In brief

In brief

  • As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the world, it is crucial to have steps in place to protect your business, whether big or small.
  • Comprehensive plans to face these challenges need to be implemented daily. Being innovative is one way by which you can forge ahead.
  • Here’s how Suruchi Singh, founder director of The Crayonz—Your Handicraft Haat, turned around her business in COVID times.

'When in crisis, adapt and innovate'

Suruchi Singh, founder director of The Crayonz—Your Handicraft Haat, a social enterprise that supports and mentors skilled artisans across six Indian states, faced her fair share of problems when the country went into lockdown last year. However, Suruchi has managed to support both the artisans and keep the business afloat. She tells us how.

At a time when many businesses had to shut down, what kept you going and what methods did you use to cope?

What kept me going were the artisans that I work with. These people are very honest, they survive on their art and just like everybody else, they have their health and financial issues. I had to support them.

We had to think of different schemes to entice customers during the lockdown. Unusual times call for unusual measures. So, we introduced a scheme where we contacted our loyal customers and sent them an array of products to choose from. We gave them the option of paying as much as they could and promised delivery as soon as the lockdown was lifted. While most paid in full, I did not make any profit at the time, but my priority was my artisans and helping them.

Please share with us some of the major obstacles you faced in running your business during the pandemic and how you overcame them.

One of the major problems we faced was getting the products to the market. Inventory was piling up. So, whatever I had with me, I sent to suppliers to sell at the local markets. With the loss of our usual business, cash flow was hit and managing funds was another concern. I had to figure out how to make payments to our logistics partner or the CA. These were day-to-day issues that I resolved by using savings from the business.

We also thought of new ways to market ready items. For example, we reached out to our customers and sent them pictures of rakhis and assured them that whatever they chose would be delivered free of charge. We bore the courier charges and sent them the receipt after delivery. This worked predominantly because it was a no-contact scheme that suited everyone. We are doing the same this year with our other products. The trust factor has been established and this has helped enormously.

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The shift to e-commerce and going digital became imperative for all businesses. How did you make the transition for your business?

This was the need of the hour. The pandemic pushed us online. People were also prioritizing convenience—no one wanted to step out of their homes. Earlier, shopping online for a rakhi was unheard of, but in 2020, the situation warranted it. Our products are now being sent to different parts of the country and delivered straight to homes. I don’t know how long this will last but I see it as something progressive. It’s a two-way relationship—we are helping the society and the society is helping us.

How did your customers react to the changes?

They’ve been very supportive and ready for the changes. We had to do some hand-holding but once they understood the process, they were keen to partner with us. The trust factor worked for us as most of them have been our customers for years. We did get some new customers through word of mouth.

The second wave of the pandemic is not over yet. Please share your thoughts/strategies on coping with this and the plans you have for the future.

Right now, for the e-commerce site, we are working on a scheme where we have a different theme every month—it could be the celebration of a color or a festival and highlighting products that go with the theme of the month. We are also trying to amalgamate two kinds of arts together, so we are showcasing Ikkat and Chikankari bags, masks, etc. We are focused on making products that are useful in these times. The aim is to make artifacts that are required as opposed to a product that is always there.

Would you say that mental resilience played a role in helping you through this difficult time? Please share any other tips on how to tackle business struggles during the pandemic.

Resilience is the key to survive and thrive in this time. Think innovative and don’t let yourself down. Push yourself every single day. Do not think that this will not work; be positive and keep moving ahead. Yes, you will make mistakes, but you will learn from those mistakes. If you stop, you will not know how to go ahead and get out of a difficult situation. You have to carry on, and you must. Don’t let the pandemic stop you. I view it as a corridor and you keep walking along till you find your way out.

Adaptability is another trait that you must keep in mind. Change according to the situation—and quickly. You must also be strong to lead others out of this situation.

Remember that a crisis also yields opportunities to grow.

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