These 4 small businesses are growing strong, thanks to the love customers have shown online
Hunger strikes, you order from a local catering business and give them a 5-star rating for their scrumptious Biriyani.
You're looking for a perfect gift for your mother and find a beautiful handcrafted shawl from a small online business. You love it so much, you promote it on your Instagram story.
You're tired of wearing disposable masks and find a local brand that sells cloth masks. It looks and feels great, you leave a rave review on their social media profiles.
These may seem like small acts of kindness, but they're a huge deal for small businesses. Since COVID-19 showed up at our doorsteps, it's certainly been stressful, especially for small business owners. Going digital is the way ahead, and every bit we do as customers counts. By supporting a small business, you’re also supporting the local community and keeping business booming within your local region.
We spoke with a few small businesses who share how customer support has enabled them to increase demand and get noticed in the market.
A two-month stay in rural India inspired Sunita Suhas and her husband to wrap up their city life and move to the Nilgiris. That’s when they realised that there are a lot of women raring to do much more with their lives, they just need that extra nudge and the right platform to do so. In 2018, they started Indian Yards, a social enterprise running a livelihood programme for women from rural and tribal communities.
Based in Coonoor, the five-member team teaches 30 women to handcraft sustainable lifestyle products such as washable and reusable three-layered cotton face masks, premium cotton aprons and multipurpose cotton drawstring bags and tote bags.
As a small business, they need all the support they can get, says founder Sunita. "When enterprises like ours succeed, more people will get inspired towards social entrepreneurship - solving real social problems at the grassroots level."
During the pandemic, Indian Yards made significant investment towards creating a digital presence, which helped them reach more markets and engage with customers from a broader demographic. "We started making sustainable and functional cotton face masks. Irrespective of the goodness of the product, we needed our customers to trust us as this was a product that was not just ornamental but mandated safety," she says. In the last six months, their social media followership increased by 50 percent and monthly sales jumped up by 40 percent.
Sunita says customer support is extremely crucial for the success of a small business as they can't spend much towards advertising. "If you like a product, be the advocate and spread the word as nothing beats word-of-mouth for advertising."
Today, they have 3,000 customers on board and are working towards expanding their product spectrum and expanding the reach of their livelihood programme to impact more women positively.
Big Js Catering and Grill
A foodie with extensive experience in top luxury hotels, Daniel Selvaraj started Big Js Catering and Grill along with his brother Joshua Selvaraj and friends Raul Fernandez and Isaiah Somanna in 2015. What started off as a small barbeque catering company known to friends and family, today caters for corporates and weddings. "Big Js is an extension of our home kitchens. We come from very different cultural backgrounds and wanted people to experience the food that we love," says Daniel, who is the Managing Partner and Executive Chef.
Based in Bangalore, they have a three-day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) takeaway that serves a variety of cuisines including Indian, Indo-Chinese, Authentic Asian, Continental and Mediterranean. Most of the Indian dishes are prepared by Daniel's mom, Rachel Selvaraj, who is also the kitchen manager.
Daniel says that initially, people don't take small businesses seriously because they've not heard of them. "Food is very subjective. People need to hear it from someone else rather than from the company itself to believe it's good."
During the pandemic, they lost the daily meal contracts they had with corporates. And the only thing that saved them is their Instagram profile, which picked up over the last six months. "Social media and word of mouth are probably the two most critical marketing tools in the food business, more so in a small business. People writing honest reviews if they like the food, reposting, sharing stories - all those things go a long way," says Daniel. Before the lockdown, they had 500 Instagram followers, a number which has grown to 2000 today.
They are looking forward to winning back corporate contracts and are working towards the restaurant space. "After having worked in hotels and restaurants, the end game is to have your own restaurant. I don’t know how long it will take, but we’re definitely getting closer to opening one that will feature all of our favourite Big Js food," he says.
For Rhea Devaney, baking was a hobby-turned side-gig during college. After a three-year stint in banking, she took the leap into entrepreneurship in the middle of the lockdown this year, when she was baking for friends and family during Easter.
Based in Bangalore, BakeRee primarily offers Fro-Dough ™, a ready-to-bake frozen cookie dough that bakes in less than 15 minutes straight out of your freezer. "The Fro-Dough ™ model is very helpful for those who want to bake but do not necessarily know how to, or want to dodge the hours that go into it (especially the clean up after!)," says Rhea.
Rhea says that social media has been pivotal in helping her reach a large demographic in the most cost-effective way. She believes small businesses need all the bolstering they can get in order to reach their full potential and possibly contribute to society and the economy at large. "When you buy from a small business, you help them benefit but when you gift it to someone, you do so twice over."
Customer receptiveness has been the support that BakeRee needs. People have been very receptive to the concept (and we know a lot of baking has gone down during this pandemic). Fro-Dough ™ has even travelled as far as Mumbai and Delhi. Today, they cater to over 600 customers. "We're looking to make our way into many more bellies. How can you help? Speak about what you love. Word of mouth is powerful and goes a long way," says Rhea.
In 2019, Harpreet Pahwa, a graphic designer, and Suhasini Penna, an architect, saw the need for well-designed stationery in the market. Their mutual love for stationery made them take the leap of faith to start Ninegram. Based in Noida and Mumbai, Ninegram is a premium stationery brand that designs and manufactures stationery and desk accessories.
In the last six months, when their business was hit hard, adopting digital and customer support took them a long way. They took this opportunity to show their users how their products can be used creatively by conducting tutorials, journaling workshops and blogs. This led to an increase in order volume and got them an engaging audience organically on social media.
Harpreet says that customer support is essential as it gives them a much-needed boost in challenging times, and makes them believe that their efforts are acknowledged. “Unlike big companies, because we are self-funding the entire journey, any feedback, review and engagement on social media and Google is much appreciated. We love it when our customers write back to us, from praise to feedback, to simply knowing how using Ninegram stationery has given them joy.”
Today, they ship pan-India and cater to around 1,000 customers. “We plan to keep growing and have more bespoke and tastefully-designed stationery available to a wider audience,” says Suhasini.
When you support a small business, you're supporting a big dream. Let’s pledge to #MakeSmallStrong today, so that they can bounce back stronger than ever.