Pure Punjabi

Reading time: 4:10

Mother and daughter team Surinder and Safia Hothi-Bellamy explain how learning to use eCommerce software and adopting it for their website has led to business growth, as well as recognition as one of the top eight Indian cookery courses.

Ecommerce: Pure Punjabi

Time to watch: 2 minutes, 52 seconds

Read the video transcript

I'm Safia Hothi-Bellamy,one half of the company Pure Punjabi, which I run with my mother. And we are bespoke Indian meal kits and food events.

I think we were fairly quick to realise that we needed a website from the beginning.

You put this website together and you put all your products on and you put all your information on bit by bit and you'd think that you're done and you don't realise that actually, you're nowhere near started.

We had a shock, didn't we, on one of our events that we did. We said, "Oh, yeah, we're Pure Punjabi, google us." And the guy sent us, I think he sent us an email and he said, "I googled you and I couldn't find you." And we just assumed that if you had a website, that somehow this Google ranking would happen magically. And then we discovered the world of SEO and we were, like, "This is actually a massive area and it's going to take a long time."

So we had a very key moment when we realised that a website alone without e-commerce was not going to get us where we wanted to be.

I think it would actually not be doing anybody a favour to say, "Oh, it's really easy and it was really quick." It's very hard. It's really hard. It is really hard.

But, at the same time, once you get over the initial setting-up of it, it saves you so much time and I think it reduces mistakes.

It can save you money in other places, you know, like actual material costs, it saves money.

When Covid happened, having all that tech in place of a good e-commerce store, of having the instructions digital and linked to automate and fire out those emails as soon as those sales were done, it meant that we could just make like crazy and dispatch like crazy because none of our staff could come in.

But it put us weeks and months ahead of everybody else who was trying to flip frantically and switch their businesses to cover that side of things.

I would say the ability to reach all sectors, whether it's domestic, whether it's corporate, via technology has absolutely enabled us to not only succeed, keep going through Covid, but actually really given us the potential to grow.

If you embrace e-commerce, your reach is not just across the UK, if you want to take that internationally, it's across the world.

It's certainly worth learning and trying to keep on top of everything that is out there digitally, because you never know when you're really going to need to rely on it.

In 2010, after starting to sell local artisan foods in her Wiltshire shop, Surinder Hothi-Bellamy became frustrated at the lack of authentic Indian food sold locally. It was then the idea for Pure Punjabi was born.

Surinder and her daughter Safia started by selling traditional, non-perishable items including dried ingredients and spices at local markets and food shows before creating their first website.

They soon realised creating their own online space wasn’t without its problems.

Safia and her mother Surinder from Pure Punjabi, wearing yellow aprons with the company logo on the front

‘We learned early on things don’t just happen organically when you start to sell online,’ Safia explains.

‘We’d set up the website purepunjabi.co.uk, and someone told us they’d Googled us and couldn’t find us.

‘We just assumed it all happened organically. We thought if you had a website and someone searched for Pure Punjabi, it would just appear.’

Learning the ropes

Like many businesses, Surinder and Safia didn’t have too much technical knowledge or money to invest into increasing Pure Punjabi’s online presence.

Surinder says: ‘We were self-funded and didn’t have the tech know-how, so we tried to learn as we went along, which makes things difficult for anybody starting in eCommerce.’

Having understood the importance of being found online, Surinder and Safia knew that adopting eCommerce software was going to play an essential role in helping to grow their business.

Cooked Indian food on a tray with a box containing dried ingredients and spices next to it 

‘We needed somewhere for our customers to go and somewhere for them to look at our products online,’ Surinder explains.

‘Without the traction, or any history or record of sales behind us, we had to find a solution - that solution was eCommerce.’

In 2013, Surinder attended a four-day business course, which helped her find out more about eCommerce and the potential it had to help the family business to grow.

I realised that eCommerce software was a must-have and not a nice-to-have in order to help Pure Punjabi to grow

She says: ‘I sat down with a web expert, who explained how eCommerce software worked and the things it does that you can’t see – it’s what’s under the bonnet that counts.

‘It was at this point I realised that eCommerce software was a must-have and not a nice-to-have in order to help Pure Punjabi to grow.

‘He advised us to change from our existing website provider and we switched to another platform that had eCommerce functionality built into it.

‘One of the key things was the amount of research and questions I was asking people. I saw that people who were doing quite well had a good eCommerce set up.’

Making the change

Surinder and Safia switched to a web- hosting platform which included eCommerce plugins, software which acts as an add-on to a web browser and gives websites extra functionality.

‘The eCommerce platform offered us advice on which plugins we needed, not only for our shopfront, but also anti-hacking tools to protect our site,’ says Surinder.

Safia holding up two pans of cooked food to customers on a zoom call, in an online cookalong event

As their business began to grow and Surinder and Safia carried on hosting live cookery events, they spotted an opportunity and made the decision to start selling food kits online.

Safia explains: ‘We basically did pop-up events but realised some people were unable to attend, so mum said, “Why don’t we do a workshop in a bag?”

‘We started providing people with all the dried ingredients and spices online, all the specialist ingredients – the same sort of stuff your grandmother would use.’

The pair also started offering hospitality services for weddings and large corporate events, enlisting more staff to help.

Challenging times ahead

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Surinder and Safia saw 80 per cent of their revenue disappear overnight.

‘Our workshops were gone, our events were gone,’ Surinder recalls.

1200%

We saw a 1200 per cent increase in sales within the space of three weeks

‘We’d normally do one big national show a year and quite a few regionals, but we realised everything was gone and we were left with the meal kits.

‘We sat down very quickly and thought about what our customers usually asked us; we’ve always been led by feedback, and a lot of questions were based on what food goes with what.’

Using their eCommerce software, Surinder and Safia began pairing different food types together on their website’s shopfront, called them dinner kits and sent an email out to their customer list. ‘We saw a 1200 per cent increase in sales within the space of three weeks,’ Safia explains.

The team also invited people who purchased their dinner kits to online cookalongs in order to bring people together during lockdown.

Because we’d set up everything up digitally and we had an eCommerce website that was functioning, it was simple for customers to click and order

Reaping the benefits

Since adopting eCommerce software, Pure Punjabi has gone on to receive a number of Good Taste awards and has also been named one of the top Indian cookery courses in the UK by Olive food magazine.

The company has also been able to reach new audiences and sell to customers anywhere in the world without physical boundaries.

‘eCommerce has also made the customer journey easier for visitors to our site. We can constantly tweak it if any feedback’s received, including moving what’s on our shopfront and improving the search functionality for the things we sell,’ Surinder says.

Cooked Indian chicken dish with red onions, chopped herbs and a slice of lemon to garnish

‘We suddenly had people from Ireland, LA and Madrid coming together to cook with us online,’ Safia says.

‘Our customer support was so strong, and because we’d set up everything up digitally and we had an eCommerce website that was functioning, it was simple for customers to click and order. That was it. It was done.’

And, as their business has continued to grow, so too has Surinder and Safia’s confidence in using eCommerce software.

‘I think the key thing was reaching out to organisations which helped us gain the confidence and fine-tune things to grow our business,’ says Surinder.

My advice to any businesses thinking of adopting eCommerce software would be to just do it

‘We learned a lot of things along the way, but with any kind of digital support, any kind of know-how you don’t have, there’s always someone out there and help to grow your business is somewhere to be found.’

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