Lockdown Economy Nepal in an Online Retail Platform for Local Brands with Sachin Shrestha

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Sujan Lal Manandhar

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 hosted by Sujan Lal Manandhar, we meet Sachin Shrestha, the Co-Founder of The Local Project Nepal which is an online and retail platform for local Nepali brands. The platform is dedicated to startup brands and artisans of Nepal with sustainable and ethical productions. We talked about the problems The Local Project Nepal faced during the lockdown. They were not prepared for the first lockdown. Rent and Staff salaries were the biggest issues they faced. Working from home was also a challenge since they operate a physical store. They had to pay their staff a partial salary. The worked on software which was integrated to their website that helped their staff to work from home. They were better prepared for the second lockdown. They will focus on digital marketing by developing their webshops and improving their website in the coming months. They will also work on collaborating with other brands.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Could you introduce us to The Local Project Nepal?

Sachin Shrestha: The Local Project Nepal is a platform for local/native brands where we market their products in a physical store. These brands are usually young startups. We started inside a restaurant (Evoke) in Lalitpur in April 2017. We are now located both in Lalitpur and Kathmandu (both cities are in Kathmandu Valley). My partner and I founded this company and we were the only team members. Currently, we are a team of seven. We have been getting a good response from our customers about how we are helping bring young startups to the spotlight.

What was your inspiration behind starting this company?

Sachin Shrestha: I have a background in a similar sector. My father was involved with such businesses as well. I have been very enthusiastic about local products ever since I was a kid. I have seen how garments factories are managed. My academic background is not related to art and crafts but after my Bachelor’s Degree, I joined a company that manufactured designer bags for a few Japanese companies and some in Europe. I learned a lot at that company. I also started aspiring to do something of my own that I was passionate about. At the time, my friends who started Evoke Café had some empty space within their premises and that’s where this concept emerged. We were energetic to show people how good Nepali brands are. The sad thing is that great things are being manufactured in our country but they are always exported. People have the perception that Nepal made products are always cheap (less than NRS. 500). We wanted to change this perception and tell people that there are manufacturers in Nepal whose products sell abroad for thousands of dollars. The local market is not aware of it. Hence we were really selective about the products we wanted to display in the shop. A very big challenge since the beginning has been to inform the customers why certain products cost more than others.

What kind of problems did you face during the lockdown?

Sachin Shrestha: We suffered as many other companies did during the lockdown. Since the lockdown in our country was very strict, we could not operate our business in any way. We are a physical store and we have certain fixed costs. The biggest challenge was the rent. The first lockdown was announced very abruptly by the government and we were not prepared. The second biggest challenge was paying salaries. We are active members of our company so we take the salary for our work as well. But we could not pay the salaries. We had to tell the staff that we could not give them 100% salary for three months but they did understand the impact the first lockdown had in our business. We managed to give them a partial salary. We also could not shift to work from home system because we are a physical store. We work with more than 40 brands in the store. We are the selling point for most of these brands. So if we were closed for months, they would get affected too.

Did you reach out to your customers during the lockdown?

Sachin Shrestha: Communicating with our customers was difficult initially but we adopted a different approach later. Online communication was the only way to interact with our community. In the first phase, we posted about a few products on social media but we felt it did not connect with the situation we were in. As the lockdown was very strict, we could not simply resort to promoting our products. We took a different approach to communicate with our followers. We started telling people how they could use some of our products in a sustainable way. Sometimes we did not even incorporate our products and simply told people about how to live sustainably. I sometimes snuck out of my home during the lockdown and brought some of our products back. I did some photography to show people how to use those products at home.

What strategies did you adopt during the lockdown to stimulate your business? What worked and what did not?

Sachin Shrestha: We were better prepared for the second lockdown. Firstly, we built a second website because of some problems with our first one. Between the two lockdowns, we integrated software with our new website and trained our staff to work from home. We built a very user-friendly software and our staff adapted to it after only 4–5 days. Secondly, we showed the customers how the pandemic affected the brands we work with and what strategies they used to cope with the lockdown. We posted some testimonials and we did live sessions as well. We also tried to collaborate with a few food brands, organic fruit juice and organic peanut butter brands. We showed the benefits of using these products to boost immunity. It helped a little bit but moving to the food segment would have been a big step and we were not confident about it. There were also many other companies emerging in that sector. We were going to expand to other food categories as well but we stopped it because we felt we were moving away from our core business idea.

What did your competitors do during the lockdown?

Sachin Shrestha: I am glad that I am in a circle where even my competitors are my close friends. Rather than competing, we interacted during the lockdown and did live sessions together. We talked to people about the problems we were facing. We discussed why a company like ours is important to the economy and why it is important to support local business, especially at this time.

Now that the lockdown has been eased in Nepal, how is your business performing?

Sachin Shrestha: It’s not as bad as it was two months ago. The sales and walk-ins have both picked up. We were hopeless after the first lockdown but thankfully we have sustained till now. The past few weeks have been great. The months from October to December is usually our best period in a year in terms of sales but this year has a significantly lesser amount of sales. However, with the situation we were in during the lockdown, it is motivating to see people realizing that they need to support local businesses while the economy is in such a fragile state.

What is the outlook for your company for the next three months?

Sachin Shrestha: The first three months of next year will be quite slow for us. For now, we will focus on finishing our webshop. We are behind our schedule on that. It has been a challenge to invest in digital marketing because we have a small profit margin on our products. We need to improve our website. We have thousands of products and uploading every single one has been time-consuming. We will also work more on collaboration with other brands. We have some products of our own in the pipeline.

What are the three things in your business that you need help with?

Sachin Shrestha: Firstly, we get a lot of queries from Europe, Asia and the USA. Shipping at an economic price has been a challenge. The products end up costing double their price and the customers are hesitant to buy them. I need help to find a way to reduce shipping costs and sell at retail. Secondly, we lack marketing in international markets. We get queries to work with brands abroad but it has not clicked. We hope to work with a shop like ours abroad and sell our products in other countries. Finally, we need investment, especially for digital marketing. That is a huge cost for our company. It includes a digital marketing team for content writing, video shoots and photography. We have a very limited budget for this but we have tried our best to come up as a presentable brand digitally. We really want to scale up as a webshop.

About the guest

The local Project Nepal is a platform for native and indigenous products, whereby customers are given direct access to a diverse range of locally made items. While one of their key aims entails providing customers with high-quality, locally sourced and sustainable products. The Local project Nepal is also driven by the desire to aid the growth of the local market and to provide local artisans and entrepreneurs with sustainable livelihoods.

Sachin Shrestha is the co-founder of The Local Project Nepal, an online and retail platform dedicated to startup brands and artisans of Nepal with sustainable and ethical productions. Sachin is also a production manager with ‘Tale of The Future’, a UK-based lifestyle brand producing plastic-free and vegan products. Prior to these ventures, Sachin worked with and experienced a variety of garment factories in Nepal and was exposed to the negative reality of the industry. This has led the young entrepreneur to explore and work with environment-friendly productions and ethical companies.

Website: https://localprojectnepal.com/

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