True Story – Honesty = Longevity = Sustainability in Business.
Let me share with you today a True Story.
Ever since I Retired and began my morning Walks I also developed a liking to the Morning Cuppa Kapi ( South Indian foaming Coffee in a glass for the uninitiated) and found 2-3 different Kerb Kapi shops who served me Less Sugar Coffee i.e. Coffee with NO SUGAR !
They serve it in the glass, Steel cup or in a disposable coffee cup. These are truly economy class but great Taste stuff made of Ground Seed Coffee decoction mixed with boiling water/ water mixed Milk in a steaming cup semi-filled with the Foam. It is truly habit forming and I like to indulge in this although I change the kerb shops every now and then depending upon the urge to take a short stop on my long walks and catch my breath.
This story is about a small enterprising family consisting of a Husband and wife who ran the corner/ kerb store mainly serving Tea/ Coffee on the ground floor shop while they lived on the 1st floor. Wife made tea/ coffee in an ante room and filled in special thermos with a dispenser which is available to my knowledge only in Southern India. The husband would attend to customers – take orders serve tea, coffee, cigarette, gutka, raw tobacco, sweets, snacks and occasionally heat up the veg/ non-veg puffs etc. As they opened shop at sharp 6.30 AM they had customers right early in the morning and probably they closed shop well after 11 PM when the hotel opposite would close.
The shortage of coins in India is a well known one and most shopkeepers use the opportunity for profit by giving chocolates in place of coins change and make 100% profit. Our man in the story was different. He knew I am a diabetic and drink Less Sugar Coffee and he would keep count of the change due to me rather than giving me chocolates. At the end of the week or so, he would tell me not to pay as he was adjusting the change money accumulated by him. I felt so happy about his honesty as he has over 1000 footfalls a day and to remember my short change of Rs. 1 or 2 for 5-6 consecutive days and give me the adjustment Coffee was a great act of honesty. This went on for past couple of years.
Last three months though, things appeared different with him. He did not return the change or give me adjustment coffee even once and I thought may be, he has increased the Coffee rates.
This month, suddenly I saw 2-3 different people manning the shop. They are quite efficient and fast and have seemingly understood every client’s requirements and serve all regular customers without asking ‘What do you want’. The shop is very well stocked all the time and the refill service from different vendors is queueing up and it appears their business is booming. They also returned my due change for the Coffee promptly every single day.
It made me wonder what really happened. I thought the guy and his wife have gone for holidays and his relatives are manning the shop. Then I came to know – he was running debt and had to sell off the room and the shop to the lenders who put people in the same business to run the show as the customers was used to coming for Tea, coffee or other items to this place without fail.
It reminds me of a friend of mine who was into small lending at high interest rates but with no security to small businesses. Once I saw him funding a Barber shop for the Chair and security deposit for the shop and his logic was simple. Small businessmen rarely fail on repayment and rarely default. Having worked in village branch of a bank I agree with him – it is true.
In this case, though, it appeared to be false. Not only I saw a Merger/ Acquisition of a small business by the lender but infusion of new capital and new trained manpower to grow the business by ousting the current owner.
Which brings me to the important learnings I have had in my life about businesses. I often repeat this ‘If the foundation of the business is laid on falsehood, dishonesty and unethical practices – the business is certain to go but – the doom is easily predicted’.
The tell-tale signs of not returning the small change – when he was in the habit to return it earlier must talk about the agony, pain the earlier owner of the shop must have undergone to make this habit change. But this habit also reflected on his character and the continuance led to his doom probably much earlier than many big businesses which manage to survive this for longer durations.
However, I always feel for the Small businesses and feel sorry if they make losses or small entrepreneurs have to go out of business due to loan sharks ever present in every town of India.
Long ago, in a Palmistry book I had read – “Character is Fixed, The Personality Develops.” My understanding was Character is unchanged even if the person is under extreme stress but when I see incidents like these I feel Character is ‘Fixed’ like a Fixed cricket match – a make believe and one wonders whom to trut?