The name stands for ‘Orchard of Fruits’ and is now synonymous with good quality fair priced fruits and vegetables.

From a single pushcart to TNs trusted greengrocer Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayams phenomenal riseNatarajan and his son, Senthil Natarajan
news Journeys Of Triumph Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 16:36

This story is part of The News Minute's 'Journeys Of Triumph' series. Read other stories in the series below

In 1953, in the heart of Coimbatore city, a ‘thalu vandi’ (pushcart) of mangoes and apples -manned by two young brothers aged 10 and 11 respectively- was their only source of income. Life had given them little time to recover from the loss of their father -the sole breadwinner in the family.

Dropping out of school to take care of four brothers, the brothers had only the humble fruit-cart as a partner in eking out a livelihood. 

“We were in an awful situation then. My decision to quit school was painful, but I needed to support the family. Later my brother and I split, so that he could sell fruits in Ooty. Our collective income was needed to keep the family going,” says R Natarajan, the founder of Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam -a thriving fruit and vegetable chain based in Tamil Nadu- while speaking to The News Minute. 

He started working as a sales-boy-cum-cleaner in a fruit shop, and later sold fruits at railway stations and bus-stands. Natarajan and his brother saved around 25 paise each day. After twelve years, when the duo was out of their teens, they used the money saved to start their first shop in 1965 in Coimbatore. That was the beginning of the Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam brand.

“The outlet did not prove very profitable at first, because there was a general misconception that shops selling fruits were expensive, while local markets were not. But the advantage we had over others was that the fruits we sold were of good quality and were available at a fair price,” he shares. 

“Some people were tired of bargaining. Also, we sold using weights, not by the dozen, as was the norm. People realized that they were getting value for their money,” smiles Senthil, his son and joint owner of the chain.

Though Pazhamudir Nilayam had a quiet beginning, it soon began to capture the market with its ‘fair-but-fixed-price-concept’ fruit shops. It was the first of its kind to begin what Natarajan views as the “game-changing neighbourhood market”, which later set the ball rolling for Reliance Fresh and other superstores selling fruits and vegetables.

After noticing a slump in turnover, Natarajan began to sell pure fruit-juice with only the pulp and no water mixed. So those who came to drink a glass of juice ended up buying fruits too.

Initially, no profits came in. The unsold fruits had to be taken out in their pushcarts and sold. It was only gradually that the pushcart sales stopped, once business started growing. It was in 1983 that Pazhamudir started selling vegetables too -a smart business move.  

The first four outlets that functioned out of Coimbatore were divided between the four brothers. Even when procurement was done centrally, accounts were maintained separately, a procedure they follow till date. 

The retail chain now has 56 outlets spread all over Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, of which the other brothers operate between them 9 outlets located in different parts of Tamil Nadu.

“The youngest who obviously had an altogether different world-view inherited the most profitable shop so that he could bring in some more,” remarks Natarajan.

“My father was very clear that growth in business should in no way dilute our core identity. Senseless business expansion can never translate into a tag of the favorite neighbourhood store,” avers Senthil. 

Pazhamudir imports a lot of produce from 13 different countries to beat the seasonal slump and ‘organic’ is a big draw among the buyers right now. 

Natarajan believes that one should never be overly excited by success or terribly depressed by failure: “For me, every single day was difficult when I had to push around a hand-cart and fend for my family. So very early in life, I developed the knack of dealing with life which -back then- dealt out failures more than victories.” Recalling the past that he spent in running the shop during the day and working at a mill during the night to make both ends meet, Natarajan says: “Not all days turn profitable. We just need to have faith in ourselves.”

And as Senthil reiterates, integrity and fairness mean a lot to his father, and Pazhamudir has over the years built itself into a brand that is now synonymous with these.

Also read: Once a cleaner at Hyderabad's famous Niloufer cafe, this man now owns it

And: From selling 5-paise sweets as a kid to running a multi-crore idly-dosa batter empire

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