the platform has a ticket system for flagging problems and directing them to whoever has to address it. The app also notifies store owners about the progress of their deliveries to avoid any waiting time or cancellation. There’s a call centre for addressing customer concerns.
If it sounds tedious, it’s because it is.
It wasn’t always this sophisticated. “This is a system we had to learn the hard way,” says Rollan.
Before venturing on his own, Rollan spent years working for FMCGs like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, and digital management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group. He saw a common desire among brands to tap mom-and-pop stores as distribution channels. These companies would always do expensive dipstick surveys to understand the lay of the sari-sari store land.
Rollan’s original solution was to build a point-of-sale system that sari-sari stores could use to scan every sale. But it didn’t see much traction as stores found no real need for it.
“Our investor (Wavemaker) told us that we might be looking at the value chain completely wrong,” he says. “We should solve the pain point of the sari-sari stores first, earn their trust and then that’s the time when we can monetise the other side of the platform.”
For the stores, that was goods procurement
“It’s really convenient,” says Alberto. “I don’t have to spend three hours for shopping and commuting. The transportation costs I save on, I use to augment my working capital,” she adds.
In its first two years, Growsari was working out of just two hubs. The team did the deliveries themselves, using their cars. They began to understand the norms and thresholds needed to make delivery routes productive. When they couldn’t handle the volume of orders anymore, they started to outsource. That’s when they transformed a simple ordering app into a platform where all the other components of the business could be plugged in.
It became clear it was impossible to make money without scale. By 2018, JG Summit and Robinsons were talking with e-commerce firms to learn more about how they could go online. What was supposed to be a knowledge-sharing meeting with Growsari kicked off talks for a potential investment. The rest, as they say, is history.
Where Growsari Has Been and How It Was Created
While Robinsons gave the fledgling startup a serious leg-up, having no control of inventory and fulfilment remains Growsari’s biggest headache.
Alberto and another sari-sari store owner say they sometimes encounter items that are out of stock on the app. Rollan says at any single time, about 10% of their SKUs are unavailable. This is something that can be addressed by extending inventory to 30 days’ worth, but Robinsons prefers to keep it at just seven-14 days for now.
“Even if we grew by multiples in the past two years, Robinsons would rather stay on the safe side in terms of inventory,” says Rollan. “It’s their money; they don’t want to end up sitting on unsold goods.”
There’s also the issue of maintaining the quality of work and sense of urgency among fulfilment staff who aren’t on the rolls. But it helps that Robinsons is not merely a partner; it has some skin in the game.