I came to have this thought for a long time. How retailing strategy is being implemented in the Kathmandu’s valley for handicrafts and crafts goods. I thought of this evolution, from my own point of view, from my experience of being here in Nepal and having done some comparison between 2011 and now. I am not expert in all the places, neither I was there in the 70s / 80s for the start of the Fair trade movement in the Valley or for the hippies in the 60s. Thamel area as well had its own time that it just starting booming with all the crafts and then came later the Lazimpat area.
The Traditional shops
What I know and what people told me, while I met several CEO’s and managers of Fair Trade Organisations at the time of my master thesis research, is that yes, they had received great support from the UNICEF, Oxfam programs and it became actually a good success. Sana Hastakala, one of the pioneers, has been self-financed after 2 years of its creation. Association for Crafts Producers was as well able to build up on communities training and selling at the export level. The retailing for this industry set up its expertise and office in the famous line of Kopundole, Lalitpur. Most of them, have the shop on the ground floor and their workshop upstairs or around in the same area except for ACP (Dhukuti shop) or SABAH which is based in a large compound in another area of Kathmandu and Lalitpur.
While now, visiting the old Patan, you will find great shops which belong to independents. They usually have their little workshop on top of the same building or nearby in the Patan area. Before the earthquake, I remember visiting a great workshop of machine and hand knitting. You will find still Kumbeshwar Technical School being based in the same office and the workshop and quality control right upstairs and one building aside their office. There is Yala Mandala which has a combo of a restaurant and the shop. Their workshop for paper, buttons, screen print are not also too far from the shop.
From my experience, back in 2011 at Sana Hastakala. I tried to convince the CEO to rearrange the shop. Have less stuffs or have those but maybe a little more organized. I asked to have white or colored cupboard and furniture for display but from his point of view, it should be just black so the dust doesn’t come on it…The problem was also the space. Yes we need to sell fair trade handicrafts but we need to keep some space for production on the first floor…Where the light is also better for the employees. I wished at this time that we would elaborate a strategy, a layout as per the IKEA theme but some elements would not match together…We came at the end to have a good display for the bed covers, table covers and the rest was displayed on shelves.
Then came to me another retailing experience to be developed. This time for SABAH Nepal and its first store in Kopdundol, in 2013. This time, this is a different scenario, a different strategy. It implied to develop a clothing retailing layout : racks, mannequins, stages, fitting room. All this was new for me but we all worked together and we could not this time, have a the same shop as the others handicrafts shops of the line.
In the traditional shop, we also find the ones which are not producing the crafts but are collecting from everyone and putting things together in one store. We do recognize the crafts that you would find from the same producers of fair trade shops : mithila, books, lokta paper cards… When we usually enter in these shops, it’s not really organized but we find it fun to have so much choices around you. You may also think that the stock management must be a nightmare for the managers…
Following this evolution of retailing, and when I got back to Nepal in 2016, this is when I realized that a lot of individuals, entrepreneurs starting their own brand, working with producers, artisans to develop their own collection and sell themselves to the national and international market. I realized this when I visited for the first time, one of the Art Market taking place at the Yellow House, organized by Image Ark, a creative design studio based in Patan. The Art Market started in 2015 and aims at showcasing artists and entrepreneurs being fond in art and crafts. It became then a new upcoming retailing channel among the traditional shops.
Markets are also one of the retailing channel which work pretty much in Nepal. I guess and I am afraid it is becoming saturated as in 2011, we had 2 main Christmas markets (classic GiZ one and another which would be set up in the Hotel Himalaya or Summit). Last year, I was able to find 9 of them! (what???). The Art Market has also been copied in a various ways in restaurants and bars around Lazimpat and Jhamsikhel in Lalitpur.
And then, came a more modern way of retailing with the Concept stores. Putting brands together with their stories, understanding each area and expertise of each organisations and telling about the stories behind the crafts. I believe from the Art Markets exposure, some others entrepreneurs thought they should have also their own highlight in one shop. Now, we know : The Local Project Nepal, Timro shop, One Tree Shop.
Regarding online selling website, it is growing and many companies are trying to enter this market…I had to meet a lot of them while I was the marketing manager at SABAH. It was difficult to start with them as they would be very much disorganized. They all aim at a quick profit and quick return without much push and work on communication campaign. The whole operation and back office work was messy since they couldn’t understand themselves on how to be organized. So I would say that a few online shops are good and know how to operate (usually the first in the market) and the remaining one, are still young or are collapsing after a few 6 months…
I guess that I will update this article in the coming months as the crafts markets are really evolving. Now more of the brands have their own shops : Kolpa, Alchi, Littles things…Maybe an upcoming articles talking about it !