CHENNAI: We sold 64 saris and dispatched 53 couriers today. The count never remains constant and the whole business is unpredictable,” says Shanmuga Priya while attending to her constantly buzzing phone flooded with messages from customers and clients across the globe. The founder of Unique Threads, an online network started four years ago, hardly has time to breathe.
Despite having a team of eight staff, the business demands her to be on her toes round the clock. She quit her job as a HR professional and started a sari retail business through WhatsApp in March 2014. What started out as a small-scale business with immediate family members and friends as customers now boasts thousands of women resellers who are the breadwinners of their family. Priya’s pillar of support is her husband Hari, who works as a senior manager in an MNC. They live in Kovur and have a four-year-old son. Priya works out of her office on the first floor of her house. “My work begins at 7.30 am when I start responding to queries. The staff members start coming in by 10.30 am.
Each one is assigned a responsibility. One takes care of that day’s orders, tracking couriers, connecting with customers, checking the quality of materials and picking up stock for the day. Around six in the evening, we dispatch the courier. We wrap up by 8 pm max. I spend some time in clicking pictures of sari and salwar materials nearly styled on mannequins to give a professional look. We’re after all dealing with textiles that people would like to touch and feel. So, photographs play a huge role in attracting clients and matching up to their expectations. It has been days since we had a leisurely lunch. We are pressured for time always and I’m dysfunctional without my phone in hand,” tells us Priya, who calls her late mother-in-law an inspiration.
Priya caters to clients in foreign countries like Malaysia, Singapore, the UK and the US. Unlike e-commerce portals, WhatsApp does not offer an automated response to customers. Priya has to be on phone 24*7 due to different time zones. She talks to people on speaker mode while continuing her online interactions with clients. “The field is very competitive. Initially, I had to read about different fabrics in the textile industry to get a hang of it. Mass marketing of a particular design makes it a trend. I travel to places like Erode, Jaipur and northern parts to pick up materials. We brought in Kalamkari when it was in the nascent stages. I deal with manufacturers across the country directly, compare the prices and pick up the best. People want a variety and presentation is very important. Festival season is our peak time,” she shares.
She deals with around 257 retailers on 12 WhatsApp groups. Either housewives take this up as a full-time profession or college students take this up as a part-time job. “Even the smallest amount of marginal profits these people make is a huge deal to them. I’m glad that several women are financially independent through this occupation. We have women from all walks of life who purchase. The rates are flexible too. I picked up the secret of the trade with time,” she shares.For details check their Facebook page Unique Threads Sarees
Creating a buzz online
Shanmuga Priya started a Facebook page for resellers called WhatsApp Saree Sellers that has more than 70,000 members. She deals with around 257 retailers.