Having begun his business with an ordinary ‘single shutter’ Bhat-Bhateni Cold Store in 1984, Min Bahadur Gurung has transformed it into a
leading supermarket and department store chain that enjoys an annual turnover of around Rs 2.5 billion. Having recently opened a new store at Koteshwor and with three more in the pipeline — two in the valley and another in Pokhara, Gurung, who is also the chairman of Kumari Bank Limited is blazing a bold path. The managing director of Bhat-Bhateni Departmental Store spoke to Surendra Tandukar of THT Perspectives about his ambitious expansion plans. Excerpts:
You are expanding aggressively despite the adverse business environment in the country. How is this possible? What is the competition like?
It is obvious that shopping malls are mushrooming in the valley and it is a good sign of urban development. Our conventional ideas,
patterns, behaviour, and lifestyle are gradually changing. When it comes to market competition, we believe in healthy competition for a healthy business environment. After all, healthy competition benefits all concerned parties, including farmers, consumers and businesspersons. Of late, however, the market is getting more competitive after the commencement of numerous shopping malls and departmental stores. Today, the market competition is tougher than ever before.
What inspired you to enter the retail business? As a person who began from scratch and went on to build an empire, what management mantra do you follow?
When I first began the business, there was no one to inspire me. Hailing from Khotang, I had to do everything on my own, as there were no kith and kin to support me. After completing my post graduation in Economics, my wife and I decided to open a small cold store in Bhat-Bhateni. With our hard work, undivided dedication and honesty, today we have succeeded in growing our business to this level. Therefore, I believe that anything done with a pure heart and honesty pays back one day.
When retail businesses are facing numerous challenges, why have you decided to expand? How bad is the situation that retail business faces?
I agree with the fact that retail business is facing a tough time. Today, the country is going through a transitional phase and almost all the sectors are facing a critical situation. Being a responsible businessperson, I think it is our responsibility to help the nation overcome this adverse situation. For this, I have dared to expand other projects to at least contribute a bit in mitigating unemployment and maintain a healthy business practice by providing proper service to the public and tax to the government. However, in our experience, we have been witnessing a trend of annual growth in our business. In one way or the other, there is some impact of the nation’s economic and political situation of the country among consumers, which in turn affects the business.
What were the major difficulties you faced in your business? What are the problems being faced by the industry as a whole and what do you see as the solution?
At present, we are not facing any such really major difficulties. Even though some difficulties have arisen, they were minimised and solved somehow. Labour issues are one of the most hindering factors to run a business in the country, while political instability can be attributed as the major cause for all adversity. So, first of all, the political situation of the country has to be solved and other things will fall in line thereafter.
What is the awareness level of your customers regarding your products?
Nepalis are gradually becoming conscious and aware about shopping and buying the best quality commodities. I was pleased to see a huge crowd thronging the premises of the store during the inauguration of the new Bhat-Bhateni store at Koteshwor. That was an assurance for me that we do enjoy the loyalty of our customers. We do not compromise with customer service and thus have maintained good customer care desks, effective customer satisfaction teams as well as well trained sales people. Furthermore, we hope to uplift and improve on these so that we can ensure convenience to our customers and facilitate them better.
What made you consider ambitious expansion plans in and outside the valley? What other fields do you find it worth expanding to?
As per my study, the market outside the valley is also an admirable one. The market in places like Pokhara, Itahari, Narayanghat and Butwal are remarkable business areas to start projects. Even the valley still has a lot of business potential. Thus, after expanding with the new store at Koteshwor, we are planning to open one in Chuchepati of Bouddha on July 12 and another in Krishna Galli of Patan on July 15. Similarly, we are also taking Bhat-Bhateni to New Road of Pokhara this December.
Nepal is an agro-based country. There is no option except for industrialised development of agriculture for the rapid development of the nation. Thus, I am eager to venture into the field of agro products such as fresh fruits, dairy products, vegetables and poultry farms. I am also very determined to generate employment opportunities for as many as 50,000 people within 15 years from now.
How practical is it to achieve this target within 15 years? Also, won’t the employment be only for semi-skilled people?
I am determined to accomplish my aim to create 50,000 job opportunities within the next decade and a half. For this, my business venture into the agro products sector will be important. There I will need a huge number of employees to help run the business at different levels. In the meantime, I think, we will need various types of human resources, which will comprise different levels of skilled and semi-skilled employees.