Lockdown Economy Nepal in a Road Safety Gear and Accessories Company with Prarthana Saakha

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Danielle Hormillosa

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Prarthana, the Director of Helmets Nepal which is a company that sells road safety gear and accessories in Nepal. Prarthana talked about the effect of the lockdown on her business. They were completely shut during the first lockdown. Rent and staff salaries were some of the issues. They had to downsize to only 10 employees from a team of 25 employees. But Prarthana believes it was still a productive time as they were able to analyze their company and improve it. They were working from home. The marketing team was publishing creative content on their social pages to engage the audience. They also played fun games among the team members. These activities had a goal to make creative marketing campaigns and tie-ups so that it would be useful once they were back in operation. They are performing well post-lockdown. The overall industry has grown during the time as people prefer two-wheelers now to public vehicles. They have also started a sister company, Tyres Nepal. They will be promoting both companies together in the coming months.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Welcome to the interview series! To the viewers who don’t know Lockdown Economy Nepal, Prarthana Saakha has been helping me out with the interviews since Day One! We’ve been working together on this interview series and she’s been present in every single interview, behind the scenes. Today, she’s in front of the camera — how do you feel, Prarthana?

Prarthana: I feel really good. Finally, we are sitting in this position for an interview and I’m really looking forward to this.

I’m really looking forward to hearing your insights and today, we are going to talk about what your organization went through during the lockdown. But before that, Prarthana, please introduce us to Helmets Nepal.

Prarthana: Helmets Nepal is a one-stop solution for all riding needs for two-wheelers. We started back in 2016 as an emergency delivery company. We were trying to capitalize on the market gap in which people were losing their helmet in the parking lot and we were there to provide emergency services. Upon entering the market, we realized that the actual problem was not about emergency delivery but the product being genuine. We decided to bring in genuine products and sell it so that customers who depend entirely on their helmets while on the road would get a proper product that guarantees safety.

We now sell helmets, jackets, tires, gloves and everything that a two-wheeler rider needs. We have two showrooms, one in Maitighar and another in Tripureshowr. We deliver all over Nepal from our online portal that is www.helmetsnepal.com. We also have a Facebook page and an Instagram account for the business.

Wonderful! Now let’s talk about your team. How big is your organization?

Prarthana: If it was not for the lockdown, we would have been a team of 25, but after the lockdown, we are back to 10.

Thank you for the wonderful introduction to your organization. Let’s move on to the lockdown. We’re going to talk about what your organization went through during the lockdown period. We went through two lockdowns in Nepal and there were a lot of restrictions and people were not allowed to travel from one place to another. What kind of problems did you face in your organization during that period?

Prarthana: We had very strict lockdowns on both periods, but then I remember the first lockdown more than the second one. During the second lockdown, we were trying to operate and find ways where we can go and deliver products. However, the first lockdown was a productive time for us because we were definitely nervous about how we will be doing things because our schedules were all altered and it was a mess. We had rents to pay, salaries to give and payments to be made. It was a mess for us, but then we also had time to step back from the operations and think of the company as an outsider, what is being done and what can be done better. It was a good time to reflect. Our operations were completely shut down. We were trying to work from home; only the marketing team was working daily while the rest of the team was having weekly or bi-weekly meetings.

During the first lockdown, we tried to come up with some fun things to do at home for our team members. The majority of our team is composed of younger people and they are very motivated to be around and present in our space. Even during their off days off, they come to the showroom and interact with customers; they love being in the showroom. When they had to stay home, it was very troublesome and disturbing for them. One of the first things we did was a photography challenge for our entire team. For 14 days, we were given a theme by the human resources department. We were taking photos, posting them and voting for the best picture of the day. The next thing we did was a meditation and yoga session in the morning for three to four days, but no one showed up! Then, we came up with a game that was a mix of creativity and strategy, where we asked our team members to be creative in making ads and representing Helmets Nepal, and identifying potential collaborators. We were getting ready to go out in the market and perform better than we did before. This is how we spent our first lockdown.

The second lockdown was more about trying to do more and reach out to our clients. Our industry was given bottom priority by the government in terms of being permitted to operate. First priority was given to the health industry and then to food, clothing and automobile accessories. We were not even on that list so we had to struggle and the second lockdown was all about that experience.

Definitely, it was very difficult for a lot of organizations. As you said, there were tiers given to different industries about how they could operate during the lockdown, or if they could even operate at all! Right now, let’s talk about the strategy some more. You’ve already talked about what you did inside the organization, but what kind of strategy did you try to stimulate the business itself?

Prarthana: The lockdown was like a semi-vacation for us. We engaged the team by playing games, although our marketing was very active. They were promoting games and playing with the customers to make sure our audiences on Facebook and Instagram were still engaged with us. We understood that it was not just us who were bored but also our customers, so we designed special games or them. Every team member logged into our Instagram account and played individually with customers. We did that as well as took orders and delivered essentials like masks and goggles.

Were there any strategies that you tried that did not work for you during the lockdown period?

Prarthana: During the lockdown period, we tried to sneak out and deliver masks and goggles, and almost got caught, so perhaps that answers your question. During the lockdown, we were receiving orders for masks and goggles for wholesale and we also received requests from hospitals and individuals for bulk orders. Therefore, we thought we should invest in this because, after the lockdown, the COVID-19 will still be present so these products could be our next top sellers. We ordered a huge amount of goggles and masks. Unfortunately, our goggles did not meet the standards and we had to pile them up and they are still with us, going out one by one. It was like a cash freezer for us.

Alright, so now let’s talk about the stakeholders of the organization. I know that there’s a dedicated communications team in your organization. What kind of interactions did you have with your clients when you were in lockdown?

Prarthana: When we went through lockdown, there were initially not many customers asking about prices or placing orders. Most of our communication with customers was through playing games with our team members via our social media accounts. We were more focused on brand presence and we wanted to make sure our customers remember us. Despite their boredom, they loved to learn about the safety gears that we were selling and interact with us. We focused more on giving our customers fun content rather than pushing the product onto them.

Let’s talk about your competitors. Earlier you mentioned that your industry was placed in the lower tier when it came to operations. Overall, how did the industry approach the lockdown then?

Prarthana: Being very specific to automobile after-sales, businesses in my industry generally have a shop and the Facebook business page where they are very active. A difference that I notice is that our business promotes our brand and engages with our customers, while others are pushing products to clients. They come up with different products and sponsor ads; it was all around the product. Meanwhile, we are trying to connect with our customers on an individual level. That was the difference I saw.

Overall, the market for two-wheeler vehicles has definitely increased after the lockdown. People don’t usually feel comfortable being in public with many people anymore, so the quickest and cheapest alternative is to travel via a two-wheeler. The market is growing and thankfully our sales are going up as well.

As you said before, people still do not want to come in contact with other people. We’re still in the pandemic. Vaccines are pending and we still don’t know how effective it’s going to be and how well it would be distributed. The era of social distancing is still there and that’s why people are choosing two-wheelers over public vehicles. Since we’re in the post lockdown period now, how is your organization performing in this situation?

Prarthana: Post-lockdown, we are doing well. We had to cut down on our team to 10 members, but the entire industry has grown so we are also doing well. It has been good for us so far. We also came up with a new venture, a sister company, Tires Nepal. Thanks to the first lockdown, we had time to reflect and realize that with Helmets Nepal people don’t usually come for tires and this new venture could also be useful for four-wheelers. Overall, post-lockdown has been good for the company.

Perfect. I know a lot of entrepreneurs talk about this; instead of looking at the negatives during the lockdown, a lot of entrepreneurs use their experiences positively to take a step back to analyze their organization, see what they’re missing and add that to their organization. I’m happy that you brought up that point as well. Now let’s talk about the future of Helmets Nepal. Where do you see Helmets Nepal in the next three months?

Prarthana: In the next three months, we will be continuing what we do right now. We have started being more customer-centric. We will also be working on Tires Nepal and promote both companies side by side.

Prarthana, this has been a wonderful conversation and I only have one more question for you. What are the three things in your business that you need help with?

Prarthana: That’s a good question! The first thing that I need help with is injecting more money into the company, getting more funds to help the company grow faster. The second one is receiving support from the general public for small and medium businesses. If they provide rent for small or medium-sized enterprises, maybe they could cut down on rent as well as other costs in order to help businesses. I could only think of those two right now.

Alright! Thank you Prarthana for this insightful conversation. I had a wonderful time and I hope that you had a lot of fun as well. Before we sign off, would you like to say anything to our audience?

Prarthana: I wanted to say that the lockdown was definitely a chaotic period for everyone so we had a choice to either sit and complain or find opportunities in the chaos. If you choose the latter, it would benefit you personally, your company, the society, your community and the whole nation. So focus on the opportunities available. That’s all!

About the Guest

Helmets Nepal is a one-click platform for all kinds of helmet and safety gears. Technological revolution and growing e-commerce have encouraged them to create a ‘one-stop’ digital platform for bike lovers. They sell “fashion with protection” ensuring quality and promising reliability.

Prarthana Saakha is the Director of Helmets Nepal. It was established in 2016. Prarthana is a student of business, sociology and gender. She is involved in Youth and Women Empowerment as well.

https://www.helmetsnepal.com/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.