COVID-19: This expat from Kerala has kept businesses afloat all through pandemic

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NAT RAK grocer Mohammad Hakeem Pallayalil2-1601108593270
Mohammad Hakeem Pallayalil owns seven businesses — retail and wholesale trade of fruit and vegetables, three groceries, a supermarket and a restaurant.
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Mohammad Hakeem Pallayalil, 34, a hardworking grassroots businessman, learnt the rules of the trade along the way as he started living in the UAE in 2004. Sixteen years ago, this 18–year-old boy from the Palakkad district of the south Indian state of Kerala, had landed in Ras Al Khaimah with little else but a big dream — of being a businessman.

From grocery delivery boy to businessman

Taking up the job of working as a grocery delivery boy, he worked his way up from the bottom of the ladder. Today, he owns about seven independent businesses, retail and wholesale trade of fruit and vegetables, three groceries, a supermarket and a restaurant — in the Al Galila, Al Shams and Al Jeer areas of Ras Al Khaimah near the Oman border.

Displaying an astute sense of risk-taking capacity, he is all set to open up a new roastery business in the Al Shams area sometime next month.

Despite having studied only till grade 12, Pallayalil learnt the lessons of life first-hand and on the job. speaking to Gulf News, he said: “From childhood, I wanted to be a businessman. Although I did not get much education, I had this strong will to work very hard. After delivering groceries, I studied the market, looked at the gaps and bought a small vehicle. Every morning I would drive to Al Aweer Supermarket in Dubai, purchase fruit, vegetables and deliver to the shops in Ras Al Khaimah. That helped me start my own grocery shop. I got my younger brother Abdul Gafoor to join me after he finished his graduation and together we worked hard to add more businesses to our profile. Gradually, I began buying other provisions from Al Aweer and we started a supermarket in our neighbourhood. After having worked so hard for the last 15 years, I was confident that despite the havoc created by COVID-19, we would still survive.”

Quick thinking

He further said: “During the last four or five months, although my profits have shrunk and some of the businesses, like the restaurant, have suffered, I did not shut down even one of them, because my staff of 70 people is like an extended family for me. My clients in Ras Al Khaimah are Emirati families in my neighbourhood whom I have been serving for so long. My sponsors were understanding. So with the goodwill and blessings of all we were able to survive.

NAT RAK grocer Mohammad Hakeem Pallayalil15-1601108591142
Pallayalil with his younger brother Abdul Gafoor.
Image Credit: Supplied

“The restaurant was doing badly as there was no footfall. There were no clients coming to the supermarket or groceries either. So I focused mainly on home deliveries. We stepped up our delivery hours, I put in all the manpower that was possible and soon our regular clients were getting food parcels, provisions and groceries delivered at their homes. I took care that my delivery personnel wore their masks and practised all protocols of COVID-19. This gave faith to the neighbourhod and soon everyone was ordering stuff home from us.”

He added: “Except for the restaurant where I had to briefly scale down the salaries to 75 per cent, all other employees got their full pay. There was no change in their free accommodation status too. This act of compassion helped as the staff put in more time and effort to support my business.”

Supportive clients

Pallayalil said: In my retail grocery business, I have known my clients for more than a decade. They trust me. So I never thought of closing up any business as they depended on me for their supplies.” He added: “In business, one has to be prepared for losses. I focused on the future and continued to put in as much hard work as I always did and after a dip for three months, businesses picked up. Today, even the restaurant has bounced back.”

So upbeat is Pallayalil about the future that he has decided to open a roastery soon in Al Shams. “I think it is the right time to take risk. My clients need a shop that can sell them fresh nuts, dry fruit and sweets. So we are opening this early next month and I am confident this will do well as well,” he said.

Five golden tips to other entrepreneurs:

• There is no substitute for hard work. If plan A does not work, there is always a plan B.

• Always study the market and explore opportunities that are waiting to be grabbed

• Consider your staff your extended family, treat them well and they will stand by you in times of adversity.

• Understand the needs of your clients and always be ready to step in to fill up a gap in the market.

• Pandemics may come and go and there will be disruptions, but as long as your clients need food on their table and you are in the business of procuring that, there will always be a bounce-back.

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