This is an excerpt from Heritage Retailers of Calcutta: 1785 to 1950, by Ashish J. Sanyal, published by Notion Press. The author has shared stories of the oldest shop in individual categories, as well as those that reinvented themselves to remain relevant. Read more about the selection process here.
1882 — KUNDU HARDWARE, 38A, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road (opposite Jadubabu Market), Kolkata – 700020
Kundu Hardware was founded in 1882 by Upendra Nath Kundu, who came from Gaighata village in Hooghly district. The present owners, Subroto Kundu and his son Sudipto Kundu, are the third and fourth generation of the family business. The small shop with its beautiful, original signboard is located on Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, opposite Jadubabu Market. It has been in the same location since the very beginning.
In this simple shop, all the products are on display. Mr Sudipto Kundu knows exactly where everything is — from small rubber washers to the internal system of a flush. They sell all manner of hardware supplies — adhesives, nails, screws, pipes, door knobs, bathroom rails, rings, hooks, latches, saws, sandpaper, etc. Business is brisk with a constant flow of customers — carpenters, electricians and plumbers who come here to buy their daily requirements.
Kundu Hardware carries almost everything that its customers want and the prices are competitive
Busy mornings, referred to as first hour in Kolkata, give way to the slower afternoon and is the time they have allotted to suppliers who bring in new products. Business picks up again in the evening when their customers come in to purchase products they require for the next morning. While Kundu Hardware does offer credit of 30 to 45 days, they sell 90% of their products in cash for which a proper bill is always provided. If a customer has purchased more than what is required, they take the item back and adjust the same value for future purchases. Most of the customers are regulars who have been dealing with the Kundus for several years and have no reason to complain.
All goods are local. The owners do not like to deal with Chinese goods saying they are of poor quality and have to be replaced. “I tell my customers the product is Chinese and there are no guarantees,” says Subroto Kundu. He makes the bills and offers product advice to his customers if they want it. He also tells them if they are making a wrong purchase, as he has a very good knowledge of not only the products but also their application. “I have learnt by listening to my suppliers and customers,” says Mr Kundu.
The shop sells all manner of hardware supplies — adhesives, nails, screws, pipes, door knobs, bathroom rails, rings, hooks, latches, saws, sandpaper, etc
Kundu Hardware carries almost everything that its customers want and the prices are competitive. “It is more convenient for south Calcutta customers to come here instead of going to the hardware market in north Calcutta,” says Mr Kundu.
The secret of their success? The location — right on the main road — is a big plus because people can find the shop easily. But customer service may top location.
“We make a note of what a customer wants, note down the telephone number, and call when the item arrives in 2-3 days,” says Mr Kundu. Neiman Marcus, the famous departmental store chain in the US, follows the same practice!
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