Once upon a time, in a quaint little neighborhood, Mr. Sharma opened his tiny hole-in-the-wall sweet shop. His wife was an excellent cook and made fresh mithai with real ingredients every day. They made sweets and later namkeen with perfection using the best of ingredients and love to feed others. Needless to say that in a little while the shop started doing brisk business. Reasonably priced and yummy, the goodies started flying off the shelves soon. As business grew, Mr. Sharma hired a few people to help in the kitchen and also to procure ingredients. A couple of boys also came and helped at the cash counter. The business grew further.

Dazzled by their success, another similar shop opened next door. Its sweets were not as tasty but they offered huge discounts. Initially some of Mr. Sharma’s clientele tried out the neighbor’s goodies but were lured back due to the original store’s taste and quality albeit at a higher price. Mr. Sharma’s friend who was in Marketing offered Mr. Sharma some suggestions to increase his sales and stay competitive. So the shop expanded, got a fresh coat of paint. A section spilled onto the pavement and had chairs and tables to seat people. They also added to their menu items that they did not cook themselves but outsourced. And as the prices of ingredients rose, Mrs. Sharma was asked to reduce the quantity of mawa and milk and pure ghee in the sweets. The oil for namkeen was now used till it got grimy. More cooks were hired and Mrs. Sharma now supervised rarely. All these initiatives rewarded Mr. Sharma handsomely. He started making more money, selling more mithais and namkeens and making more profit.

This continued for a year. But the sales then started dwindling. People moved away to the many new shops in the neighborhood that offered the same fare. No one asked for Mrs. Sharma’s yummy jalebis, kalakands, hot gulab jamuns or fresh-off-the-oven Dhoklas anymore. Though old timers still smacked their lips reminiscing flavors long gone. Now in their place were beautiful mithai that tasted nothing like the original, real things! Mr. Sharma was flummoxed. He did everything right! His shop looked beautiful. He even had Bisleri water for his customers and fly traps to keep the place clean. The chairs were new and glitzy and his boys wore a smart uniform. He had got a lovely new neon board installed too. He had paid good money and yet his ware was increasingly being sidelined?

Do you know where Mr. Sharma was going wrong in his chase of volumes and higher profits? Do you see this happen often around you? Do let me know in the comments.

40 Thoughts on “The conundrum of success!

  1. He compromised on quality, the very thing that got him success in the first place… His definition of success changed ..He focused on everything apart from the crux of the matter, the sweet in the sweet shop!

    Nicely written Rachna…

  2. he focused on expanding but in the way lost out in quality, the very thing for which he was initially better than others, which was his edge ..

    oh yes this happens and old places looses charm quite often..

  3. Well! I think he started chasing success. They were doing what they loved and the results showed. Later they started running after “success” which narrowly defined means money. So thoughts of reducing quality to provide the product at a lower cost came into picture.

    When the volumes increases, the housewife cannot handle the cooking duties alone, as it becomes a burden. The moment you don’t enjoy, things start going downhill.

    To start with they were happy. For some happiness in itself is a success. They were creating an excellent product. They thought otherwise, as many people think success means money. One should realise that painting a house or building extra rooms etc can be done by borrowing money as well. That shouldn’t be used to define success. Similarly running promotions can give a spurt in traffic, however, that is not permanent and shouldn’t always be equated with success. At the end, the man and his wife were disillusioned, probably sad, envious of other shops, and may be hating God asking why they have got into bad times.

    If you are in pursuit of excellence, then money, customers, name, fame … ie everything else comes to you. Name, fame, money etc are by products. The question is whether we need to chase the core value of excellence or the by products? Do you treat the disease or its symptoms? Choice is upto us.

    • You said exactly what I was grappling with when I wrote this story. Thank you for your detailed comment, Sabyasachi. Always a delight to hear your balanced views.

  4. Ah! Rachna! Wrong Marketing lessons for today 🙂 Don’t you know that you on;y have to sell the sizzle today – the steak is irrelevant? 🙂

  5. Sad reality. But don’t think Mr. Sharma could have avoided the situation. Tough to maintain quality with growth. If he had opted not to grow some bigger chain might have tried a hostile take over bid. So eventually the world would have forced the Sharmas to lower quality and fall in line with the rest.

    • I slightly disagree. I think Mr. Sharma lost focus of his USP. Of course, growth is bound to compromise on quality somewhat. But if he had focused on Mrs. Sharma training his cooks and keeping a stringent control on the ingredients then this could be avoided. We know that even one store can maintain uniformity across other branches if authenticity of recipes is maintained. I guess it is for the Sharmas to know first of all what is that in their business that actually makes them the leader and ensure that that element is never compromised.

  6. Very true. A marketing question though on the face, seems to be for yester-years, still packs a punch for today’s enterprises in their quest to retain loyal customers. Something which every industry needs to be introspect on and understand that ‘quality’ is not just a buzzword for quick profits.

    • I agree, Ash! I actually used this story to point at to “back to basics” even for other fields including creative ones. Often the glamor associated takes one’s attention away from the talent that got one the adulation in the first place.

  7. We get to see quite a bit of this nowadays. Compromises made in their chase for profits…

  8. Yes true, Ilakshee!

  9. This is true of almost all industries today. Focus shifts from quality and effectiveness to all the glam sham that can possibly surround it. If only Mr. Sharma had not gotten greedy, a day would have arose when he would have outshone all… with his sheer focus on quality.
    I personally think riches and success is always a byproduct of what we do, it should never become the crux of it all..

    • Absolutely, Seeta! In our greed for profits and success we often end up neglecting what made us what we were. We see it in every sphere of life.

  10. Interesting scenario. And not too dissimilar from what many people who compromise on quality,experience today. We have seen it happen even in blogging and writing. People suddenly start looking for hits and the shortcut to success and fall flat on theit face. Eventually 🙂

  11. The originality, the quality it all went away because of greediness. It is ok to make money, but it is also important not to forget the reason behind the money that was earned initially.,

  12. Have to completely agree with what Seeta and Sid mention in their comments. The moment quantity takes precedence over quality, the overall perception of the product suffers.

    Take the example of blogging itself, the moment we start writing geared towards hits, we might hit a windfall initially but if our posts are not good enough, in the long run, these hits will peter way eventually. Won’t they?

    Nice anecdote to highlight an important marketing lesson.

    • Absolutely true, Jairam! I think it applies to blogging, competitive sports, and other creative pursuits as much as it does to this story. As a matter of fact, it even applies to simple things like our relationship with our loved ones. Often, we neglect the core and try to compensate with add ons that just do not work in the long run. Thank you for reading!

  13. In an attempt to make more money, quality was compromised. In the long run, I believe, it’s the quality that makes a product successful, not quantity. I loved how you have explained the idea.

  14. I say, let’s just ask Amit Sharma directly when we meet him on the 6th. Aakhir maajra kya hai?

  15. ummm…ham kya bole? everyone has said almost everything 🙂

  16. This is regular story for most set ups, sadly! Very rarely do shops/organizations stick to the quality and standards they started with!!

    • Some actually grow and offer the benefits of cheaper supply to the customers by giving the same quality at low costs. I guess somewhere we all are judging these providers for quality versus price and taste in case of eateries. It is important to keep a handle on these while still growing.

  17. Seriously, I think only Mr. & Mrs. Sharma can answer this question. Only the owner of a business knows what pressures (s)he is under. It’s very easy for knowledgeable outsiders to offer expert advice, but it’s the owner who takes the risk.

    When I worked for someone else, I could never understand why my employer made certain compromises. I learnt the reasons only after I started my own business.

    We all speak about how quality should never be compromised, but how many of us can truthfully state that we have never compromised on quality when we have faced some big pressures?

    • Proactive Indian, your point is very valid. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, moreso for people looking in from outside. Yes, the local conditions can vary and could have forced them to take the decisions they made. My point in sharing the story is not to pass value judgments on them but as a reiteration to myself and others that we must introspect and go back to our compass of quality and value more often than not. We can easily relate to this even in service organizations or even something like blogging which is a hobby for most. Thank you for reading and sharing your view.

  18. It is happening all around us. Compromise on quality comes easily.

  19. janu on April 2, 2014 at 8:45 pm said:

    People always compromise on quality. We might crave for a meal at a restaurant or try a different cuisine but at the end of the day nothing can beat home cooked meals that is made from love.

  20. Rahul on April 3, 2014 at 11:26 am said:

    The greed for money leads to overlook the quality! In real life enough examples of downfall on similar lines, Rachna!

  21. I know a little food joint that had the same fate as Mr. Sharma’s mithai shop. This place I am talking about, was a takeaway place on the roadside serving Chinese fare. It was very popular. Everyone from truck drivers to people driving fancy cars stopped there, bought stuff and drove off. It used to do brisk business. Then one day, we saw this place turning into a fancy restaurant, styled as little huts. Since we liked the food there we decided to try it out. The first visit was good, but the second was disappointing, service was shabby, the food even worse. They must have been in loss. Now they have scrapped the fancy huts and made it a simple restaurant that no one visits. I wish it had remained the takeaway place it was. 🙁

    More than greed, I think it’s over-confidence and bad decisions that leads to this.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, DC. Yes, business that way is extremely volatile and sometimes the soundest of decisions may backfire.

Do not leave without commenting. I love a good conversation :).

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