Innocuous, small, and yet not wallflowers. That's the Kolhapuri shops on S D Road for you. There are 9 in all, and it may seem hard to swallow but their competition with each other makes them better businessmen and better people.
What's selling shoes got to do with being a better person? Well, we'll come to that. What would you say if I were to tell you that these shops have been here from the past 35 years and look at their craft as a reason for their business's longevity? Raised eyebrows still? Okay, I'll explain some more.
These people who own the small stores are actually a big part of the lives of their customers, and part of Hyderabad and Secunderabad's consumer-history. They were here much before complexes like Swapnalok were being built, so they tend to regard the big malls as a fairly recent fad. Wonder what the mega-mall owners would say to that?
But the dedication they have towards building and maintaining relations with their customers is obvious. Since a majority of the customers are old regulars, they are greeted by name, and any new people they send along are treated with a lot of respect and care. Very khandaani in style, when you think of it.
These nine stores (Minar, Sona, Star, Saawan, Reliance, Style, Selection, Popular, Royal) all share the same last name of Footware, and have owners who feel bound together not only by trade but also by camaraderie. I was told that if they ever decide to branch out, all nine of them would do it together because they feel each one is beneficial for the other's business just by being around. Strange tradesman logic, but hey, there's a steady stream of customers lining up outside each store. What do you say to that?
Each store gets its stocks from Patiala, Jaipur, Kolhapur and even Hyderabad, and all the owners are unanimous in saying that they don't want to mess around with new fangled designs because Kolhapuris are meant to look a particular way, be worn by particular kinds of people. Since those people still abound, these tradesmen do not want to disappoint their customers, and keep true to the tradition of the Kolhapuri style of dressing up the feet.
But they are not insensitive to their more, erm, choosy customers - viz women - and are glad to indulge them by dyeing their shoes in whatever colors they want, in accessorizing with their outfits. All this for a minor cost (just Rs. 5 - Rs. 10 at the most!). And you have to hear the prices to believe them. Where else do you get genuine cowhide leather chappals for just Rs. 150 - Rs. 450?
They also admit very candidly that they had a reason for keeping the costs low. Most of their old faithfuls choose to wear their Kolhapuris on a daily basis. Add that to the rainy reason, and you have shoes whose lifespan is 3-4 months at the most. But then it calls for a trip to the store again to get kitted out for the next few months. An arrangement which seems to suit the vendor and customer remarkably well.
Regarding their customers, they feel a kind of pride when they narrate that people come walking to them as well as drive up in big cars just to get that touch of ethinicity and authenticity! And to be able to cater to their customers all the time, they have a rota system where one store will be kept open on a Sunday so the harried weekdayers can become leisurely weekend shoppers.
But they do feel that the children of today don't really like to wear Kolhapuri chappals, and it's only their parents (well, fathers mainly) who form the crux of their business. But it is hoped that even they will come around and get into the feel of wearing Kolhapuris and become loyal customers themselves.
From Kolhapur to Hyderabad, it's been a long and fulfilling journey for sure!