It is said that the degree of success in business is proportional to the risk-taking acumen of the businessman. For years, no one thought of starting a business in Juhapara, Ahmedabad – possibly India’s largest Muslim ghetto. Following the bloody riots in Godhra, Juhapura swelled with refugees, pushing its population up to about 5 lakh. In February 2004, Juhapura was gripped by the worst communal riots in its history.
Despite the gloom over the neighbourhood, Nadeem Jafri was willing to risk that venture. The disillusioned ad professional quit his Mumbai agency job and moved back to Ahmedabad in 2004. The same year, he founded Hearty Mart, a retail grocery store at Vishala Circle, on the edge of the Juhapara.
A first-time entrepreneur, Jafri did not consider Juhapara’s vast Muslim population to be victims and refugees. Instead, he thought of them as potential customers, with aspirations like everyone else. And there was no organised retailer catering to their needs. Other superstores in Ahmedabad, such as Reliance Fresh and Big Bazaar, quietly ignored restive Juhapura. “Gujarat had seen the worst, I thought,” says Jafri, “Isse zyada kya bura hoga? I’m an optimistic person and I took the plunge.”
Of course, the initial days presented a lot of setbacks, but Jaffrey had the ‘first-mover’ advantage. “I didn’t even break even for three years. I was making a loss of over Rs 20,000. But I was persistent and decided to stick around. I started earning profits in the fifth year of my business,” recalls Jafri. From 1 store in Juhapura to over 10 retail chains in Gujarat; Hearty Mart’s secret ingredient is community funding.
“To run a Muslim business in Gujarat requires patience, immense patience. Like anywhere else, people are hesitant to give you business. But eventually, you make a name for yourself and gain trust. Today, I have Hindu business partners, several Hindus hold senior positions in my organisation. Our franchise in Morbi has been bought by Patel businessmen who are into ceramics. It’s all about business and money,” says Jafri.
With a preference for hiring freshers, Jaffrey’s business model is entirely based on interpersonal relationships and the values that shape a community. On the store’s first anniversary, he sent a packet of sugar to all his customers, along with a signed letter that acknowledged their support and expressed a desire to continue the “sweet relationship”. He was aware of the importance attached to sugar in the area. The gesture indeed made a positive impact on footfall.