Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ahle Zikr - I

The history of this world has seen many great people achieving greater heights in their respective fields. Their work and commitment has made them experts and legends of the field which they represent. Their association becomes so deeply rooted that it becomes impossible to disassociate them from their fields and hence whenever a subject is discussed their contribution to the specific subject is discussed alongwith.

In order to understand the above point let us see a few examples. If we wish to discuss the field of Western Philosophy the name of Aristotle would be discussed inevitably in any part of the world. Similarly Albert Einstein is associated with Physics. If we talk about sports then Sir Donald Bradman would be discussed along with Cricket, Bruce Lee along with Martial Arts and Pele with Football. They have become legends in their own fields and without mentioning their achievements and contribution the discussion of their respective fields remains incomplete. In fact they have reached such heights that they have become the field they represent. The subsequent generations have followed their work and have taken inspiration from them. 

**In the same way Islam has been bestowed by some great contributors who are inseparable from its philosophy. Allah (SWT) sent His flawless message of Islam through these Infallible personalities who remained committed and dedicated for the cause. Their contribution towards Islam is such that without their discussion every discussion on Islam remains incomplete. They are Islam personified and have become synonymous to it. The generations of saints after them have followed their teachings and have been inspired by them. In this article we will discuss them in the light of Quran.

The holy Quran mentions the presence of them in the following ayahs from Surah-e-Anam:

  •  Paighamber woh log the jinko Humne (Aasmani) kitab aur hukumat aur Nabuwwat ata farmayee pas agar yeh log usse bhi na maane to (kuch parwah nahin) Humne to uss per aise logon ko muqarrar kar diya hai jo (unnki tarah) inkaar karnewale nahin. Yeh woh the jinki Khuda ne hidayat ki pas tum bhi unki hidayat ki pairvi karo. (Ae Rasool (SAW) unse) kaho ki main tum se iss (Risalat) ki mazdoori kuch nahin chahta ye to saare jahan ke liye sirf ek zikr hai (Zikraa lil Aalamin) – (Surah-e-Anam, ayah 89-90)

  •  These (Prophets) are they to whom We gave the book and the wisdom and the prophecy; therefore if these disbelieve in it We have already entrusted with it a people who are not disbelievers in it. These are they whom Allah guided, therefore follow their guidance. Say: I do not ask you for any reward for it; it is nothing but a reminder to the nations (Zikraa lil Aalamin).

The above ayahs have three separate references. The ayahs start with a discussion on the Prophets and how Allah (SWT) had rewarded them with a book, wisdom and prophecies. Then the reference moves on to discuss the presence of disbelievers during the time of the holy Prophet (SAW). Here Allah (SWT) comforts the holy Prophet (SAW) by saying that if disbelievers did not believe in him; he should not worry as Allah (SWT) has guided some people who would never disbelieve. They have been created so that Muslims can follow them and be guided. This reference to the guided people is the third reference in the above ayah. Then at the end Allah (SWT) further instructs the holy Prophet (SAW) to ask the Ummah to remember this message of taking guidance from them as a reward of his hardwork of Prophethood. This is in fact a reminder to the nations (Zikraa lil Aalamin).

**It is established from the above ayahs that Allah (SWT) has created a few chosen ones who have represented Islam the way it should be represented. Their commitment for the cause has inspired the coming generations and no discussion of Islam is complete without discussing their conduct for the Islamic cause. Thus they are examples to be followed by the Ummah to remain guided.
Here, the Quran is further praising them in the following manner: 

  •  Aur Shaitaan ne apne khayal ko jo unke baare main kiya tha sach kar dikhaya to un logon ne usski pairvi ki magar imaandaron ka ek giroh na bhatka.” – (Surah-e-Saba, ayah 20)
  •  “(And certainly the Shaitan found true his conjecture concerning them, so they follow him, except a group of true believers.)”

As per the ayah they are so firmly guided that the Satan could not misguide them. Against their faith and love for the Almighty Allah even the Satan remained helpless. And Allah (SWT) has endorsed their steadfastness in the following manner: 

  • Khuda ne farmaya ke yehi raah sidhi hai ke mujh tak pahonchti hai. Jo mere mukhlis bande hain un per tujhe kissi tarah ki hukumat na hogi magar haan gumraahon main se jo teri pairvi kare usper tera zor chal jaaega aur haan ye bhi yaad rahe ke un sab ke waste aakhri wada buss Jahannum hai.” – (Surah-e-Hijr, ayah 41-43)

  •  (“Lord said: This is a right way with Me: Surely. as regards My servants, you have no authority, over them except those who follow you of the deviators.  And surely Hell is the promised place of them all”)
**These true believers are beyond Satan’s reach. He does not have any authority over them. They are purified souls who love Allah (SWT) and His cause and are steadfast on the straight path that reaches Him. Thus if we wish to remain guided we need to seek guidance from them. That is why Allah (SWT) has referred to them as Zikraa lil Aalamin. 

Normally in our day-to-day life whenever we are not sure of anybody’s identity we try to search his lineage or his family tree; by doing this we get enough information of his pedigree and we are then sure of his identity. In this case let us follow the same procedure to establish the true identity of these steadfast believers:

  • “Aur (wo waqt yaad dilao) jab Ibrahim wa Ismail Khana-e-Ka’aba ki buniyadein buland kar rahe the (aur dua) maangte jaate the ke Ae Hamare Parwardigar hamari (yeh khidmat) qubool kar beshak Tu hi (dua ka) sunne wala (aur usska) jaanne wala hai.(Aur) ae hamare paalne wale Tu hamein apna farmabardaar banda bana aur hamari aulaad se ek giroh paida kar jo Tera farmabardar ho.” – (Surah-e-Baqra, ayah 127-128)

  •  “(And when Abraham was raising the plinth of the House with Ishmael, (he prayed): "Accept this from us, O Lord, for You hear and know everything; And make us submit, O Lord, to Your will, and our progeny a group submissive to You. Teach us the way of worship and forgive our trespasses, for You are compassionate and merciful)”

The above ayahs refer to the incidence when Ibrahim (A.S) and Ismail (A.S) were raising the plinth of Ka’aba and praying simultaneously to Allah (SWT) to accept their services. They also prayed that their progeny should include a group of people who are submissive to Allah (SWT) and thus are His true believers. Thus we may conclude that this group of steadfast believers is from the progeny of Ibrahim (A.S). 

In order to further substantiate our inference, let us see one more ayah from Surah-e-Aale Imran:

  •  Tum kya achhe giroh ho ke logon ki hidayat ke waaste paida kiye gaye ho. Tum logon ko achhe kaam ka to hukm karte ho aur bure kaamon se rokte ho aur Khuda per Imaan rakhte ho aur agar ahl-e-kitab bhi isi tarah imaan laate to unke haq main bahot achha hota un main se kuch to imaandar hain aur aksar badkaar”. – ( Surah-e-Aale Imran, ayah 110)

  •  “(You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah; and if the followers of the Book had believed it would have been better for them; of them (some) are believers and most of them are transgressors.)”

As per the above ayah these believers are the best of the groups which have been raised for the benefit of mankind. They enjoin right and forbid the wrong and remain true to the cause of Allah (SWT). Hence they are the best guides who need to be followed to accrue benefits. 

In the Tafseer-e-Suyuti a tradition of Ibn-e-Abi Hakim is mentioned which quotes Hazrat Abu Jafar that the best of the nations mentioned in the above ayah are the Ahl-u-bait (A.S) of the holy Prophet (SAW). (Ref: Tafseer-e-Suyuti, Vol 2, P 64)

The Ahl-ul-bait are the best creations of Allah (SWT) and they have been created for the benefit of mankind and thus they are to be followed to seek guidance. In the prominent books like Sahih Muslim and Sahih Tirmizi there is a tradition from Saad bin Abi Waqas; according to this tradition during the revelation of Ayah-e-Mubahila, the holy Prophet (SAW) called Imam Ali (A.S), lady Fatema (S.A), Imam Hassan (A.S) and Imam Hussain (A.S) and said ‘O Allah, these are my Ahl-ul-bait. (Ref: Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2. P 287, Sahih Tirmizi).  

**We can thus infer from the above contemplations that the holy Prophet (SAW) and the people of his household (Ahl-ul-bait) are the best of the creations. They are steadfast on the straight path and are true believers of Allah (SWT)’s cause. They have been created for the benefits of the mankind and hence they are the reminder to the nations (Zikraa lil Aalamin) which the above mentioned ayahs of Surah-e-Anam (ayah 89-90) refer to. 

Now let us contemplate on the ayah from Surah-e-Sa’afat that refers to the trial of Ibrahim (as): 

  •  Us main shak nahin ke ye yaqeeni bada sakht aur sarihi imtihaan tha aur Hum ne Ismaeel ka fidya ek zibhe azeem (badi qurbani) qaraar diya. Aur Hum ne unka achha churcha baad ke aanewalon main baaki rakkha hai ” – (Surah-e-Sa’afat, ayah 106-107-108)

  •  “(Most surely this is a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a Feat sacrifice. And We perpetuated (praise) to him among the later generations)”

As per the above ayah it was a manifest trial for Ibrahim (A.S) to sacrifice his son Ismail (as). Allah (SWT) thus tested the willingness of Ibrahim (as) in following this Command and then Allah postponed the event and exchanged it with a much Greater Sacrifice (Zibhe Azeem) for some other time.  

This ayah always makes me think that why only Ibrahim (as) had to undergo such a trial? Why Allah (SWT) did not test any of His other Prophets in a similar manner? There is no explanation for this anywhere but we will try to address the query in the light of contemplations on a few ayahs. 

And for this let us now see one more ayah which is a proof, a Quranic endorsement of the piety and purity of the Ahl-ul-bait. We might get answers to our above queries of trial of Ibrahim (as) when we see the following ayah on Ahl-ul-bait (as) and relate the same with the above ayah. 

  • “Ae Paighambar ki Ahl-ul-bait Khuda to buss yeh chahta hai ke tum ko har tarah ki burai se door rakkhe aur itna paak rakkhe jitna paak rakhne ka haq hai  - (Surah-e-Ahzab, Ayah 33)

  • (“Verily, Verily Allah intendeth but to keep off from you (every kind of) uncleanliness, O ye people of the House, and purify you with a thorough purification.”)

Allah (SWT) has promised the Ahl-ul-bait that He wishes to keep them clean and pure from all kinds of filth. They are purified with a thorough purification such that they are the peak of piety. Now before we relate this with the trial of Ibrahim (as), let us go back to the ayah of Surah-e-Baqra (ayah 127) - which we have already referred to in the earlier section. As per this ayah Ibrahim (as) and Ismail (as) were raising the plinth of Ka’aba with the prayers that Allah (SWT) should include a group of true believers in their progeny who are submissive to Allah. Allah (SWT) accepted their prayers and the holy Prophet (SAW) and his holy Progeny (as) were born in the lineage of Ibrahim (as). But before doing this Allah (SWT) made Ibrahim (as) undergo a manifest trial to test his faith and willingness since Allah (SWT) wanted to ensure that the pious Mohammed (SAW) and Aale Mohammed (SAW) should have an equally flawless lineage. This is how in my opinion the trial of Ibrahim (as) can be explained. 

Also the great sacrifice which is mentioned in the ayah of Surah-e-Sa’afat (ayah no. 106-108), which got postponed for later generation is indeed the greatest sacrifice of our beloved Imam Hussain (as) and his household at the battlefield of Karbala. (Ref: Meraj-un-Nabuwat, P 35) 

Again if we relate this with the trial of Ibrahim (as), we can further infer that since the Greatest Trial of Karbala was to happen in the history of Islam and there was nobody who could have faced this trial the way Imam Hussain (as) and his holy household did by sacrificing their children, brothers and everything which they had for the sake of Allah (SWT) and Islam; Allah (SWT) made Ibrahim (as) undergo the trial and when Allah was thoroughly convinced about Ibrahim (as)’s willingness in sacrificing his child - Ismail (as), He assigned Imam Hussain (as) in his lineage and granted his prayers of having true believers in his progeny, a prayer which he made while raising the plinth of Ka’aba.

**In the light of Holy Quran we have understood the prominence of the holy Prophet (SAW) and his holy Progeny (as) in our lives. Let us see few other references now:

The holy Prophet (SAW) has said that:
  •  “No one shall be able to move from his place of reckoning on the Day of Judgment until he has stated four things: how he spent his life and his wealth, and where he got it from --- and he shall also be asked about the love of the Ahl-ul-bait.”

(Ref: This tradition has been recorded by Tabrani from Ibn-e-Abbas and from him Allama Suyuti and Nabahani in their Ehya-ul-Maiyyit and Arba’een and many other Ullema have also recorded it.)

Abu Abdellah Al-Sadiq (PBUH) said to Fadil:

  • Do you sit and talk about us?" Fadil said:" Yes, may my soul be yours!" Imam said:" Indeed, I love those gatherings so commemorate our matter; Allah has mercy on those who commemorate our matter. O Fadil! Whoever mentions us or hears someone mention us and then a tear as small as a fly's wing comes out of his eyes, Allah will forgive his sins even if they were as much as the foam of the sea."
          (Ref: Al-Bihar vol.44 p.282, Thawab Al-Aamal p.187, Al-Awalim p.527)

Allah (SWT) has created the Ahl-ul-bait (as) so perfect that they are Zikraa lil Aalamin as we have proved through various Quranic ayahs. Our inference of they being the best guide is further vindicated by prominent Islamic researchers as they have said that:

·         “Whatever did the Progeny of Mohammad (SAW), they did it in the best way” 

       (Ref: Saheeh Muslim Vol 1 P 266)
When anyone reaches the peak of perfection in the area which he represents he becomes synonymous to his field, this is what we discussed in the introductory section of this article. The holy Prophet (SAW) and his holy Progeny (as) represented Islam with such perfection that they became synonymous to the faith and religion. The great saint and an ardent lover of Ahl-ul-bait (as) - Khwaja Moinnuddin Chisti (R.A) got inspired by Imam Hussain (as) and wrote the following eulogy in praise of the great Imam:  

“Shah ast Husain, Badshah ast Husain – (King is Husain, Emperor is Husain)
Deen ast Husain, Deen Panah ast Husain - (Faith is Husain, Guardian of faith is Husain)
Sardad na daad dast dar dast-e-Yazeed – (Offered is Head, against his hand to Yazid)
Haqqa key binaey La ilaah ast Husain.” - (Indeed Husain is the foundation of La ilaha)

** Finally we can conclude that the holy Prophet (SAW) and his holy Progeny (as) are the best of Allah (SWT)’s creation and hence they are as important as the holy Quran in our lives. While Quran is the Commandment of Allah (SWT) the Ahl-ul-bait (as) are the guides to be followed to understand Allah’s Commandments. The way Quran needs to be recited on daily basis we need to remember them on daily basis in our gatherings and ponder upon their lives and teachings. So let us pray to the Almighty Allah:

“O our Lord, after showing us the light of guidance don’t let us go astray and provide us with firm resolve so that we may remain steadfast on the straight path. Shower us with immense love of the Ahl-ul-bait so that we may be rightly guided and become capable of understanding Your Commandments. Aamin.”

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hearty Mart: Endearing Success of a Small-Town Retailer

FEATURES/Work in Progress | Nov 7, 2012 
An Ahmedabad entrepreneur finds that villages want supermarkets as much as cities do
Hearty Mart: Endearing Success of a Small-Town Retailer
Image: Alok Brahmbhatt for Forbes India
Nadeem Jafri, Hearty Mart, Juhapura, Ahmedabad
February 2004 was not the best of times to start a business in the Juhapura neighbourhood of Ahmedabad. Two years ago, the city had been gripped by the worst communal riots in its history.

Following the bloody riots in Godhra, Juhapura swelled with refugees, pushing its population up to about 5 lakh, making it the largest Muslim neighbourhood in Gujarat.

In the meanwhile, Nadeem Jafri—tired of his five-year stint at ad agency Grey Worldwide’s Mumbai office—got an itch to start something of his own. Enamoured of a Big Bazaar outlet in the same building as his office in Mumbai, he quit his well-paying job and returned to Juhapura to start a supermarket. Jafri says he considered starting a restaurant and an advertising agency, but discarded the ideas as they would not have given enough returns to investors.

Despite the pervading gloom over Juhapura in February 2004, Jafri opened Hearty Mart, a supermarket at Vishala Circle, on the edge of the neighbourhood. He did not consider its vast Muslim population to be victims and refugees, but potential customers with aspirations like anyone else. And there was no organised retailer catering to their needs: Although there were other superstores, such as Reliance Fresh and Big Bazaar, in Ahmedabad, none had ventured into restive Juhapura.

“Mine was a Blue Ocean Strategy,” Jafri says, between mouthfuls of fried rice and chicken at a Mainland China outlet in a tony mall in the heart of Ahmedabad. The phrase refers to uncontested markets as blue oceans. Apple is a classic blue ocean company.

But, unlike Apple, which created an entirely new market, Jafri only identified an untapped one. He did not create it, but certainly benefitted from the hesitation of others to enter it.

Jafri bet on his relatively prosperous Chilea Muslim community to support the venture, and raised capital from friends and relatives. It helped that his uncle Syed Mushahid Husain Jafri was the head of the sect. 

Chilea Muslims—they are Shias with a Sufi tradition—hail from the northern and central parts of Gujarat. Originally a farmer community, they have become a dominant presence in the region’s hotel business and run about 500 restaurants, mostly along highways. They have a string of restaurants in Ahmedabad too.

Jafri says that although no one from the community was killed in the 2002 riots, 90 percent of their hotels and restaurants were gutted and most of the people moved to Juhapura. Jafri had counted on them to form his client base. Yet, after about eight months, he was hunting for a job to support himself.

He left the day-to-day running of the store to his colleagues and took up a job selling space at Times of India and, later, returned to Grey Worldwide. He also started teaching advertising and organised retail at business schools such as Proton Business School, NRIBM and MICA.

Hearty Mart used every tactic in the book, such as customer loyalty programmes and home-delivery services, to raise its bottom line, but progress was very slow. It required sales of Rs 3.75 lakh a month to break even, and it was proving to be a stretch.

That was when Jafri started Hearty Mart (HM) Enterprises, a wholesale supplier to hotels, which would become the backbone of the group. He rightly reasoned that since his community was running hotels, it would be easy for him to get their business. The community’s experience also helped him find people who understood the food and grocery business.

The backward integration paid off. Soon, HM Enterprises was throwing up cash, and its scale was helping Jafri stock Hearty Mart at much lower costs, thus increasing margins.

Around this time, Jafri met Wazir Ali and Hussain Abbas, two entrepreneurs who had started Ashish Enterprises, a supplier to highway hotels. HM Enterprises was still focussed on Ahmedabad.

Ali and Abbas proposed a merger and Jafri accepted on the condition that they would help build HM Enterprises into a food company with interests in the entire farm-to-shelf value chain.

One day, Hemant Trivedi, then a professor at MICA and with whom Jafri had written a case study of Hearty Mart, wondered why he did not expand to villages. Jafri said he did not have the capital. Trivedi, who teaches retail business, suggested franchisees as a solution.

“Here was a business model that did not require high standards of education or skills. An owner-franchisee would be more involved,” says Trivedi, who is now director at the School of Petroleum Management, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar.

This set Jafri thinking. “HM Enterprises was making delivery runs to supply highway hotels. It could deliver to franchisee stores at a marginal cost,” Jafri says. By then, he had also set up another company, HM Logistics, which took care of distribution.

In 2007, Jafri set up the first franchisee store in Illol, a large village surrounded by a number of smaller villages. Here too, connections within the Chilea Muslim community helped. Shabbir Bhai, a manager at Ahmedabad’s Hearty Mart, was from Illol, and he found two brothers—Mehndi and Mehmud—who volunteered to start the franchise.

“My focus is on creating entrepreneurs,” says Jafri, who does not solicit franchisees. “They should feel the need in their locality and come to us. They should be convinced about the business model.”

Hearty Mart charges a one-time fee of Rs 15,000 from a franchisee. There is no royalty in the first year of operation, and from the second year it is 0.5 percent of profits. Hearty Mart franchises have two kinds of stores: The walk-in supermarkets, and over-the-counter stores called Saral, which sell similar merchandise but the stores are smaller in size and cater to smaller villages.

In Dholka, one of the oldest municipal towns of Gujarat, Hearty Mart’s fancy tomato-red signage (called Hearty Mart Sankalp) certainly stands out in the narrow, crowded lane.

“The biggest competition here is over local brands, because other kirana stores give hefty discounts on them. So, to beat them, at times we sell them at actual costs. But our profits come in from other branded products that they buy,” says Sadiq Ali, a former employee of Hearty Mart, who is now the largest shareholder in the Dholka franchise.

Dholka is the shopping centre for the 30 villages that surround it, and store shelves are a reflection of local aspirations. They are stocked with global brands such as L’Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, Dove, Pears, Maggi and Sugar Free, alongside local brands and Hearty Mart’s own Chef Ki Pasand spices and Day Break tea. Jafri created Chef Ki Pasand as a wholesale brand that he supplies to restaurants, but it now competes with brands such as Badshah and MDF.

Hearty Mart just opened its 12th store in Dholka, its second largest after the one in Ahmedabad. It is housed in its own 13,000 sq ft building, constructed at a cost of about Rs 1.25 crore. The capital for the project came from Hearty Mart, Sadiq Ali and several employees of the company who bought small stakes.

Each venture in the Hearty Mart group is run by a different entrepreneur. Typically HM Enterprises holds about 25 to 30 percent stake, and the rest is distributed among those who run it.

Jafri says this is what keeps them committed, and keen to develop the business. “One of the things that Hearty Mart did was to discover the latent entrepreneurial talent in villages, particularly within the Chilea community,” says Munish Alagh, post-doctoral fellow at IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Management of Agriculture. Alagh, who has documented the Hearty Mart story in a case study, says one of the reasons for the community’s success is their pragmatism and culture of service.

Like all supermarket chains, Hearty Mart’s success also lies in its ability to source products at low costs. The scale of purchases helps chains such as Big Bazaar and Reliance Fresh, or international ones like Walmart and Tesco.

But the size and scope of Hearty Mart stores cannot bring in the cost advantage. HM has gotten around the problem by integrating a wholesale supply business to the retail one.

The opening of Hearty Mart at Vishala Circle in Juhapura also helped change the perception of the area. The store became a landmark of sorts at Vishala Circle, which, until then, was a nondescript bend on the Sarkhej highway. “It was something that was identifiable with the rest of Ahmedabad, and was not available in Juhapura,” says Alagh. Soon, a bus stop for private bus operators developed near Hearty Mart and Axis Bank opened an ATM at the store. A property developer is now building an upmarket residential complex opposite the shop. A Mumbai-based restaurant chain has also opened an outlet near it.

For Nadeem Jafri, the challenge now will be spreading to areas where the community is not strong or present at all. There is still some way to go before Hearty Mart can saturate northern and central Gujarat, and the region itself may give it enough heft to become an end-to-end food company.

(Additional reporting by Alok Brahmbhatt in Ahmedabad and Dholka)

This article appeared in Forbes India Magazine of 09 November, 2012

Nadeem Jafri's super market, a hope for people in gloom

 Sat, Feb 02, 2013 at 15:50

This week CNBC-TV18’s special show, Young Turks highlights the achievements of a 41-years-old, who would not strike as a quintessential entrepreneur.

This week CNBC-TV18's special show, Young Turks highlights the achievements of a 41-years-old, who would not strike as a quintessential entrepreneur. After studying retail management, Nadeem Jafri, Founder, Hearty Mart spent years in the advertising world in Mumbai until 2002 Gujarat riots that led him to decide to give his corporate career a pass and turn entrepreneur.

He set up Hearty Mart with the idea of giving people of Gujarat the experience of a super market and today Jafri has created hope where earlier there was only despair.

February 2004 may not have been the best time to take the entrepreneurial plunge in the Juhapura neighbourhood of Ahmedabad. The nightmare of the worst communal riots that Gujarat saw eclipsed normal life.

Juhapura became home to 5 lakh refugees making it the largest Muslim neighbourhood in Gujarat. Thousands of kilometers away in Mumbai, Nadeem Jafri grew weary of his job at an advertising firm and decided to take the entrepreneurial route. Enamored by a Big Bazaar experience in Mumbai, Jafri decided to start-up Hearty Mart, a super market at Vishala Circle on the edge of the neighbourhood.

Jafri saw opportunity where others saw only despair. He bet on his relatively prosperous Chilia Muslim community to support the venture and raised capital from friends and relatives.

Yet after eight months, he was back to looking at classifieds.

Jafri said that was in 2004, for around eight months I was in sabbatical. I was working with an advertising agency called Grey Worldwide for almost six years. I left the job and started my Hearty Mart in Juhapura, Ahmedabad. For eight months, I worked nowhere. Once I felt that my team is well-equipped to run the shop, I quitted and rejoined Times of India as a marketing manager and later on I was called back by Grey Worldwide to work with them again. Any business takes its own time to turn into a profit-making unit and Hearty Mart was no exception.

But like any fledgling start-up, progress was slow. Having used every tactic in the book including customer loyalty programmes and home delivery services to make profits, Hearty Mart still required sales worth Rs 3.75 lakh a month to breakeven and even that was proving to be a stretch.

That led to the birth of Hearty Mart Enterprises a wholesale food and grocery supplier to hotels. Jafri’s argument was that since this community was running hotels, it would be easier for him to find takers. The gamble paid off and sent the cash registers ringing.

Not just food and groceries, Jafri has also taken Hearty Mart down the route of logistics and tea production. Hearty Mart Logistics works as a stockist for popular bakeries around Gujarat and Day Break is the Hearty Mart tea brand being sold both off shelves and to hotels and restaurants. In the pipeline is also Jafri’s own food label Good Time.

Jafri said that he also launching his own brand.

Jafri highlights the challenges of setting up his first venture.

Jafri said, since we started Hearty Mart in Juhapura, it was the area which was supposed to be a negative area, non-business friendly and took us a lot of time to convince suppliers to even come to us. There were get-togethers, which we organised, even the Vishala Circle where the Hearty Mart is located, a newly developed area and the residents had come from other areas. So, they were never patronizing the locality and hence they never patronized our store.

And patience does pay. Jafri’s initial capital of Rs 62 lakh has now seen a return of Rs 15 crore. Jafri tells us the differentiator came when he decided to take the franchise route and in 2007, he set up Hearty Mart’s first franchise store in Ilol, a large village surrounded by plenty of smaller villages.

In doing so, Jafri empowered several entrepreneurs from his community. Hearty Mart’s 11 franchise shops are in Dholka, one of the oldest municipal towns of Gujarat.

Charging a one-time fee of Rs 15,000 from a franchise, Jafri takes 0.5 percent of royalty on profits from the second year onwards.

Jafri said that they had one case study in Juhapura. With this learning we went there, we trained them. In fact, in certain cases all franchise owners were called at my shop, they were trained on modern techniques of organised retailing like operating computers and analyzing data and even negotiating with vendors and that helped us a lot.

Sticking to his belief that the franchise route is the way to go for Hearty Mart, Jafri now wants to bring Hearty Mart to neighbourhoods in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. He knows challenges will now be capturing other demographics and blurring the lines of cast and religion when it comes to his customer base. But for this avid blogger, a Pan India presence is the ultimate dream.