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June 30, 2019 Sunday 07:16:57 PM IST

The Marketing Heroes Without MBAs, Ingenious Mechanics, Scientists without PhDs

Blackboard by Mohamed Hassan,

In train journeys in India it is common place to find a variety of sellers entering at different stations to sell anything from peanuts,lotteries, newspapers, books and snack foods and beverages. Most of them are just sellers who sometimes shout at the top of their voice or sometimes plead with travellers to buy their products.
However, there was one character from Kochi (I forgot his name) who uses innovative techniques to sell products in trains and I have been observing him for the past fifteen years or more. When I saw him the first time he was selling a book that contained information about how to submit various applications in government offices and various rules applicable for citizen-friendly services. His way of presentation was indeed superb without any power point presentation or slides-he was doing both marketing and selling! He created a need in the mind of the traveller by speaking about the difficulties of obtaining correct information from offices, depending on agents in motor vehicle offices,losing money and mental peace in the process. He talked about losing some important documents and not knowing how to apply for a duplicate one. And he would wind up saying that only you can be blamed if out of ignorance of rule or law you are not able to get things done in an office. His book was priced at Rs 30 or 50, I don't remember, but I also purchased one out of curiosity. 
On another occasion he was marketing a CD containing about 1200 or more application forms that can be downloaded and printed without the need to go to different places to buy one. At the end of his presentation, he would easily make people buy the CDs. I tried to befriend him once but although he gave his card, he refused to be part of a newspaper or magazine story. I presume it may be because publicity may land him in trouble as sales on trains are not permitted by railways except by authorised vendors who supply food and beverages.
On a recent journey, I found him selling a herbal mosquito repellant. And this time he began by drawing inspiration from our vedas and scriptures saying that our body is divided into three- Sthoola sharira (gross body), karana sharira (causal body) and sookshma sharira (astral body).And from there he started talking about the importance of a healthy and positive living. And then the impact of chemicals that we use in daily life especially for driving away the mosquitoes. Then he introduced his herbal mosquito repellant which he claims to be multi-purpose which can be used to cure itches, skin irritations and also keep away mosquitoesm flies away from us.He said he was offering it at a discount of 50% on its maximum retail price as introductory offer. Again after this very well structured and convincing presentation, it was easy for him to sell his products and also giving a leaflet on it free of cost.

Making Herbal Oil on the Street
You might have seen some people selling peacock oil (Maiyilenna as it is called in Malayalam) with claims of medicinal and healing properties. And imagine the number of peacocks they might have killed in the forests. You will always find a huge crowd circling them and lot of people do buy it spending a few hundred rupees for a small bottle. But not all wayside herbal oil sellers sell such dubious products after killing animals in the wild. Some of you may remember the sensation in the 1980's when a small herb oil vendor in Thiruvananthapuram claimed to have found a cure for baldness. And how people queued up in front of his house and shop to get a small bottle that was sold for Rs 100 at that time. Later, it was taken over by a multi-national company.
On a visit to buy fish at Varapuzha market in Ernakulam a few months ago, we saw a few people on the road side with two or three huge vessels making oil adding various herbs that you may find in your backyard or in nurseries. The herbal preparation was made with coconut oil base and an announcement was played over the sound system saying that the oil was effective against a variety of ailments including sprain, backpain, nimbness of hands, feet,dandruff and hairfall,skin ailments and could even cure insomnia and headache. We bought a sample botte for Rs 100 since we were not sure if it was really effective. However, with in a few days, my wife, a fitness trainer, said that it was really effective for back pain, knee pain and muscular pain. All you need was to apply the oil either in the affected area or all over the body and take bath after half an hour. The brain behind the innovative product named 'Ishwaramooli' was M J Joseph Maliayakal, who belongs to Angamaly. He also has a small sales counter opposite to Bishops House in Ernakulam. Since my wife finds the product useful,we call him whenever we run out of his oil and he is willing to deliver it home.
The Ingenious Mechanic
Automobile, electronic and electrical product owners very well know that after a few years, the companies that sold the products were not willing to repair your products as they have stopped production of the particular model or spares were not available. Once we faced the same issue with a Samsung Washing machine. The company service engineer said that the mother-board of the machine was damaged and spares were no longer supplied by the company and even if it is available it will cost almost half the price of a new washing machine. That was when we talked about it to a neighbourhood electronic mechanic who said he can get a used mother board in good condition from the grey market for Rs 1000 and it can easily work for another five years. And indeed it worked! Once my Maruti SX 4 sedan had a major problem- the oil container developed a crack when the vehicle went over a stone lying on a forest road. The Authorised Maruti center said the new tank may cost Rs 7000 or more and it was not available. Then I took it a friendly local mechanic who said he could seal it with an industrial adhesive for just Rs 500 and the one year down the line no leak was detected so far!

Passion Matters More than Degrees
In the field of agriculture, you may find several farmers who were well versed and innovative having come up with new breeds or varieties that have revolutionised our economy. One such person I met in my journalistic career was Mr Sebastian Joseph, a primary school dropout, who developed the Njallani variety of cardamom that revolutionised the cultivation of this spice in Idukki district. I was glad to have profiled his life story for a start-up web portal and magazine on commodities which was taken up by national dailies and portals. This was noticed by Jairam Ramesh, then Commerce Minister, who recommended his case for a Life Time Achievement Award, the first such award that was given by Spices Board to a farmer. (

The above examples prove that it is not just degrees or PhDs that matter when it comes to success in any field of activity. Passion, interest, curiosity and willingness to do hard work are what matters. But I often wonder if the characters in the story were really spotted by big companies or institutions and given proper training, how the nation would have gained from their talent and skills.

Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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02/07/2019 16:16:55 IST
Saiga Sukumar : Dream of a time when those having real skill, knowledge and commitment are preferred than mere qualifications. Also to identify them early enough to give adequate exposure .Worth reading.
30/06/2019 20:02:24 IST
Shini cyriac: Quite an interesting article.... I too have often found their marketing techniques quite unique when I travel by train.