Hard times for hardware stores

Business Lockdown

Factories are open in the lockdown, but raw material cannot be bought from the hardware stores.

Chandigarh: The continuous extension of lockdown in Chandigarh has brought difficulties for the factories in the city. The lockdown allows the factories to be open. But since the hardware stores are closed they cannot produce anything.

Virendra Kumar, owner of RV Sports factory said, “We manufacture gym products and the machinery used in gyms. For their manufacturing, we require pipes, nickel cromes, ply, powder coating, etc. We cannot produce without this raw material.”

All these hardware goods are required for the manufacturing business. But the lockdown has asked the hardware stores to shut their doors because they don’t come under essential items.

“This is a case of raw material shortage,” said Janaki Ram, retired professor and Head of Department, Master of Business Administration in MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology. “The traders cannot go against the government rules. They should try direct supply to the industry.” This would not require the physical store to be there for the sale to happen. “This way the production can go on,” he added.

“This happened last year also, and again it is repeating,” said Narinder Singh Saluja, a partner in Amrit Sales, a hardware store. “Our sales have dropped to zero. The problem is that the factories are allowed to work, but they can’t work without the raw material that we provide.”

The Chandigarh Administration imposed a lockdown in the city under which any non-essential items’ shops were supposed to be closed. Only essential items and food joints are allowed to open. Along with this, factories are open to work. But this is not the case in Punjab. In Punjab, these non-essential shops are allowed to open on an odd-even basis.

“The factories ask us to give them raw material. But because of the lockdown, we cannot do that,” said Mr Saluja. “But, the factories have an option, they can easily go to Punjab and buy the required raw material from there. This is only leading to us losing our customers.”

Factories prefer that the raw material is closer to them. So, many of them cannot order from Punjab.

“I cannot buy from Punjab,” said Mr Kumar. “The raw material that I require, I have all that within one-kilometre distance from my factory. Buying this raw material from Punjab would only increase my cost.”

In a physical business like the sale of hardware, work from home is not a possibility. “All our goods are in the shop,” said Mr Saluja. “So, we have to be physically present there to sell.”

“People always prefer to buy offline because online shopping has delivery charges,” said Mr Ram. “Also, physical buying helps you in properly going through the product which online shopping cannot do.”

Mr Kumar tries to order the raw material on the phone but that just increases the waiting period. “I place an order on the phone. Then Mr Saluja asks his worker to check in the godown if the material is available. Then he confirms my order and the worker brings it to me. All of this wastes around two to three hours. Earlier I used to just place an order and it used to be there within half an hour.”

“I try to work with the raw materials that we have,” said Mr Kumar. “If any product of a certain shape or size is not available, then we try to change the design of the machinery in a way that we can work with the material that we have.”

Mr Saluja is concerned that they are incurring losses because of this lockdown. “There is no way for us to gain profits. Even though the shops are closed, we still have to pay the rent and pay salaries to our workers, these are fixed.”

“For a businessman, survival means earning profits,” said Mr Ram. “These stores have to pay the fixed costs like rent and salaries. If they can manage to pay these fixed costs from their profits then they should be able to survive through these lockdowns.”

Many traders in Chandigarh have held protests because of the same reason. “We understand the situation at hand, but all we ask from the government is to either start the trading on the odd-even basis or daily for fewer hours,” said Mr Saluja.

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