SMV Wheels: A Social Enterprise Working for the betterment of the Rickshaw Puller Community

7th Dec 2011
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SMV

In this age of BMWs, Audis and Mercedes, not uncommon inIndiaanymore,Varanasi, UP based SMV Wheels realized that rickshaws should be encouraged as an active mode of city transportation given its minimal carbon footprint. Starting their journey as SMV, their sole objective is to truly transform the lives of the rickshaw puller community by providing them dignity, recognition and long term sustainability.In conversation with Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory.in, SMV Wheels founder Naveen Krishna tells us more.

Naveen, please introduce yourself and SMV Wheels to our readers.

SMV stands for Solution Motivation and Vision although the registered name is (Slow Moving Vehicles). I did my MSW from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and was campus recruited in CAPART (Funding agency of Ministry of Rural Development) in year 2006.I belong to Varanasi and since my childhood I witnessed the exploitation and hardships of the poor rickshaw pullers. Thus, I intended to do something for this community. With that mission on mind, I worked with Funding agencies, non-profits and the government to ensure better livelihood options for rickshaw pullers.

When and how was SMV Wheels born?

While working with the NGOs, it was experienced that due to a high dependency on grants, the projects associated with the rickshaw pullers had to suffer when the funds were saturated. So, I planned to a take a professional and disciplined approach to serve this community and thus, SMV Wheels was born on 22nd April 2010.

Could you please tell us in detail about the services you provide and how you go about it?

SMV Wheels’ primary product is a cycle rickshaw that is sold on a deferred payment basis. Rather than sourcing the rickshaws fully made in the market and paying a premium we source parts directly from the major suppliers: Neelam, Bhogal and KW, and pay local garages for the assembly. This reduces the delivered cost to Rs. 10,000 v/s the market price of Rs. 11,500. It also ensures we have greater control over the quality of the delivered product which will be essential in attracting and retaining customers.

Parts are ordered in batches to benefit from bulk discounts. We order to meet demand from processed applications only thereby reducing the amount of working capital tied up in the rickshaws. We aim to have zero inventories. Supply chain risks are reduced by maintaining good relations with suppliers and the amount of capacity in the chain.

In addition to selling the rickshaw we provide vocational support to our consumers. This support not only promotes our social mission, it is also invaluable to the rickshaw drivers thereby enhancing our competitive position and reducing risk on payments. Our support includes the issuance of an official license, insurance, uniforms and photo identity cards. We have tied up with the department of Municipal Corporation to provide licences thereby reducing bureaucratic risks while insurance and uniforms are purchased in bulk to reduce the cost per driver. Support in the form of community meetings and in the nature of the group sales model has also shown to be invaluable to consumers.

How is the upgraded rickshaw different from the traditional one? Is there any green angle to it?

We offer two products a traditional cycle rickshaw and an SMV Wheels designed rickshaw. Our design is lighter, reducing the burden on the driver, has additional seating space increasing income potential and offers significant space for advertising. We believe in the dignity of choice and therefore do not impose solutions on our customers. That said, we feel that as the SMV rickshaw gains credibility in the market, a greater number of consumers will opt for it.

Could you share some revenue figures with us?

We sell the rickshaw at the price of Rs.14,000/- The pullers pay a weekly instalment of Rs. 250 and becomes the owner of their rickshaw in 56 weeks.


Naveen

How many rickshaw pullers have you helped thus far?150 rickshaws delivered, 250 in queue.

What are the challenges you face and how do you prepare to cope with them?

Corruption in the Municipal Corporations, who issue the legal licences, is one of the major problems of the company. However, now we have taken legal permission from the Municipal Commissioner and Mayor, so it has reduced. The other is, funds for expansion for which we are approaching the banks.

Where do you plan to scale? Which cities?

We plan to scale on satellite basis in different cities of UP in the first 5 years. The cities in which we are going to expand areGorakhpur,Allahabad,Lucknow,Kanpur,Ghaziabad,Meerut, Noida etc.

How big is your team? Are you looking at hiring?

We have a team of 7 full time people, 1 part time and 1 intern from Artemesia. We are currently not looking for any hiring yet we are searching for a consultant who could advice on financial and legal issues.

Are there other players in the market doing similar things? Can you name them? What is your USP?

There are several NGOs working in this space such as CRD and Samman Foundation. Our USP is multiplicity of choices to the customers, developing ancillary products such as audio rickshaw tourism, advertisement on the back side of the rickshaw to increase the income of our rickshaw pullers, quality control, and no dependence on grants to reachsustainability.

What is your market size? Can you share with us some interesting trends about the market that you are trying to capture? 

Though no exact size of the market exists, a conservative estimate puts the number of rickshaws at ten million and the numbers of peddle carts used for carrying goods at eight million. Of this, the capacity utilisation is said to be around sixty five to seventy percent, which means that at any given point in time there are eight million rickshaws operational. There is no discernible seasonality to the market either in terms of demand for rickshaws or for demand for rickshaw rides.

Though it was predicted that the increasing popularity of mall- culture and the modernisation of the transport systems, such as at the introduction of the Metro, would ring a death knell for this industry, the cycle rickshaw business has grown at a healthy rate of ten percent. The introduction of auto rickshaws had a greater impact but this appears to have been felt now with auto’s servicing demand for longer journeys and thereby segmenting the market. Anecdotal evidence suggests that far from destroying the demand for cycle rickshaws autos have actually provided a pricing umbrella for the market. The eco-friendly nature of the cycle rickshaw has also helped boost its popularity as a means of travel.

For more information please check SMV Wheels and donot forget to drop a comment here!

- Abhilasha Dafria

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