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‘Current financial year is just a matter of survival’

COVID-19 lockdown caused a big dent on the booming retail industry in India with 20 per cent of small, and medium sized shops said to have closed down. In Goa too shop owners are reporting huge loss of income and fight to stay alive. Here retailer Sahil Kavlekar,  Kavlekar’s Neo Collection, Mapusa, talks to Shoma Patnaik on the impact on business

What is the situation at the ground level for members of Goa’s retail industry while in the Unlock 1.0 phase?

Retailers are seeing that enthusiasm and the need of customers have decreased quite a lot. Secondly the functions are not happening, such as birthday parties, engagements, family functions or any kind of small get together. So the basic need to purchase is missing. The urge to buy is not there at all. Customers are only buying what is needed. No one is looking at buying a suit or a sherwani.

For instance, it is the rainy season now so people are only buying rainwear and nothing much. The problem is many residents have not received payment. For some the salary is cut and some have lost jobs. All this is affecting sales. Plus tourism is not there. The economy is big cycle with one industry linked to another. Since tourism is closed in the state restaurants are not doing business. They don’t earn we don’t earn. Things are going in lackluster way.

How much of an impact did COVID-19 have on your business?

The lockdown came in Mach 25 during the weddings season. March- April-May is the wedding season for entire Goa. Weddings contribute a big chunk to our financial year sales. Since we were shut our sale was totally zero during these months. So the lockdown had drastic impact. Now even if we are open there is lot of restrictions. Only 40 guests are permitted per wedding.  The present market condition is bad. 

What is your business expectation for 2020-21?

The current financial year is going to be just a matter of survival. If we can survive without making a loss it is the biggest victory. That goes for any business in the state. There are several issues. Even if we are not doing sales we have to take care of the employees. Some way or other we have to cover up for them. I do not expect major improvement in the demand in the current year not only for retailers but for all service businesses. In this scenario of up-down I feel things are not going to improve unless a vaccine is discovered for the infection.

How much can Goan buyers make up for the lack of tourist buyers in the market?

Our store is dependent on 99 per cent locals. But these 99 per cent are locals who are employed in tourism based businesses. Some have taxis, some hotels, restaurants etc. If our customers don’t earn they don’t spend.  

What is your survival strategy during this trying pandemic period? 

We have reduced our expenses. A chunk of our budget is on advertising. So we have reduced that and also cut down on the working expenditure. Certain salaries that could be cut down we have eliminated, viz. those with higher pay grade. But those with basic pay grade we have retained. Profit in the retail business is a play on the inventory. Rather than stocking up more we have to rotate the stock in better manner. Investment in the business is only what is necessary.  

Are government schemes helping business to revive? 

Schemes are helping but most of them are related to providing finance. Actually in this pandemic anything that you do will not show results so it is better to wait out the business slump. There is no change in the GST rates or other taxes.

Competition from e-commerce was a bane in pre-COVID days. What is the situation now? 

Actually online segment was never a big threat to department store owners since shoppers want the touch-and- feel experience. E-commerce is also badly affected by the ongoing crisis. The competition from ecommerce continues to exist but it is not the primary issue now.

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