The Footprints of Fabric Wholesale: Azam Cloth Market

The shopkeepers of Azam Cloth market pride themselves on, and they like to stress this vehemently, being a part of ‘the biggest cloth market in Asia.” While snaking your way through the many winding alleys lined with shops of various sizes you do tend to lose track of both time and space. The market is a collage of many small interlinked bazaars where the daylight doesn’t always seep in and the damp musty odor of history prevails.

Situated in the walled city of Lahore, the Azam cloth market is the hub that has been handling wholesale distribution of cloth and ready-to-wear for the last six decades. From khaddar to silk, ready- to-wear to clothing fabrics, casual wear to bridal wear, the market has something for every apparel retailer.

According to Mohd Amjad Sheikh, who has been in the wholesale apparel business since 1974, the Azam cloth market caters to a wide customer based both in Pakistan and abroad. “Retailers from all over Pakistan, Dubai, and UK visit us for their stock purchases. However, the recent security issues have had their impact on the business. Our customer base from India and Afghanistan has dwindled to almost zero. We hope once the situation improves retailers from all neighboring countries will find it comfortable to visit us.”

The merchants of the market are well versed in the history of the place, and every shopkeeper can recount how when the market was created and named. There was a small market near Wazir Khan Mosque; in 1953 when a road had to be widened the market was shifted to its current location by General Azam who gave his own name to the market. Over the decades, the small market extended and now has numerous interlinked blocks or bazaars all dealing in wholesaling of various types of clothing fabrics and lines.

How many interlinked bazaars are there in the market? There is no consensus as such but gathering from the comments of various shop owners the number must be somewhere between 15 and 20

‘It’s an Institution.’

All the bazaars of Azam market are linked and managed by a board of directors. “You won’t find a more well managed institution in Lahore. We have our own constitution with a specific set of rules. Every bazaar has its own president who in turn is answerable to the president of the board. Elections of the board are held every three years to elect resident of the board. Security and administrative decisions made by the board are binding upon the market community,” the business community of the market proudly spells out details of the ‘institution.’ Fire extinguishers, security guards and clean lanes show an active involvement of the board that runs on self-help basis. Every shop owner pays monthly charges of about 200-300 rupees to form a combined pool that helps meet the maintenance expenses.

Nawab Bazaar: The oldest block of Azam Cloth Market

While it is difficult to explore every bazaar in a single visit, every first time visitor should stroll in the Nawab bazaar to get a feel of the place. Nawab bazaar is the first and the oldest block of Azam cloth market. Its open cool spaces invite the customers to linger and shop at their own pace. The shop owners are friendly and there is an overall ambiance of good cheer.

‘What’s in the name?’

Two different versions prevail in the market about the history of block’s name. One interesting story traces origins of the name to the first generation of business men who started their businesses in this market.

According to this version, this first generation of wholesalers liked to arrive late in the markets and opened their shops around noon. So people started calling them nawabs (nawab connotes a laid-back almost royal attitude) and the market came to be known as Nawab bazaar.

Javed sahib, the president of Nawab bazaar, however, strongly disagrees: “My, father, Haji Nawab Deen, was the first generation of wholesalers who established businesses in this block, and the bazaar is name after my father,” he states.

Whatever the real history of the name, the different versions add to the aura of antiquity surrounding the market.

It’s a Man’s World

The wholesale business is dominated by men. Not only there are no female shop owners but you encounter female customers. Occasionally you can run into a lone female retailer traversing the narrow alleys of the market. Razia is one such brave woman I met while combing through the glittering, colorful shops of women’s apparel.

“I have nine children and my husband is a ‘home-tailor’ who works at his clients’ places. To make ends meet, I have started this business. I purchase ready-to-wear female kurtis from this market and my husband takes them to his clients’ houses and sells them. We get to save 100 to 200 rupees on every kurta. It isn’t much but it helps,” Razia explains her ‘business model.’

First Time visitors

Whether you are a retailer, a casual visitor, or a customer who wants to get good bargains, try to heading for the market between 9:30 am to 10:30 am. This is the time when the traffic is not too heavy and it is still quiet in the throbbing, congested lanes of the market. Visiting the market early will save you half of the hassle of long traffic jams. The other half, while going back, you will have to bear. Another advantage of visiting the market early is that once you are there you can shop at leisure and will even have time to haggle with the shopkeepers. As the day advances the business activity picks up pace, the market gets too crowded.

Parking your vehicle is now easy as there is a huge parking plaza near the market. However, the plaza doesn’t have a lift and once you park the car you will have to walk all the way down and then walk all the way up to get the car. It is bit of an exertion and would help if you are in the mood for some exercise.

Azam Cloth Market is surrounded by many other wholesale and retail markets, and while you are there you can have quick round of the other markets and schedule your next visit to one you like.

Why It’s Important To Digitally Transform Your Business

“Digital Transformation” isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a core concept of my business model, and I hope by the time you’re done reading this you’ll know why it should be a core concept of your own business.

In essence, digital transformation is the process of transitioning your entire business from an old stale platform to a new digitally efficient and exciting model. There are so many different things that go into this but let’s look at how it works for sales and marketing.

Digital Transformation many times can bring your sales and marketing from the physical world of phone calls, fliers, and mailings to the Internet. These older “analog” techniques are still valid, but they are becoming much less effective over time. Why is that? E-commerce technologies have reached a point that they’re blowing physical advertising out of the water.

People are still buying things more than ever though, but where are they doing it? They’re buying on the web instead of walking into a store. Have you heard of “showrooming”? This is a term that retailers use for people who go to a store to get an experience with a physical product then search for the best price online. Best Buy in particular had this happen so much that they’ve made this part of their business model, hoping to push people to buy the product in the store through the Best Buy website. (Smart thinking Best Buy, way to digitally transform instead of continuing to fight it!)

What if you have a service business instead of a retail business? You’re still in trouble. Customers aren’t letting their fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages anymore. Instead they’re turning to Yelp and Angie’s List. Yelp and sites like it have a big advantage over older methods of service advertising. They not only can display more information, but they provide the social proof of customer reviews.

Customer reviews are the major force in demonstrating reputation in the online world. We used to call this word-of-mouth advertising, but now sites like Yelp allow a single person’s voice to reach your entire market (at least the ones who check Yelp, 132 million monthly visitors in Q1 2014 according to the site) and color other people’s perception of you for good or for ill. We like to call this “digital-mouth” advertising.

Basic Online Presence Is Not Enough

Perhaps you think you’re ahead of the curve. You have a website and some social media presence. Isn’t that enough? Sadly to say it isn’t. Many business websites don’t have much more information than a standard Yelp page. Social media is treated more like a billboard than a customer interaction platform. Worst of all, if a visitor wants to convert they have to go back to things like the telephone or basic email to get in touch with you. They violate one of my four pillars of digital transformation, the digital hook.

The mobile web has made it so easy to convert visitors that websites shouldn’t be called web sites anymore. Instead, I call them “customer acquisition engines.”

The key shift is that your online presence needs to move from a purely marketing standpoint toward both sales and marketing. Not only that, but customer data should be tracked over time to generate an ongoing relationship with an individual visitor, urging them to convert again and again until they become loyal customers.

Impossible you say? I assure you that with today’s technology it is quite possible. You may have seen some of the tactics yourself. If you use Facebook and don’t have an ad blocker on, try visiting a few business sites or talk about a topic a few times. Notice what ads you get on the side bar. Most of the time, you’re going to start seeing ads that relate to what you saw or talked about.

In fact, by merely visiting a site, companies can now start to get marketing data on you immediately. Technologies like tracking pixels can trace an individual visitor as they come and go from a site. This allows you to push ads about your business to them on other sites. When they come back, that information can be read and let the visitor pick up where they left off in the sales cycle.

Digital Transformation is Vital Now

With decreasing retail sales, more people buying online, and new sales and marketing tactics smashing competition through the digital space, the old business models can’t compete for much longer. If this article has sounded a chord of panic in you though, don’t worry because knowledge is power. Get started today and start the transformation now before you get out-transformed by your competitors!

Digital Transformation – What It Means for Global Enterprises

Fundamentally, a business enterprise would exist in a ‘going concern’ to make profits and maximize the shareholders’ value. To be able to deliver business results consistently then becomes most important objective. There could be a number of strategies, programs and policies that an enterprise would practice to deliver business results. Digital transformation is one such innovative strategy that an enterprise could look to practice in a structured and time bound manner.

Here is an important dimension that I would like to highlight, and to put it simply, digital transformation would bridge the gap that always existed when Digital (in business parlance this would mean Information and Communication Technologies) became necessity for efficiency, but remained a huge cost center and avenue of change inertia for a majority of times. It is all about getting closer to transforming this cost center to a revenue center, by consistently and selectively applying Digital to get closer to customers and stakeholders alike to make difference to the way they live, or do business, or collaborate.

For global enterprises what this means is that when its digital interests are driven by keeping its customers at large in focus they can be construed as making significant strides in their digital transformation strategy. Depending on what stage of technology adoption they are into (1st, 2nd or 3rd generation) the DT intensity would vary. For instance, recently I wrote an article on how GRC solutions can be revenue enablers – GRC then becomes a part of a broader digital transformation strategy.

A majority of new age business enterprises would have made substantial investments in implementation of most grass root enterprise systems. That is a whole reasons why from the technology provider ecosystem do we get to hear about mobile, analytics, social and cloud most of the times when it comes to digital transformation, which is a contemporary articulation. The fact remains that it is up to the CIO and other CxO executive team members to figure out what would be a right beginning of their digital transformation program and what would its life cycle look like in their company. In other words, an enterprise could really be ready for digital even if they aren’t talking about social, analytics and mobility, similarly, even if a relatively new enterprise (such as a start-up) can still be talking of massive investments into DT even if they do not use large enterprise systems, for instance an ERP. As we said, the key to remember, and hence to derive most benefits of amazing digital transformation program, is to know how and if digital investments made by an enterprise are taking it closer to a customer to make difference to the way they live, or do business, or collaborate.

Strategic Marketing Using Digital Channels The Right Way

If you are looking to implement marketing from a strategic perspective in your company or business endeavour by making use of digital channels then it may well serve you to seek out some advice first. That’s some of what we set out to do here as we look to highlight some of the ins and outs of executing marketing in the digital age. There is more to digital marketing that ordinarily meets the eye as found in our consulting, devising and executing search engine and social media marketing campaigns.

When a company is looking to [via its marketing personnel or use of third party agencies] market its products and services use the available digital marketing channels such as…

  • Video Marketing
  • Email Marketing
  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Podcasting
  • Blogging
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Micro Blogging

… all of the activities will need to be carried out via specific digital marketing channels with a view to getting engagement from chosen target market sector clients.

As an example of the statement made above; the decision could be made to use the social media marketing and to connect with clients using an associated advertising platform through which to serve up ads. Going through the process of crafting and executing specific ads necessitates that one understands who the target audience is that the business is concerned with so that time is not wasted running ads that will be ultimately shown up to people that are not interested in the related products or services that the company has to offer. Going through the targeting process will determine where one’s audience ‘hangs out’ so that when the message is seen it is relatively easier to consume [or be interacted with].

When running ads within the social media marketing channel alongside that of publishing engaging and compelling content, connect, following and republishing others content. It is important to make sure that the ads are in fact related to target clients likes, interests and aspirations as this will affect click through rate, engagement and other factors that lead to the actual cost of running the ad itself.

The content aspect of digital marketing is indeed a critical and foundational one as one piece of content can effectively be repurposed for use in various formats and on differing platforms and digital marketing channels. E.g. a well written article can be used as a blog post, then used as the basis for a podcast, this same piece of content can be developed into a video and then used to create multiple micro blogging content pieces. Each piece of content should be used within planned digital marketing channels in order to deliver the marketing message through to the intended market segments.

With the world in which we live in becoming increasingly technology enabled; this is continuing to open up opportunities for marketers and business owners to present their message to clients found the world over. However it is important to execute correctly and to start with the right messages, next the most appropriate digital marketing channel [some of which are listed above] are used in order to put the marketing message in front of the right audience. In other words a targeted approach should used as opposed to a shotgun spray and hope approach.

At the end of the day digital marketing is still a subset of marketing and it itself has its own set of sub digital marketing channels. The strategic digital marketing approach is strongly recommended as when adhered to and the results start coming in, one will understand why it’s important to continue to adopt this approach to business promotion.