Originally printed in the December 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Growing ethnic retailer makes headway in suburbs by offering quality, low prices and hard-to-find items.
A foray into India Market in Shrewsbury, MA, tantalizes the senses with the aroma of exotic spices and a visual explosion of color. This growing family-run business started more than 28 years ago within a much smaller format. “I had one 400 square-foot store in Waltham, MA,” says Yousuf Bokhary, president of India Markets. “The store eventually grew to 10,000 square feet.”
The family now owns and operates three stores: the Waltham store, the larger 43,000 square-foot Shrewsbury store (opened in 2014), and a new location in Orange, CT. The success of India Market is its multi-ethnic appeal, as well as great customer service. “Our biggest base is the Indian demographic but we cater to other cultures as well,” says Bokhary. “This includes Hispanic, various Asian ethnicities and a host of Middle Eastern cultures.”
The newest locale in Connecticut opened this past July, boasting 50,000 square feet with an almost 10,000 square-foot produce department. “We opened this store to cater to the demographic of various ethnicities growing in this area,” says Bokhary. “This store’s appeal reaches into Massachusetts and New York, as well. Since we’ve been open, we have seen tremendous response and success. Like our other stores, this store allows our customers to find all their needs under one roof.”
India Market has become a destination for a variety of ages. Bokhary reports the store locations have a lot to do with the type of customer they draw. “The Shrewsbury store caters more to families because it is a suburban store,” he says. “In Waltham, we have more of a family and student mix because of the universities around that area.”
In addition to a wide variety of produce, India Market offers customers Halal meats, frozen and shelf-stable items and a huge selection of spices — all with a multi-cultural focus. “We have our own private label, the Godavari brand, in spices, rice, lentils and a few other products,” says Bokhary.
The store is known for a commitment to understanding and meeting the needs of customers. “We guarantee the best products at the best prices,” he says. “Furthermore, we cater to every need. India Market has always strived to keep the high standards our esteemed customers expect and ensure each store maintains quality, variety and savings for our customers.”
Produce occupies a crucial role in the business. “It is the lifeline of the store,” says Bokhary. “It only takes up around 10 percent of the store square footage, but it is the biggest draw for our customers.”
In the Shrewsbury store, the produce department is approximately 2,500 to 3,000 square feet and its percent contribution to overall sales of the store is between 30 and 35 percent. The store carries approximately 300 SKUs in produce, on average, ranging from staples to hard-to-find exotics.
Bokhary reports placing great emphasis on the variety and quality of produce the store offers. “We pride ourselves on being able to offer what our customers want in ethnic fruits and vegetables,” he says. “It is all driven by our customers and what they demand.”
In addition to low pricing on regular produce items, the store offers a significant assortment of specialty items. “In our produce department, we sell products customers can’t find in other markets such as fresh turmeric,” says Bokhary. “And, we carry those all year long.”
India Market sources close to 70 percent of its produce from the New England Produce Center. “It is our major source for product,” says Bokhary. “We do source direct for some items, especially particular ethnic produce that may not be found as easily on the wholesale market.”
Bokhary values the long-term relationships he has established with merchants on the wholesale market. “They have seen our growth from a small store to now,” he says. “I used to go there in a minivan and buy for my first store. Now, we have trucks pulling loads every day from there. There is a sense of loyalty and getting good deals there.”
Open Market Feel
The enormous Shrewsbury produce department has the luxury of large, ample displays of produce. “All our stores are designed to allow the customer to move freely among the products and ensure a comfortable shopping experience,” says Bokhary.
The store uses islands and free-standing displays dispersed throughout the department to create this open, flowing environment. Some products, such as grapes or apples are presented in 25-foot-long wooden display racks on wheels. Other items, including citrus, mangos and cantaloupe, make use of wooden pallets with the shipping boxes placed on top for a “fresh from the shipper” feel.
Smaller quantities of specialty or ethnic items, including herbs and greens, are showcased in plastic bins or crates. Signage is consistent among all the displays, with crisp white “India Market” price signs clearly displaying the product name and price.
The produce department is bordered on the right by a food court consisting of a number of vendors at food stalls or service counters. “Meals are ordered at one of the vendors and then carried to a common dining area or can be taken out,” says Bokhary. “We want to create a place where customers can shop, eat and enjoy.”
The store changes the produce department layout periodically, particularly to highlight seasonality. “The amount of space in the Shrewsbury stores means we have more flexibility for changing up displays,” says Bokhary. “We try to highlight good buys at the entrance to affect purchases.”
However, Bokhary reports the store intersperses good values throughout the department. “We spread sale items throughout the store so customers find sale items wherever they shop,” he says. “This also encourages them to shop the whole department.”
Low Price, High-Quality Strategy
India Market only uses in-store promotion. “We don’t really need to advertise,” says Bokhary. “Instead, we put all our marketing resources into lowering price. Customers know what we have and have the confidence they’ll find a good price here. They know they can find regular items here but at a better price than the local supermarket and they know they’ll find additional items they can’t get at the local supermarket.”
The store places great emphasis on training and education of personnel. “One of the unique qualities of our stores is that we educate our employees not just in one department but in all areas of the store,” says Bokhary. “We teach them and then promote them to give everyone an opportunity to grow. We want our employees to work in and run the store as if it’s their store.”
Bokhary notes all of India Market’s employees know how to maintain the produce department well. “They know when to cull and how to handle the items,” he says. “Our customers are well-educated about quality, what they want and what they should pay for it. So, we must have well-trained employees, because the customers have high expectations. We and our employees should know what the customers want; you can’t make a mistake with that part.”
Mon-Thurs, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri-Sun 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m.