As a career NRI, I have always been in awe of the Boutique Boudi.
To the heretic, Boutique Boudi buys goods from India and sells them at a high markup in the US, but for those who have seen the light, they know that the real value she provides is the curation of the collection, be it jamdani sari or tribal earrings or ethnic bangles or the classical-yet-modern gold necklace that will catch the fancy of the traditional “born-in-India” mother as well as the US-citizen daughter, and as anyone who has done a PhD knows, you pay for advice. To be honest, your PhD advisor takes your future and your sanity as payment for the mentor ship, the Boutique Boudi, despite how much the sticker price may shock you, charges much less.
The Boutique Boudi isn’t just someone who makes an insane profit, no that would make her a Bezos or an Ambani, a cold worshipper of mammon . No the Boutique Boudi is friendly, and ever-smiling, and she knows, at least the successful ones, like Steve Jobs, that business isn’t a race to the bottom, but a rise to the top, that sustaining business operations lies not in undercutting prices( not that sometimes desperate times do not call for desperate measures) but in expanding the market.
For the Boutique Boudi sets the trend, defines the style, and when she sells, she sells to you, the person, knowing what it is you need even if you don’t know it yourself.
The personalization is the real secret. When she says “but I know you can buy this and this, all together for $2200, but I will make it $1999 because we are friends, and no please don’t tell me, you can’t afford this, your husband just went from senior manager to director, of course you can”, you realize the value proposition is not so much in the discount of $200, but the fact that if you walk away from the deal, then through the Boutique Boudi, the Bengali community of greater DC or the Bay Area or Los Angeles may suspect that your husband did not got a real promotion, just a title change within the same pay scale band.
The Best Boutique Boudis are resourceful. Once when British Airways gave 3 suitcases for economy, it used to be the carrier of choice for the Boutique Boudis to maintain their supply chain. Even though from time to time, BA might lose a suitcase or two, but that was fine, after all which business does not have loss of product during transport. Now that all carriers have become stingy with baggage allowance, the Boutique Boudi fly business to take advantage of the check-in limit, and this she can do, thanks to miles on credit cards. The flying premium is not just a way to efficiently move product, no, the Boutique Boudi knows, that social media updates from business or first radiate success, and success is like an open wireless network, everyone wants to tether to it.
Boutique Boudis use strategies for business development not taught in Harvard Business school. If the Boutique Boudi can get into the magazine committee, or even better, the events committee, her premier customers get into the inside track. What that means is that their article comes out in the first few pages of the pujo magazine, or their daughter dances in the front line of “Mayabono biharini” or their son does a solo recital from “Sishu Bholanath”. In that, the Boutique Boudi isn’t just selling a sari or a necklace, but a place at the table and an assurance of social prestige, and at 75 dollars a blouse piece, that’s a steal.
While coronavirus may have dealt a death blow to many an industry, the Boutique Boudi has adapted around it, zoom “show and tell” and WhatsApp price lists has replaced the table next to the prasad line at the pujo and print outs taken from office. And as we hope for normalcy to return around Durga pujo 2021, I am confident the Boutique Boudi will be waiting, with new merchandise, new narratives and that old, warm smile, putting a gentle price tag on the corporeal as well as the intangible.