The Gandhigiri Shop; Where the Customer is the Conscience

5th Apr 2012
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Munna Bhai may not exist in real life but his Gandhigiri sure seems to have rubbed itself on a Mumbai based young student entrepreneur. Like Munnabhai MBBS, Narayanan Palani MBA, follows the teachings of Bapu and has recently launched a venture on the same lines!

An executive MBA student of KJ Somaiya Institute of Management & Research (SIMSR), Mumbai, Palani has launched a stationery shop. Big deal, you say? Then get this: his shop is unmanned and runs on its own! Yes, you read it right! You walk into the shop, pick up what you wish to buy and then pay before leaving. All this while no one is watching you. No cameras or anything. You operate by your conscience.

But why do it? “The purpose was to promote value systems in students by giving them a chance to be truthful and honest. Now that it has been running successfully in the college, a similar impact can be made on the general society as well,” says Narayanan who is in conversation with several corporate entities and shall be taking this idea by opening similar setups in corporate companies within a couple of months. He also intends to take this to schools believing that to be the right age of incepting the right values.

But let’s admit it. The risk factor here is way greater than many startups, because the risk factor here is constant. So what if someone does not pay? “Customers are aware of the value system of this venture, which is why we do not expect any losses. And even if we do have any losses, we will be happy to bear them,” he says. “The idea came to me when my teacher in school was talking about business and ethics,” says Narayanan. Then during a conference, the entrepreneurship team of which Palani was a part presented the Gandhigiri shop model to the alumni who are now entrepreneurs.

 

It all must have been quite a challenge and a difficult thing to contemplate in the first place. However, Palani seems to be used to it. Palani completed his higher secondary at Karur and shifted to Chennai for B.Sc(ISM). He joined Wipro before he joined SIMSR to complete his MBA. With an initial investment of only INR 200, Palani tried The Gandhigiri Shop is in hostel. He started with only stationery items and the initial investement was a trade-off for a movie ticket, something he chose to sacrifice. “With 200 Rs, I was willing to take the risk. But, the response was unbelievable. I was expecting loots, but was pleasantly shocked! The only time one guy picked two pens and did not put the money in the coin-box was because he did not have change. He knocked neighboring rooms for change but in vain. So he left a note saying he’ll pay back later.”

Starting with stationery items, he now expands his business to cater to more goods and services such as toothpaste, detergent, Glucon-D (the favorite item) and other daily-need goods. He shall soon add recyclable paper and other eco-friendly items over the next couple of months. The other Gandhian policy they strictly adopt is to sell only ‘swadeshi’ Made In India goods. So a Steadler or an international soap brand would never make it to their shop.

I visited The Gandhigiri Shop today morning and my conversation with Narayanan made me retrospect at how ethically-driven the youth of this country is. I met students who stirred up Mahatama Gandhi vs Bhagat Singh debates, some anti Gandhian, some Hitler fans, but what flew in the face of my informal impressions about the youth, is that no matter what their political policies sourced to, each one of them confessed to have honestly paid for the stationery they picked at the shop.

The existence of ethics in business has long been discussed and debated. But could one successfully create a business out of ethics itself? I leave you with that thought.

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