My client here in Calicut, Kerala, India, is a jeweller – a traditional Kerala gold jeweller with a heritage that can be traced back to 1890. They are well-known in Calicut and in its neighbouring towns. So much so that, no matter where I am in the city, I just get into an auto-rickshaw and mention the jewellery store’s name, and I’m taken there without hesitation. The store and the jeweller’s family name are landmarks here.
Mind you, they are not the richest people here. Nor is their store or their business in gold jewellery the largest in Calicut. In fact, compared to the grandeur of some of the other jewellery stores in the city, my client is modest. But what makes my client special is their way of doing business.
For instance, when you enter my client’s store, you’ll find a large number of women among the staff members. You’ll find them attired in traditional Kerala saris, perhaps flowers in their hair, attending to you in the soft courteous style of old India. Yet, the store is equipped with all the facilities and furnishings of a modern store. When I first experienced this, I was mildly surprised.
I was the big-city marketing professional working with leading Indian and international brands, many of which were in the hospitality and service industries. I believed these leading brands and the organisations which marketed them were the role models. They set the standards across India… and, some, internationally. They were the perfect local-global combine that management gurus were talking about. I believed, besides these brands, everything else was provincial.
My client’s business in Calicut, and their stores in the neighbouring towns, opened my eyes to a new world of marketing. They had managed to remain traditional, and yet incorporate modern values and systems in their business. These included providing equal employment opportunities for both genders, nurturing a culture of honesty and humility, inspiring a passion for creativity, preserving tradition and heritage, and giving back to society (social service through a temple and a trust) some of the learning and profits from their business. These were as important to my client’s business as air-conditioned showrooms, electronic doors, information technology and modern manufacturing.
My client doesn’t make a big fuss over this like large big-city corporations do. They know what their brand stands for. For many years, they have practised preserving local traditions while adopting global business practices. They believe it is important to preserve one’s tradition and dignity, no matter how important it is to grow and make profits in business. If that means a provincial way of doing business, then so be it.