed. It had cost 10k Rs. dad paid the amount and shared our address with shop keeper to get it delivered. Thakur advised us to have 2 head halvais and 2 pachhads to start with. Dad asked Thakur, “How much would it cost to me per month?” Thakur explained the structure:

For Head Halwai
Salary-                         3k   
Conveyance-               On actual basis or give a place to stay nearby area
Meals -                        Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (If their presence is required beyond 7 in evening)
Daily expenses-           10/- tea, cigarette, shaving etc

For Pachhad
Salary-                         1.8k  
Conveyance-               On actual basis or give a place to stay nearby area
Meals -                        Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (If their presence is required beyond 7 in evening)
Daily expenses-           10/- tea, cigarette, shaving etc

We were shocked by the salary structure but dad had OKed hiding his feelings and asked Thakur to provide 2 head halvais and 2 pachhads as per his suggestion only.

After returning home dad and Prabhat Bhaiya discussed about the Thakur. Both realized that this was because of the knowledge we lack about the profession and therefore can’t definitely question about Thakur’s intentions. He was not even asking for money for his involvement. Prabhat Bhaiya said, “We should learn the in and out of this business as soon as possible”. Dad nodded positively. I was observing the synchronous communication between dad and Bhaiya. My family was working like a team.

Dad and Bhaiya ordered a freezer counter for Bengali sweets worth rupees 30K.

Mom went to temple and asked Pandit ji about the date inauguration ceremony should be planned. Pandit ji had suggested for Ashtami of Navratra. Inauguration was planned on the suggested date and all the relatives were invited on the shop. After all this was the debut of Prabhat Bhaiya as a business man. Shekhar had named the shop as “Tasty Sweets” and dad ordered the painter to prepare the banner.

About 100 people were in the invitation list. We were expecting some neighbors also to come as a customer and the target was to sell 100 KG sweets as per Thakur’s estimates.
Pandit ji had completed puja at 11 AM; sweets of our own shop were offered to God with a wish to make us successful. Prabhat Bhaiya sat on the shop keeper’s seat. Cold drinks and snacks were in the menu for the relatives and 80/- per KG was the rate when relative turned to customer. We had sold 75 KG of sweets which Thakur’s man had been preparing for 2 days.

The day one ended happily with a feeling of accomplishment. Actually after working hard every one gets an amazing satisfaction. Prabhat Bhaiya used to leave at 6 riding his bicycle for shop. There is one strange fact associated with Sweet shop; there is no weekly off and timings are from 7 AM to 11 PM. obviously it’s difficult to manage by a single person so I started helping him. I used to stay there from 11 AM to 6 PM.

Murli and Kali were the names of head halwais and Tiwari and Bablu were the assistants.
Dad used to come to shop directly while returning from office and ask about the whole day performance. Thakur came to shop 2 days later and had a discussion with all the "four halwais". Prabhat Bhaiya noticed them talking about money and he told this to dad.

Dad asked Thakur if there is any concern then Thakur dramatically holding his voice said, “They are asking for 1.5 times salary this month.” Adding to our shock he further said, “They all are getting calls from some well known and established shops and they might go and join there.” Prabhat Bhaiya shouted on Thakur and asked, “What made them think about 1.5 times? This was already decided.” Thakur defended himself saying, “Since this is the month of Diwali and every Mithai shop owner follows this protocol”. Prabhat Bhaiya asked again,” They should have told this beforehand?” Thakur replied, “I thought you might already be aware.”

Dad had Oked this demand also to avoid the shutter down of shop just the next day. This had added intensity on the stress which started the day when baardaana was purchased.
Prabhat Bhaiya mulled again, “we have to get all the art and science of preparing sweets as soon as possible.”  I agreed with him.

Mr. Sahay who lived in our neighborhood had purchased curd yesterday had come to complain and said, “Prabhat, don’t pour sugar in everything, curd was sweet”.  Prabhat Bhaiya had convinced them saying politely, “Uncle, I’ll look into it, it’ll not happen again.” Prabhat Bhaiya asked Murli, “People are complaining for curd, did you mix sugar in it?” Murli replied rudely, “No, I didn’t, ask Kali.” Prabhat Bhaiya lambasted on everybody and said,” Whoever has done it, it shouldn’t happen again.”

Without having the knowledge of domain you can’t get a grip on the business and hence is not possible to drive it at all. We all knew it was being driven by Thakur and we were just funding that. I started taking note of everything.

200ml refined oil per kg of Maida, cook in dim flame

Mixture of Maida and water prepared a day before and then cooked in Taiyya (flat pan) and made like spirals with a clothed called Latna
Forget 50-50 ratio of Khoya and sugar, it requires 200 g sugar per kg of Khoya

Motichoor Ladoo
1 kg Bajra, 1 kg Sugar and 1 kg refined oil
Besan Ladoo
1 kg Besan, 1 kg Sugar (Boora) and 1 kg refined oil

Artistically and carefully fold the corners of round shaped Maida stuffed with Khoya

I’m providing the list of basic terminology used in this profession which I literally jotted down observing halwais’ conversation among themselves:

Halwai, the person who prepares sweet
Assistant of Halwai
Concentrated solution of Sugar and Water
Stuff prepared by boiled potatoes and stuffed in a samosa
Extremely small rounded shaped prepared by Besan and Refined Oil usually used to prepare Motichoor Ladoo
Flat bottom pan used to prepare Jalebi
Cotton clothe used to make jalebi spiral shaped

I was a science student and very good in maths but nothing useful has been developed with mere scientific concept unless some sense of art is not mixed in it. I was trying to develop that sense also.

Bablu had asked Prabhat Bhaiya to pay 20 Rs for vegetable. Prabhat Bhaiya asked, “20 Rs is too much, what have you purchased?” He replied, “Cauliflower.”  Cauliflower is an off season vegetable. Slowly these halwais developed the habit of preparing rich lunch for themselves. Prabhat Bhaiya however told him to purchase seasonal veggies next time on wards. In fact they assumed that since the business is dependant on us so we can have a luxurious life by the time they know the in and outs or decide to down the shutter.

By next one week we had registered many complains from customers. In spite of having high profile halwais we were not being able to address complains and some times there were repeated complains for the same mistake e.g. sweet curd being sold to many customers many times. I remember sometimes kali had made fun of some customers when they came complaining.

This was a blunder; customer is a king unless you are selling nectar. We were losing the game as far as resource management is concerned. Though we had sold over 100 KG of sweets on Diwali but we had lost our neighborhood customers. The concept is simple people purchase sweets on festivals from the nearby shop of their relative whom they are going to meet to give it as a gift of festival; customer and consumer are not same in this case. So neither the earlier reputation of shop affects the decision of buyer nor the feedback.

Dad used to visit shop every morning before going to office and every evening while coming back. The expenditures were soaring high. Prabhat Bhaiya suggested to have 2 guys only 1 halwai and one assistant to cut the cost. The idea was good to alleviate our mounting stress. Now we had only 2 people; Murli and Tiwari.

The high standard of shop was diminishing because of less no of customers. People started saying these young lads come daily with neat and clean clothes won’t be able to run this business; it requires hell lot of hard work; it requires washing dishes also sometimes. I know nobody cares about efforts; the person who got success had put lots of hard work rest all were never sincere. We used to take it as a challenge and had a firm determination to show cases our depth. And yes, thanks to mom for our neat and clean clothes!       

Being a halwai by profession is cool; get salary, accommodation/conveyance and meals that too of your own choice. I learned the ratios of ingredients used for preparing most of the varieties we offered though actually preparing it in a presentable way and hence removing the dependency from Murli and Tiwari was still a distant target.

People wanted samosa in 1 Rs per piece or less irrespective of quality. The society was LIG colony and most of the people were from lower income group. The only options to retain the quality and less price was to maximize sale which we had already missed the likelihood. Prabhat Bhaiya and I used to discuss many points which we analyzed at the beginning. It’s difficult for a shop to survive which charges you some extra money for sake of providing hygienic and good quality stuff. Good quality, less price, less buyers and mounting expenditure won’t take you anywhere but to nadir.

One fine evening adding to our delight one customer came to purchase one KG of sweets. I entertained him and explained about the quality and hygiene of the sweets decorated on the counter. Customer asked the price. I told him 80/- per KG. Customer tried to negotiate on rate and said, “The other shop keeper is selling it 60/- per KG.” I couldn’t hold my urge to retort him and said, “The other shop keeper is giving the same thing at the rate of 60/- per KG and you didn’t purchase even that cheaper stuff so now what more do you expect and came here?” Customer got annoyed and left our shop immediately.
Worth mentioning here again, “Customer is king unless you are selling good quality nectar.” He did not have come to appreciate my sense of humor.

We had given enough time to us to commit mistakes and struggle to solve it before it gets fatal. We decided to close the shop which was the best solution available at that time. It was a big loss both financially and emotionally. We learnt a lot by our mistakes and paid cost also.

Lesson learned

Knowledge should be well documented it can be referred in future to avoid committing the same mistake; these are our learning gems:

1)      Nobody is omniscient, it’s OK if you don’t know; ask for explanations.
2)      Risk should always be distributed. Human resources, utensils all are agreed as per Thakur’s suggestion. Second opinion should have been taken.
3)      Never hire the consultant who doesn’t explicitly tells his consultation charges; there will be a catch.
4)      No employee is worth enough to fix his own salary; employer must hold the rights.
5)      Have domain knowledge before starting the business.
6)      Work for some one else (if you don’t have family business) to understand how he manages you and you’ll eventually learn to manage your resources.
7)      The deliverable should be tested well by the person who holds the responsibility before offering it to customer.
8)       Customer is king unless you are selling good quality nectar.

It had been 12 years and Prabhat Bhaiya had learnt the basics of business and presently he owns a company. I’ll let you know about that journey as well.

- Amit Roop