Chennai: Cracks in the cracker business

Apart from the difficulty in pricing, this year shop owners also found it hard to get their license on time. The registration was open online and most of the shopkeepers found it tough to apply.
(Photo | P Jawahar)
(Photo | P Jawahar)

CHENNAI: As the gloomy clouds threaten to burst, and fog envelops Chennai, the decorations in the streets and homes put up for Deepavali illuminate the city. The intermittent downpour does not mar the festive preparations. After the lull due to pandemic, markets have bounced back with cracker stalls being set up in every locality. But now there are protocols to be followed, and many who switch businesses and turn cracker sellers during the festival, have hit a roadblock.

Chain-link of business
The majority of the suppliers come from Sivakasi. Vetrivel, a native of the district, sets up Dhanalakshmi Crackers in Velachery every Deepavali to continue to be a part of the supply chain and develop the family business. “I was born and brought up around firecrackers. I was involved in business activities from my childhood. My in-laws have a production unit and my family is into supply and export,” says Vetrivel who expanded his business operation to Chennai seven years ago. He made the move due to two reasons. One, Chennai is a bigger, profitable market, and two, to get feedback from consumers on how new crackers can be packaged and to stay updated with the demands.

He notes that over the years the quality of fireworks has changed. “Because of the environmental and other concerns raised, the colours pop out more than the sound from the crackers. The emission of smoke is lesser. This way damages are in control and the excitement stays intact,” he claims. Vetrivel also makes sure that his employees are not minors, fire extinguishers are installed, gloves and masks are provided to the workers and the manufacturing takes place in an open ground. “There has been no significant drop in the production and the use of firecrackers, at least in Chennai, for the last 10 years. If there were a decline, then people wouldn’t be making money from the business,” opines Vetrivel.  

On a similar path is KR Anandan, a realtor who has been wearing the hat of a cracker seller during the festival for the past 15 years. “Starting a firecracker shop helped me get along with people who could be potential customers for my main business (real estate),” he says. Anandan makes sure to be on top of the game to provide services that satisfy the needs and wants of the buyers. To keep up with the trend, he has imported crackers that are packaged like popular chocolates like Kinder Joy and Dairy Milk, and animals like dinosaurs. “All this is to entice the kids. Everybody should burst crackers, not just kids, because it has chemicals that kill mosquitoes and other poisonous insects which are in high number during this time of the year. Our ancestors made customs with a purpose,” says Anandan, adding that the tradition of bursting firecrackers was to escape certain organisms that emerge during the rainy season. 

On the business front, Anandan clarifies that though profits are recorded, the sellers are not able to sell out the crackers' stock. “For the last three years, the stock has been repeated. We store it in our warehouse and put it for sale next year at a discount,” he says, adding that the profit margin is dropping because people are aware of the pricing as most brands release price lists on their websites. 

Challenges this season 
Apart from the difficulty in pricing, this year shop owners also found it hard to get their license on time. The registration was open online and most of the shopkeepers found it tough to apply. “Usually, the license is issued a month in advance. This time it was just a week before the festival,” says Balaji, who runs a gas service business rest of the year. 

The reasons for the delay were the number of accidents, the increase in protocols like shops had to be set up only in open grounds, and not near any residential complex or restaurants, a specific number of workers to run the shop, etc. 

“The accidents have caused a chain reaction. Delays in license, increased restrictions, and the prices of the products have gone up to 10 per cent,” adds Balaji who set up the store on Monday, ruling that the business has not been great. 

With so many hurdles along the way, Sheikh Mohammed, a vegetable vendor who turns a cracker salesman during Deepavali, says, “Putting up a cracker shop has been a tradition in the family. My father started it to support our seven-member family and now it is continued by my brother and myself.” The practice is paused this year because of the protocols.

While only a few sellers could set shop this year, and that too a few weeks late, they are gearing up to face the next challenge of sales and earning the money invested, if not making a profit. 

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