Lockdown Economy Nepal in Handcrafted and Customized products Business with Kushal Karmacharya
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 Kushal Karmacharya, the Director of Namaslay Artisans which is a DIY and customized products offering company in Nepal. They are all about giving a personal touch to everyday products and decorative items. We talked about the problems Namaslay Artisans faced during the lockdown. The pandemic hit very fast and they were not prepared for the lockdown. They faced issues in managing their sales and their team. In the first two weeks of the lockdown, they were optimistic that it would end fast and they could get back to work. But when it extended, they were demotivated. They decided to come up with alternative strategies. They contacted their customers who placed orders from them and told them their products would be delivered after the lockdown. They introduced a custom furniture brand for people who were working from home during the lockdown. They are about to launch a store where people can view their custom products and order according to their demand.
Could you introduce us to Namaslay Artisans?
Kushal: Namaslay Artisans is an e-commerce business that was established in 2018 with a vision to provide customized products. Most of the products are handmade. Our first platform was Instagram and then we moved to Facebook. We have been operating locally from Lalitpur. We are mainly focused in Kathmandu valley. We have used two languages for our logo, Nepali and English. Nama is the Nepali part which is short for Namaste. Slay is the English part which means we make our products perfectly. Our motive is to promote local products in local and international markets.
How was your business performing before the lockdown?
Kushal: We had sustainable growth. We were expanding our team and locations (physically and virtually). We were also increasing our product line. The sales and business operation was smooth as we planned.
What kind of problems did you face during the lockdown?
Kushal: We were having sustainable growth and we did not expect our business to go through a sudden interruption. We have been facing a lot of problems in managing our sales and our team. It affected our vendors as well. When the lockdown happened, we were totally blank for the first week. We started planning for what we would do after the lockdown. We thought it would only last a few weeks but it was extended. We were motivated until the second week but when we entered the third week of the lockdown, we were demotivated as we started to think it was not going to end soon. After a month, we started looking for some backup strategies. We connected with our existing online customers and told them we would be back with more products. We were getting orders but we were unable to deliver them.
What interactions did you have with your customers and team during the lockdown?
Kushal: We informed all our customers that their products would be delivered as soon as the lockdown was lifted. But most of the products that are ordered take 3 to 7 days to make and deliver. But we did not know when the lockdown would end. We told our team that when the lockdown would be lifted, there would not be as much free time and we would have to work 24/7. That would be a challenge. We were working from home and we were focusing on plans to make our customers happy. We were constantly in touch with our stakeholders as well. After the lockdown was lifted, we worked really hard to make and deliver all the products within 2 weeks.
What strategies did you adopt during the lockdown to stimulate your business? What worked and what did not?
Kushal: We collaborated with 12 startups and entrepreneurs. That was very helpful. Everyone was facing similar issues. We thought the collaboration would be much better than the competition. We even collaborated with our competitors. We gave the message that we were in it together and we would rise from it stronger. The most positive thing to come out of the lockdown for us was a new product line, Namaslay Décor. We were thinking of alternatives to sustain our business. We asked ourselves what the customers would need during the lockdown. We figured everyone was working from home and they would need comfortable furniture. A necessity in the mother of invention. So we hopped into the décor segment. We started with a small bookshelf. We already had a wood factory before the lockdown. We experimented with it during the lockdown. We got a very positive response from our customers. We had about 200 queries regarding the new line. The challenge was to deliver them. We delivered them between the two lockdowns we had in Nepal. A new line and a new customer segment was the outcome of the lockdown. However, there was one strategy that did not work. We introduced various offers during the lockdown. But it was not effective because we did not realize that people did not have a lot of spending capacity at that time. We were promoting the same products we had before the lockdown but our customers were not interested as the scenario had changed. This taught us not to focus on products that would not be of much use to the customers during the lockdown. Our products needed to be changed.
Now that the lockdown has been eased in Nepal, how is your business performing?
Kushal: In the time between the two lockdowns, we were preparing for the second lockdown. The odd/even rule (traffic rule where vehicles with odd license plate numbers could drive only on odd dates and even plates on even dates) was hampering our sales and deliveries. We managed more vehicles so that we could operate both days. Since safety is a major concern as well, we started sanitizing all our products. We are now packing products that we did not used to pack before the pandemic. Our delivery persons started wearing PPE. We incorporated online banking and online payments. This made our customers feel comfortable. We are adapting to the situation.
What is the outlook for Namaslay Artisans for the coming months?
Kushal: We are about to launch our new custom store at Soalteemode (a place in Kathmandu city). There will not be any product you can buy but you will be able to come in and examine the samples. Customers can plan what furniture they need for their room and then order the products.
What are the three things in your business that you need help with?
Kushal: Firstly, we need support from the local market to save local brands. Secondly, a collaboration between us, our customers, government and all our stakeholders is necessary. Finally, we need financial support from investors and ease of tax from the government. All small businesses, startups and the overall economy need these things to sustain.
About the guest
Kushal Karmacharya is a young entrepreneur by passion and founder of various organizations. He used his entrepreneurial instincts to actually create something out of his idea which is how he came into existence in the deliberately growing & modest entrepreneurial ecosystem of Nepal.