Diwali has transformed from the festival of lights to the festival of sparks and firecrackers. Traders from across the country buy crackers from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, the hub of firecrackers. But every year, as the festival of light nears, we see the firecracker prices skyrocketing.
As the cracker prices are neither regulated nor standardised in India, it’s always fluctuating and people end up paying three to four times the market standard.
To combat these varying prices in markets, Coimbatore-based Ramesh Srinivasan started an online selling platform called Bijili.in in August 2018. The company sources crackers from Sivakasi and nearby manufacturers, and sells them at factory prices in Tamil Nadu and other South Indian cities.
Thirty-two-year-old Srinivasan used to work in the Information Technology (IT) services sector. He quit his job with the desire to become an entrepreneur and founded Lessburn in 2016. The company is a growth consulting firm that helps Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) gather industry data and scale up. It specialises in market research, marketing, business development, sales support, customer retention and user support.
In 2017, Srinivasan decided to visit a friend in Sivakasi. As the friend had moved to Bengaluru, Srinivasan made his way there. While they were chatting, a neighbour came up to his friend and handed him some cash.
“I knew my friend was conducting tuition classes, and so I assumed the cash was the fees,” he says. “But that was not true. The neighbours had pooled in a large sum of money and asked my friend to bring them cheap crackers from Sivakasi.”
Srinivasan started thinking - “Why are people in cities buying crackers from Sivakasi? Aren’t they available in the local markets?”
Srinivasan found out that as Diwali was nearing, crackers were being sold for three to four times the market standard in cities. Because of this, people were trying to source crackers directly from Sivakasi at factory rates.
“I realised there was a market. The gap between demand for cheaper crackers and their availability in cities was very noticeable. I told myself that I can fill it,” he says.
Between 2017 and 2018, Srinivasan and his team at Lessburn conducted a market study about the firecracker industry. He found the cracker market to be worth nearly Rs 4,000 crore. He also collected cracker price lists from several places in Bengaluru, Hosur, Coimbatore and Chennai.
Srinivasan concluded the market needed good quality, economical and assorted crackers available online .
He went through government policies with the intention to start a firm that existed well within the laws of India, unlike unregulated and unauthenticated sellers. “There are very few who are licensed and selling crackers online, and unfortunately, they are not tech savvy,” Srinivasan adds.
Equipped with supporting data and a resounding belief in his idea, he launched Bijili with an investment of Rs 2 crore. The company is headquartered in Sivakasi and shares a marketing office with Lessburn in Coimbatore.
“The operation capital is meticulously forecasted and rotated with the revenue we generate through Lessburn,” he says.
“We don’t have a turnover yet, but our estimated profit is around twenty percent of the sales volume that we will achieve in 2018 Diwali sales,” Srinivasan says.
Bijili is almost totally dependent on digital mediums to achieve sales. “We depend on traditional flyers and billboards for only one percent of our branding and sales,” he says. “Bijili’s operations are deeply rooted in my Lessburn experience and influenced by my marketing experience in digital media and data operations.”
Srinivisan has also identified a set of challenges for Bijili, which he believes will recur. “A huge challenge has been the increasing cost of raw materials. This will lead to increased base prices of crackers in Sivakasi,” he says.
He also explains how consumer behaviour can make things tricky. “Crackers are not usually used around the year. Our business picks up only for a few months around Diwali time. Challenges also exist within these few months. For instance, it is hard to get customers to pre-book their orders. This makes it difficult for us to forecast the sales volume during Diwali season and to avoid last-minute, large inflow of orders.” The unauthorised entry of Chinese crackers into the market is another phenomenon he has to deal with.
However, Srinivasan believes Bijili can clear these hurdles and he is optimistic about the future. He aims to make the portal a “one-stop-shop for all celebration-related items,” which means Bijili will sell sweets and gifts in addition to crackers, and also partner with venues to provide space for celebrations. “We will also start bringing in new brands of crackers to diversify our catalogue,” he says.