Diyawanna Family Fair: A lifeline for SMEs

Wednesday, 11 September 2013 01:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By P. Waruni and G. Sajeewani M.A. Ariyarathne is an entrepreneur with a successful story who met us at the Centre for Agribusiness Development (CAD), Diyawanna Family Fair at Diyatha Uyana in Battaramulla last Wednesday morning. His hard work and creative ideas have made him one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Matale. Hailing from Pahala Hapuvida of Matale, he is proud of what he has achieved today. Having begun work in 1971 as a small-scale businessman in his home, he manufactured brass and silver ware commercially. Some years later he applied for a small loan of Rs. 5,000 from the Industrial Development Broad to supply his products from Modara to Galle Face. At around the same time, he became the Chairman of the Raththota Provincial Council, which helped boost his business. With the help of his workers, within a few years Ariyarathne was able to move the operation to a spacious location in Matale. It is now well-known as the Hapuvida Brass Centre. Every Wednesday, small and medium scale entrepreneurs like Ariyarathne gather under the white stalls at Diyawanna Diyatha Uyana to sell their products. The product range includes all kinds of vegetables, meat, eggs and farm products, Ayurvedic items, health and herbal products, food products and beverages, eco and village products, arts, handicrafts, gifts and accessories, footwear, cosmetics, textiles and handlooms, home decor, home electrical and electronics items, plastic items, kitchen equipment and utensils, bath and sanitation products, ceramics and glassware, CDs and mobile accessories as well as books and magazines. This fair opens for consumers on every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the main objective of the Diyawanna Family Fair is to develop a direct market platform for agro producers and other products demanded by urban consumers where they can purchase quality products at best prices from reliable suppliers. Apart from the main market platform, there are exhibition stalls every Wednesday where consumers can purchase directly from manufacturers while providing companies with an exhibition platform to showcase and sell their products. Talking to some of the businessmen there, we realise they all have interesting stories about their journey towards becoming successful. Most of the stall owners exhibiting their unique products at the Family Fair are from faraway villages. One stall that stood out was for us as we wandered about the place was DKL Natural Fruit Products, which featured poison free and natural Ayurvedic beverages, tamarind chutney, amberalla chutney and various types of grains like kurakkan, olu hal and thala. Suvineetha, a small entrepreneur from Ambalantota, said: “In Colombo we have big demand unlike in the rural areas of Ambalantota, because it is too difficult to buy poison free products in Colombo. We get the maximum benefit of this trade fair to popularise our own natural and healthy products among the people. The other important thing is that we are able to sell products directly to customers, which increases our profitability and prevents exploitation by middlemen.” Another entrepreneur at the Diyawanna Family Fair is Sathis Ranajeewa, who sells and showcases unique home decor gallery with Maasai Crafts under the theme ‘Breathe Life into those lonely shelves and empty walls with rustic, retro, earthly, bright, fashionable home decor ornaments from around the globe’. Maasai Crafts are being introduced to Sri Lanka for the first time at this location and according to Ranajeewa, “This is a marvellous opportunity for us to sell our products directly to consumers with a low operational cost and we can especially save on advertising costs.” A producer of Haritha Lanka Kithul Products stressed on the importance of such opportunities for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to uplift rural villagers’ living standards. “There are so many people working with us, such as kithul treacle collectors, jaggery producers and kithul flour makers. Through this stall we can sell our products at reasonable prices and our products have great demand here so we feel our traditional livelihood is protected.” Dilani Jayawardhane is full of hope and tells us she can supply her paddy products on retail or wholesale basis for customers even from the stall. Raja Wijerathna, who distributes his beauty culture products for local hotels and salons, hopes to attract foreigners and promotes the products among local customers who prefer to use natural beauty products. Farzan, who was selling fancy items, is from Dehiwala and has been importing ladies’ fancy items from Bombay and Kolkata as well as Delhi for the last seven years. Some of the stalls of the fair are facilitated by the Coconut Development Board in order to provide relief to people involved in coconut crafts. What is different about this market place is that self-employed traders can enjoy working in a friendly environment and among likeminded people, while selling products they’re passionate about or products they have made themselves. Given this atmosphere, it is a good place for strong communication and negotiating, excellent customer service and will definitely go a long way in helping sellers achieve their goals as well as give customers the opportunity to browse without feeling like they are being pounced upon. While the sellers have an idea of the competition and sales techniques employed, they are also able to attract customers until 10 p.m. The rent per stall of Rs. 9,600 is cheaper when compared to charges elsewhere in Colombo. Pix by Upul Abayasekara and Lasantha Kumara