‘J&K is more than walnuts, saffron and snow,’ the story of PureMart which delivers organic products from the northern stateFrancesca Ferrario
The root of PureMart’s story is a question that some decades ago buzzed in the head of a kid who had never been outside Jammu. His name is Sahil Verma, who is now the head of a globally present online market for organic products from Jammu and Kashmir. “When I was growing up in Jammu, I always wondered why people from outside were so curious about saffron and other dry fruits, when these were so easily available for me,” he recalls.
The first time he left home was when he went to college in Bangalore to study pharmacy, which he adds, “was the hardest thing in my life.” There he befriended people from every corner of the country. “They were fantastic friends, but in those years I also learnt about all the preconceptions against J&K. I found myself being associated with the country of terrorism, saffron, walnuts and snow,” he says with a smirk. After graduating, he travelled for 14 years around Bangalore, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai and realized that little was changing in the public opinion about his home state.
The death of a close friend’s father helped him connect the dots. “I remember reading that the causes of my uncle’s demise were bad eating habits and a busy schedule. Many of the products from K&J, particularly walnuts and saffron, help prevent heart related problems, breathing and bone disorders– which are all causes of majority of deaths in India. For Sahil, contributing to the diffusion of products from J&K meant at once to spread the habit of a healthy diet in the country and portray his state as a place that can do more than just produce terrorism and raw materials.
When Sahil decided to start up, he had full support from his wife, but decided not to tell anything to his parents, “As they are a very traditional Indian family and would have never approved of this kind of business.”
“Together with my Co-founder wife Rajani Verma, I went to several cities for about a year doing awareness campaigns and other promotions to learn what the people understand about organic products from the north. To our surprise most of them did not even know what a saffron bud or a walnut fruit looked like,” explains Sahil, who always had to carry unadulterated products to show them to his audience.
“This factor consolidated our idea that a B2B model would have not worked for us; we had to work directly with the customer to deliver our message clearly,” he says, adding, “Moreover, e-commerce was booming those days (it was 2011) and decided to jump into the new trend.”
Totally bootstrapped, PureMart started with saffron and walnuts because these are the richest in healthy properties. “Now, we serve several products to almost all pin codes of India from Kanyakumari to Nagaland and Andaman to Kolkatta. Moreover, we have received about 2000 orders from other countries in the Union Territories and several from Canada, UK, and Dubai.”
PureMart sources all its products from natural produce farmers across the state. “We also have tied up with NeeV Herbals (National Award Winner) for a cause to support organic and green India. We recently started a partnership with 24 Mantra, a leading brand that caters all grocery needs to make your kitchen organic,” Sahil explains.
He continues, “We still believe in creating a better product than a brand. A better product will always be a good brand if customer loyalty is won.” Sahil explains that customers’ feedback has been positive in 99 per cent of cases, and that one per cent of dissatisfaction was due to problems with the delivery company they were partnering with.
“Delivery and payments have been the biggest challenges so far,” he says. Finding solutions for the latter was easier, but unreliable delivery partners still cause hindrances to building trust among customers. “We have already started our own one-day delivery model in Bangalore where we now have our own store without any extra charge and coming up in couple of other cities as well,” Sahil says.
The PureMart agenda is filled with new projects. “We are looking forward to expand our reach through multi-channel marketplaces and through organic fairs. In addition to that, we are also looking for like-minded partners to join hands with us from metro cities to create a strategic delivery channel and sales. Improving our presence in social media and building an in-house technical team is also our priority this year.”
PureMart is planning to partner with social entrepreneurs in J&K and provide their online platform as a marketplace for handicrafts and apparels. “We aim to build PureMart product ranges with value of trust and belief,” says Sahil, and adds that regarding finance they are targeting one crore with the same capacity in 2015.
Despite difficulties, Sahil (self-defined ‘Founder and Chief Everything Officer’ of the company), his Co-founder Rajani and his team of five are enthusiastic of their venture. “After almost two years of being live with online sales, I have come back to my home state. It makes me proud seeing confidence and faith in the eyes of all my family members now,” he says.
“We have rejoiced every moment at PureMart, whether it is getting a new packaging solution or new products, a new printer or weighing scale. We have enjoyed each moment in PureMart and loved it doing it bootstrapped. Entrepreneurship has its own taste, pleasure and fun. Those who dare, choose their own way.”
Check PureMart products here