For Nazmul Hossain, a local retailer in Ishwardy, it was an unavoidable part of his job.
Over the last four years, he has visited the capital twice or thrice a month for a combing expedition at the wholesale clothes and fabric markets. He buys clothes for his Sadia Fashion House and takes them to his store in Ishwardy.
Every time this expedition cost him up to Tk. 10,000, as he had to stay here in a hotel and hire transports to move around.
Later, in 2020, he was introduced to District Bazaar, a B2B e-commerce site that allowed him to order his preferred products and have them delivered right to his doorsteps, and that too at a fraction of the cost.
``The money I used to spend earlier on traveling to Dhaka I can now invest to buy better products", Nazmul says.
So what is District Bazaar? Imagine the format of Daraz or Evaly - a virtual wholesale market or e-commerce site, from where retailers can order products in bulk and sell them in their stores. But the idea of District Bazaar is different from these as it is designed especially for the Bangladeshi micro retailers that are based outside of Dhaka, the capital of the country.
Their app DistrictBazaar.com was launched on April 30th, and they currently have 53,000 products from 1,500 suppliers and manufacturers on their app.
The CEO of the organisation Shamdanee Tabriz believes that we must get out of the idea of a Dhaka-based start-up market.
"There are 2 million micro retailer merchants across the country that cover a market of 18.42 billion US dollars. Today or tomorrow, there should be a start-up that will address the problems of local businesses outside this city. And this is going to be a big market as more and more people are using smartphones and the internet."
So retailers and business owners outside of Dhaka need an option that will be accessible as well as adaptable for them.
With that vision, Tabriz and his team came up with the idea of 'District Bazaar', a mobile app in the Bangla language that can be accessed offline as well. This app allows the local micro retailers to connect with wholesale manufacturers in Dhaka or in other big cities and order products.
Shamdanee Tabriz has always been a visionary young entrepreneur. During his graduation year in 2016, he founded Rapido deliveries, a B2B product delivery platform that assists other e-commerce businesses in delivering their products to customers.
Now that it is growing rapidly with more than 3,500 clients and 40 employees, the company owner has ventured into an e-commerce site where he will make use of the transportation and product delivery resources he already has for Rapido deliveries.
But why did they target the local retailers or business owners?
To this Tabriz replies, 'As most of the manufacturers are based in Dhaka or in other big cities, the retailers outside the city have to come across a number of middlemen to get the product. And the transportation cost added to the total price of a product is much higher than the manufacturing cost.'
And that's what the company wants to work on- to cut down all the middlemen and be a 360-degree middleman itself that will cover everything from communication to product delivery and transportation.
Their tagline is 'Kenay Jitle Bechay Jitben- If you win while buying, you will surely win in selling'.
For the last two years, District Bazaar has been running a pilot project in Pabna, a market of 115 crore BDT, with micro retailers like Nazmul Hossain. One of the team members Abir Khan is from Pabna and so with the advantage of being a local he was able to persuade retailers and small business owners to try the platform.
But there is another reason for picking Pabna as the starting point for the District Bazaar team- the Ruppur nuclear power plant.
As Abir says, 'The project has changed the area's business potential. Not only for the future, even now almost 12,000 Russians are residing there and this particular area is thriving because of their needs. So the business owners are way more ambitious there than before.'
And that's why Pabna was the perfect place for them to run the pilot project.
And the results are also mesmerising. Especially due to the pandemic, retailers like Nazmul have happily come to the platform as they couldn't leave due to lockdowns, but still got the products.
Currently, the company has a target to cover 5% of Pabna's retailer business, and eventually, they will venture to all the 64 districts.
District Bazaar also incorporates an agent-based business model. According to the model- in a district, five agents will be working under a district manager and their jobs will be to collect orders from the retailers. For every order, the agent will get a .25% incentive. The manager informs the procurement officer in Dhaka and then the products are delivered to the retailers within 2/3 days.
The retailers can take products on credit facility for up to six months. And as there are no middlemen, the product price is also affordable.
But just like any other start-up, District Bazaar has also some challenges to work on. For instance, why would a businessman trust a retailer that he hasn't met? Or how will the retailers be ensured about their money or the quality of the product?
Well, the District Bazaar team said there will be samples sent to the retailers and for the money transaction, they have partnered with Eastern Bank Ltd, who will cover the issue. But the best reply came from Nazmul, that retailer of Ishwardy, who said, "Every business is about taking risks. If the quality is bad, I'll not take from them. But as long as it's saving my money with quality, I think it's worth taking risks."
And the chief technological officer Sayeda Shanti adds, "Trust is like capital itself. Rapido deliveries already has credibility in the market, and it's a successful start-up. If we can ensure the best use of its resources and experience, I am sure we will emerge as the next Daraz of Bangladesh."