They walk around the city with a huge cloth bundle slung over their shoulders. It’s their mobile showroom.They live with their competitors in seedy hotels and carry a small diary that lists every single one of their customers. From their villages in West Bengal’s interiors, they make the difficult journey to the borders of Bangladesh twice or thrice a year where they procure the famous ‘Dhaka Cotton’ saris. It’s not an easy life. What’s interesting is that they have been practicing ‘Customer get Customer’ for years.
It’s like Facebook – selling only within a friend’s network. They get introductions, phone numbers and are gently persistent about their wares. All customers are ‘didi’s’ (elder sisters). They fix up appointments, land up at the house and get at least a few friends and neighbours from around to ‘see’ the saris. Their effort is not just to sell but to expand the network. A single sales call lasts as long as a couple of hours and they probably are the only people who understand women very well.
Well attuned to the prices their customers can afford, they sell expensive saris on instalments. No bills, or receipts. Just a promise to pay within a certain number of months. And they know how to pace their visits. Calling only once or twice a year – never aggressive, always chipping away with perseverance. And building a trust network that keeps them and their families going for decades.