`There is a perception that Amma Naana is an expensive shop. It is not. We sell all the Indian brands at the MRP rates mentioned on the packaging. Imported items are priced depending on the costs incurred in procuring them~, says Senthil Raj, the CEO of Amma Naana, the stand alone department store well known for stocking imported brands of a variety of products. The store is located on the intersection of Chamiers Road and Boat Club Road facing the Crown Plaza Hotel ( the old Park Sheraton).
Amma Naana was started by Mrs Raja Mani an aunt of Senthil in the year 1971, 11 years before Senthil was born. Her husband V.R.Govindaswamy was also a partner in the venture. It was a milk depot occupying only 500 sq.ft. Sale of vegetables & grocery were added later by acquiring additional shopping space. To cater to the growing demand for imported items by the elite residents of the neighbor hood, the shop also started stocking imported items, sourced from other local shops which were already selling these items. As the business grew, the family started `Amma Wines`, which not only sold IMFL brands but also stocked popular foreign brands of liquor, procured from official sources.. This section was closed when the Government of Tamilnadu decided to take over the sale of Liquor under the TASMAC umbrella. Today, Amma Nana is a three storied department store occupying 8500 sq.ft of space with limited parking facility.
It was in 2004 , that Senthil was invited by his aunt to join the family business. He had just completed his B.Tech from a college in Coimbatore. Full of ideas Senthil took to the business like the proverbial `duck to water`. In due course, he married his aunt`s daughter Sakthi Devi who is also a partner in Amma Naana. This was also the time when new, national and international brands of department stores were entering the Chennai market. Besides, the city also witnessed the influx of expats from different countries employed by several automobile companies in and around Chennai, who were demanding the popular brands of food ingredients and other products from their countries. This opened up a window of opportunity for the shop. Senthil went around the world identifying original sources for foreign brands in Singapore, U.K. and U.S.A.
`Even if we don`t have a particular item, if a loyal customer wants it, we will try and specially import it to satisfy the customer. Whenever any new brand is introduced in the foreign countries, we will ensure its availability in Amma Naana, simultaneously. Some of the popular imported brands available include Country Kitchen, Hershey`s, Diana of London, Ceylon Tea, Thousand Islands and Starbucks Coffee. Popular product categories are imported Sauces, Jams, Noodles, Butter etc. This kind of personalized customer service has enabled us to build a core of loyal customers` says Senthil. He continued, `on an average 1500 Indian customers and 100 expats visit the shop every day. Home delivery service is offered to customers who place orders for Rs 1000 and above. While 80% of the sales come from customers visiting the shop personally, Home delivery accounts for only 20%. The shop has not got into online sales because of the prohibitive cost of acquiring and implementing the software required for such an effort. Besides, Indian customers still prefer the `touch & feel` shopping experience when it comes to the purchase of grocery and vegetables.` So, the growing phenomenon of online shopping for all kinds of products does not worry Senthil at the moment.
Amma Naana`s growth has come purely through word of mouth advertising by loyal customers. Senthil adds, `We keep in close touch with all consulates in Chennai. Every time a Consul General is transferred, we ensure that the incoming Consul general is informed about Amma Naana . In fact the Korean Government has recognized Amma Naana as one of the best shops for getting the Korean speciality items in Chennai.
`There are plans to open one more shop on the OMR. It will be owned and managed by the management of Amma Naana. We don`t believe in the Franchisee route but are open to investors who are interested in investing in the project` says Senthil. I am sure that the young & dynamic CEO of Amma Naana, with his `Hands on` style of management will make the new venture also a big success.
Edited version of this article appeared in Madras Musings issue dated- 1-15th August,2018