New Delhi: Raghunath D Medge, President, Mumbai Dabbawalas Association and Gangaram Talekar, Secretary, Dabbawalas Association have reason to beam with pride. From ubiquitious beginnings where they started with a handful of clients, filling a nascent need amongst middle class office goers, today they are a full fledged Six Sigma company, which is emerging as a preferred case study in leading B-schools across the country.
The International School of Business & Media, Noida organized a seminar “The Journey from 100 to 6’ inviting them to share the experiences of their long and eventful journey with students and staff of ISBM and several other B-schools.
“Mumbai’s Tiffin box-carriers are providing lessons to corporate India on leadership and efficiency. People study business books and then practice. Ours is the reverse. We practiced first and have now become case studies.” said Raghunath Medge, addressing an enthusiastic batch of stduents.
Atul Sinha, Director of ISBM, Noida said that they chose the Mumbai Dabbawallas to come and make a presentation because they felt that the students would be able to relate to their dreams and growth chart as also set aspirational goals for themselves. Specifically theirs was a classic case of success in implementing principles of supply chain management.
With logistics becoming more and more a top management issue, inviting the dabbawalas to interact with students was in a sense, a part of the business school’s endeavour to provide lessons on time management which is the pivotal part of strategic preparedness across various sectors.
How it all started
The dabbawallahs date back to late 19th century when Bombay’s rapidly growing population needed feeding at work. More than a century later Mumbai’s middle classes still prefer their chapattis cooked at home supplied at the right time and place by the most indigenous distribution systems in the world.
The self-employed dabbawallahs, each a small-scale entrepreneur, work in groups of four in a sort of multiple relay ensuring door-to-door delivery. The aluminum boxes in which each lunch is carried, are sorted according to their destination and loaded onto the local trains. But the system has aged well.
Supply chain model
Forbes magazine recently awarded it a six-sigma performance rating, which ranks the dabbahwallahs alongside the likes of GE and Motorola in terms of efficiency and quality of service. 175,000 boxes are transported every day, it has to go to the right person, it has to start from a point of origination, go through transshipment in the infrastructure which is the public infrastructure in the trains of Mumbai in all seasons including the monsoon and it has to arrive on time in the right place in the right box.
Many of the dabbawallahs are semi-literate, and in a city in which many observe religious dietary rules an errant delivery could easily cause offence. To get over that, each tiffin box is colour-coded and marked with simple acronyms such as ‘HO’ for hospital according to its final destination. There’s nothing new or complicated in this supply chain model, which works much like a courier company.
Low capital, high efficiency
What make it unique is its low capital intensity and its price performance relationship. The tiffin box carriers rely almost entirely on local trains, benefiting from an extensive and reliable train network. Costs are low, as are wages, and that keeps the price down. It’s just 3,000 rupees a month for the service.