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Marg's sustainable, hyperlocal markets attract gains

Marg, which is already catering to 50% of the pharma distribution and retail market, in the next three years, aims to include 2,50,000 chemists, besides FMCG and other services sectors

The Founder and Group CMD of Marg, Thakur Anup Singh is passionate about empowering small, stand-alone businesses pitted against the global giants in the Indian market. He has created for them, a conducive ecosystem, the first-of-its-kind, digitally integrated interface for providing billing, purchase, delivery, and payment solutions, defining a new business category.

Marg, which is already catering to 50% of the pharma distribution and retail market, in the next three years, aims to include 2,50,000 chemists, besides FMCG and other services sectors. By unifying the unorganized SME sector into a single powerful economic force, Marg envisages generating business worth Rs 750 crores in a span of five years with the support of investors.

Below are a few excerpts from our interview with Thakur Anup Singh.

What prompted you to establish Marg?

I believe in the incredible and massive potential of the indispensable shop next door or the stand-alone shops, which is highly underrated in the modern milieu. While India has galloped several folds in terms of digitization, we observed that there has been no force to channelize the potential of small businesses on a digital platform. Most of them were either shutting shop or struggling to keep afloat amid competition from global players and the emergence of larger players from India, with the Covid-19 pandemic also adding to their woes.

In India, there are roughly one crore small and medium businesses. Marg took the initiative to explore possibilities to ease their cumbersome daily operations such as billing, inventory management, payment, ordering, financing and other solutions, so that retailers could focus on leveraging their businesses. We created a holistic digital ecosystem through our unique softwares and services for addressing their livelihood concerns. I take pride in the fact that Marg's initiatives are also proving to be crucial in safeguarding them during the pandemic by minimizing human involvement and making the process seamless while bringing in efficiency, speed, backup, and excellent services.

What is the key to Marg's success in making SMEs sustainable?

Our observation is that it is not feasible for a small business to spend a hefty sum on technology like other big players. Even if they are interested in digitizing their day-to-day operations, their choices are limited, and they often end up subscribing to a sub-standard product with poor service quality.  Marg's business model is, therefore, centered around small business owners to eliminate the technological handicap and help them to drive growth and higher profitability.

Since banks do not lend to small businesses, Marg has realized their potential and offers financing solutions through tie-ups with NBFCs. The financial solutions include short-term working capital loans, personal loans, insurance products, and others. This has resulted in Marg becoming India's first initiative to bring small businesses on a pan-India digital platform, giving power to our mission in making small businesses sustainable. It has enabled them to retain their cultural relevance as a neighbourhood shop that offers services in a spirit of compassion and friendliness.

As of date, how would you rate the performance of Marg? We started with MARG ERP to digitally solve issues regarding inventory and accounting. I feel proud to say that so far, Marg has equipped over 10 lakh businesses, which generate 2000 crore annual invoices, aggregating to a total value of Rs 7 lakh crores. We realized that a business owner faces three significant problems - order, delivery, and payment. Our efforts have been to alleviate these problems. I feel happy to say that Marg has strengthened small businessmen and e-orders worth Rs 21,000 crore have been generated through the e-portal. Furthermore, we have tied -up with logistics companies for providing delivery solutions to small businesses through a digital platform. This has resulted in prompt delivery of consignments to retailers and distributors, and further solidified the relationship between the logistics company and their customer. Marg has created a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

The concept of Marg is basically aimed at creating a hyperlocal market. Could you elaborate on this? Marg caters to all needs of a small business owner, which includes handling inventory, payment system and order. These mundane tasks consume most of the management bandwidth without bringing any significant contribution in terms of new business. With Marg, a small business owner is enabled to focus on increasing the overall business with the help of a range of tools provided, besides working capital management provided by us, which allows them to compete with large businesses and level the playing field for all participants.

Marg is aggressive in transforming small businesses into hyper-local marketplaces through its uniquely designed product called Paas ki Dukaan, as popularly addressed in the colloquial term for the neighbourhood shop. Marg's easy-to-operate digital platform will connect the retailers, distributors, and customers directly, enabling faster delivery, access to live inventory, discounts comparable to e-commerce, and superior customer experience. Marg helps them to create a digital shop, increase customer retention and the overall lifetime value of the customer. We aim to add 2,50,000 chemist retailers in the next three years and the process has gathered momentum, with big investors expressing keen interest in exploring this huge business opportunity.

What are your future plans for Marg?

Marg literally means pathway and the company has shown the pathway to creating business security for small businesses. Through our services, we aim at becoming the biggest payment gateway in India in the B2B sector. Through our ordering facilities, we aim to equip the businesses with our technology, create a local hypermarket through Paas ki Dukaan, and emerge as the leader in the Pharma industry. Marg has adopted a problem-solving approach for these small businesses, against players who have been simply offering new products or services to these businesses.

Besides, all of Marg's products are highly user-friendly given their unique features which come from our deeper understanding of these small businesses. Marg has the ambition to become a one-stop-shop for small businesses by offering services like wealth management, order and inventory management, customized insurance products. This will enable small businesses to thrive (instead of fighting for survival) and since Marg has helped these businesses, we expect high customer loyalty and deeper engagement with them as we work with them on newer product offerings over the next few years. We believe that the unorganized sector is the very pulse of the Indian market and efforts need to be made to ensure they are adequately protected.

Giving impetus to our expansion plans, we have acquired over six companies, which include a software company from Haryana with 6000 customers; Medi-Software; APEX Software, Jodhpur; Om Software in Meerut; and Brand QZ, while 10-12 entities are in different stages of processing for acquisition by us. As we speak, several large businesses have approached Marg to explore strategic partnerships as they understand the richness of our network and the immense value of such a network.

What are the growth targets that Marg is aiming at in the near future?

Marg is a zero-debt company and its growth is self-funded because of its smart market strategies, astute handling of finances, and intelligent partnerships. These fundamental fair practices make Marg, even by modest claims, a profit-making company. The Paas Ki Dukaan model is a foolproof and self-sustaining model, which can survive any pitfalls even when the market goes for a dip. By retaining a continued and focused pace of growth and development, the company envisages generating a revenue of Rs 750 crores in the next five years. The company has set its eyes on covering 70-75% of the Pharma and SMEs from diverse sectors across the country in the coming years.

Keeping in mind its aggressive future growth plans, Marg aims to grow both organically and inorganically by acquiring small firms, software, and ordering firms through strategic maneuvers. Keeping up with its ethos of inclusive growth, Marg is also open to fundraising in the future to sustain its leadership and ambitious growth targets.

Could you share how Marg's vision is aligned with the Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaign?

The vision and initiatives of Marg are truly aligned with the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative where even the smallest of shopkeepers, retailers, and distributors stand enabled and empowered to retain their customers and expand their horizons, without being overwhelmed by multi-national giants, whose allegiance rests with their countries. Marg is establishing the brand uniqueness of the Indian manufacturer, distributor, and retailer, enriching the Indian economy.

What makes Marg a unique organization to be associated with? Marg is a people's organization that stands on three strong pillars: employee ownership for the company, faith, and trust. We live like an extended family with long associations where the company has reserved 5-10% of its equity for the employees. I take pride in saying that Marg is the first IT company in India to give ESOPs to 100% of its employees. We consciously chose the Marg of inclusive growth for prosperity!