Using WhatsApp, this woman has been selling sarees over three years and slowly built a band of more than 2,000 resellers.
Social media is a double-edged sword. Use it right and it can cut the crap and reward you.
That is what Shanmuga Priya found when she started using WhatsApp to sell sarees online. In three years, she has sold sarees worth $400,000, says a study by WhatsApp. Not only has she brought prosperity to her life, but she has also empowered many women struggling to make ends meet by making them resellers.
Based out of Chennai, Priya sells 50-80 sarees in a day, and during festivals, the number goes up to 100 plus. In 2016-2017, her revenue was Rs 2.4 crore. “During festivals, like Diwali, there is an increase (we had Rs 22 lakh sale last month). Off-season, the sales fluctuate between Rs 12-15 lakh,” she says. Overall, she has a seven to 10 percent profit margin, and for wholesale, she keeps a margin of seven percent and for resellers 10 percent.
What started as a trial-and-error in 2014, when she first sold 20 sarees on a family-and-friends WhatsApp group, is now a thriving business. Priya has even started manufacturing her own sarees, along with becoming a respected supplier to resellers not just in India, but to countries like the US, the UK, and Australia.
Her company, Unique Threads, also employs two weavers who weave sarees based on her designs. “I have learned in the past few years what sells and what colours are in. Based on that I get some of these sarees manufactured. My focus is always on quality and colours,” she says.
Necessity is the mother of survival
Priya was inspired by her mother-in-law, who used to sell sarees door to door. In 2014, when her son was only three months old, Priya's mother-in-law passed away. As a result, Priya had to quit her job to take care of the family. But looking for a source of extra income coming into the family kitty, she bought a bag of sarees to sell. Her husband, who is a senior manager and heads the quality department in an MNC, also helps and supports her. She says,
Initially, the response wasn’t positive. Even when I would visit my mother I’d carry the bags of sarees along with my baby. People would ask me why I was doing it. But once things took off, people’s perception changed. Now they come to me seeking help to get their business started.
When Priya started on WhatsApp, it was mostly her friends and family who bought her sarees. As word spread, more and more women started buying sarees directly from her and selling it themselves.
Unknowingly, she was slowly building a band of women resellers. Today, she sells sarees and textiles to more than 2,000 plus resellers. "I started with family and friends group, gradually by word of mouth I started getting more queries. So I started a Facebook page for WhatsApp saree sellers. It caught on and today it has more than 70,000 plus sellers."
That is not all. Priya today manages almost 11 WhatsApp groups and those who are not on WhatsApp she connects with them via Telegram.
She also has a team of eight who market the sarees on a Facebook group, which is where the orders come from.
High demand and growth
With her business taking off, she has converted the first floor of her house into a godown with a separate entrance so buyers who want to come and check the stock can do so. She doesn’t sell to individuals but says, “When it is neighbours and people I know, I don’t usually say no to them.”
Once the orders are placed, her team gets into action and every evening at six, the packages go out. “We have signed up with different logistics/courier companies based on their service and reputation in the different geographical region,” she says.
With a lot of resellers sprouting up in the last two years, Priya has had to up her game. She has tackled the competition by ensuring her products are top quality. Along with that, she has given flexibility to her customers so if they want to return a product they can.
Most importantly, she has given financial support to resellers by waiting for payment till the resellers get the money from the customers. “Sometimes they are not able to pay till they get the money from the customer so I give them that flexibility and that helps me kill the competition because people come back to me and appreciate the gesture.” Priya is also proud of the team that she has built.
People who started working with me four years ago are still with me. I am glad that I am able to support other women.
But what makes her most happy is what most entrepreneurs and leaders cannot always claim: “I am happy because the business can run without me being around.”
She is happy to provide for her family, empower other women to be financially independent by staying at home and selling sarees, and most importantly be at home and split her time between her business and her family.