• Thursday, Nov 26, 2020
  • Last Update : 03:26 pm

Is it insane to start a business during pandemic?

  • Published at 12:22 am November 20th, 2020

It was a mix of necessity and opportunity for the new store openings on the commercial stretch of Banani 11

The pandemic has forced many stores to shutter for good. But for Roksana Kaysar Khan it provided the perfect opening to set up a new one.

Primarily a homemaker, she always harboured hopes of becoming an entrepreneur. So in 2017, she started a vintage collectables business called Keepsake by taking corners in Unimart and Wholesale Club in Jamuna Future Park.

But she wasn’t fully satisfied as she could not do the display that her unique products -- which she put much effort in curating -- warranted. She always wished she could have a space of her own but the exorbitant rent in Dhaka city meant it remained a pipe dream.

But it all changed when Kozmo Lounge on Banani 11 permanently closed and that space, all on a sudden, became available to her -- at a much affordable rate. In one fell swoop, her long-cherished dream felt within her grasp.

“It was a blessing from the Almighty,” said Khan, who inaugurated her store on August 28, right in the middle of the pandemic.

Her tastefully-decorated 1,400 square feet store on the first floor of the building has Tiffany lamps, ceiling lights, wall scones, bronzed resins, decorations, jewellery boxes, wall hangings, chess boards, books, stationery, stoles, knickknacks sourced from Italy, India, Greece, the UK, Albania, Turkey, Canada and elsewhere.

Like Khan, Shafaqat Mobashshir, a recent graduate from North South University, could further his entrepreneurial dream thanks to another business, Tasty Tibet, closing in a location a hundred metres or so away from Keepsake on Banani 11.

“There is a great fascination with all things Turkish here because of the Turkish dramas. But there wasn’t any place where you could get authentic Turkish food here,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

And so Durum was born, helped in part by the reasonable rent Mobashir and his three partners could manage for a prominent spot on a commercial boulevard. 

The food stand selling Turkish doner kebabs has gotten a tremendous response in the one month it has been open, said Mobashshir, who quit his job as a marketing executive at an upscale hotel to set up a salad bar in The Garage Food Court in January. He had to fold that business three months later as the global coronavirus pandemic arrived with gusto in Bangladesh.

Each day, Durum sells 300-400 doner kebabs, racking up sales upwards of Tk 60,000.

“We didn’t expect it to do this well amid the pandemic,” he said, adding that they are looking to scale up their operations now.

Like Durum, Yoyoso, a budget South Korean variety store chain specialising in household and consumer goods, located a minute’s walk away from the doner kebab food stand, is off to a flying start after opening its doors on June 1.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Munzarin Zaman, managing director of Yoyoso Bangladesh, whose opening was planned before coronavirus became a global menace.

So much that Yoyoso, which initially faced difficulties in bringing in merchandise from South Korea for the travel disruptions brought on by the pandemic, is gearing up for its second store opening.

On the ground floor of Yoyoso is Roar, a clothing store that too set up shop around the same time.

Like Yoyoso, Roar’s opening was pushed back for the pandemic. But the rent for space was clocking up every month, so Mahir Haroon, chief executive officer of Roar, eventually decide to inaugurate the space by ensuring all hygiene and social distancing measures.

But Roar is not faring as well as Yoyoso.

“Our sales are low,” said Haroon, who is finding running the expenses for the store and the salary of 14 staff quite the challenge.

He is hopeful that business will pick up soon.

“If things go on like this for 6-7 months, it will be tough to run the business,” he added.

A few hundred metres away from the glittering façade of Roar and Yoyoso, at the top of Banani 11, is the glossy new flagship store of Monno Ceramic, which opened its doors on September 18.

The store’s customer foot count has been low.

“The economic situation is not yet stable and tableware is not a necessity during this time,” said Fayez Ahmed, head of retail and branding at Monno Ceramic.

The main challenge has been to get customers to visit the store and then tempt them to buy with products within their budget.

Consumers are thinking twice before buying, according to Ahmed -- a challenge that Keepsake, which sells luxury items, is also facing.

“But we will survive,” said a sanguine Khan.

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