Waiting for Harneet at the Sarai Kale Khan bus stop in Delhi, I was feeling thirsty. Looking around, I noticed two paanwalas who had displayed a single layer of bottles of water, called Hi-Life, manufactured by a Delhi based company operating out of Paharhganj. It had an ISI mark, but I decided against it. For me, the ISI mark has no value.
I asked the paanwala why he kept only this brand of water. Good company, he offered. Excellent water. I probed further – why not other companies? Bisleri? Aquafina? Kinley? Don’t their delivery vans come here? That got him talking and strangely enough, he took it upon himself to explain the situation to me, even ignoring a few customers.
Sarai Kale Khan is a major bus terminus and in winter, even this paan wala sells a couple of bottles each day. Others who are located closer to the terminus must be selling many more- at least ten bottles a day each. Expect that number to quadruple in the summer.
The difference is that while companies like Coca Cola Co., Pepsico and Bisleri send vans weekly and deposit bottles on credit, it is up to the paan wala to take care of the bottles for a week. If the bottle gets dirty or scratched while packing up, people don’t buy. The two paan walas I saw displayed ten bottles each. Where Hi-Life beats the big co’s is that they have a man stationed at the terminus, on a bike, who distributes these bottles on credit every morning and takes them back every night. All the shopkeepers know he is there, so they just deposit the cash and carry. At night, they return the bottles for cash. They don’t need to worry about packing the bottles and taking care of them for the rest of the week. Consequently, all the shop keepers keep only Hi-Life.
I’m not sure if I’ve said this on the blog before or not, but the real battle between areated drink and water companies is not in their products and the advertising – product changes and advertising battles are used to create a hype. For most people, the drinks are substitutes – if a Pepsi isn’t available, you might settle for a Coke. The real battle is of making their product available to you, and at times making sure that the competitors product is not available. Distribution is key.
And I had to wait a little longer to drink water (Aquafina).