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Image Credit: Seyyed de la Llata/Gulf News

Dubai: The pandemic has been an eye-opener with many COVID-19 lessons to be learnt. From adopting life-style changes to re-working personal financial budgets in order to achieve a tight spending discipline amid the pandemic, the lessons have been varied. For Dhananjay Datar, founder and managing director of Al Adil Trading, a retail chain selling spices, it has been no different.

“Every day, there has been a new lesson and it is hard to spell each and every one of them. But there have been some key ones that will remain with me for the rest of my life,” said Datar.

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“As a businessman, my biggest challenge and learning has been on managing overhead costs and maximising profit with little disruption to my capital. And the way I did it was by negotiating hard with my suppliers. I could not overcharge customers, although they were purchasing food items in bulk. It was not the time to capitalise on increased demand. Instead, I had to be compassionate about their needs and serve them to the best. Trust me, there was a huge learning curve,” he said.

Good planning

Datar said the national sterilisation drive in the UAE reminded him of the time during the Gulf War when people were uncertain of the availability of food items. “There was no shortage whatsoever, but some people started panic-buying food items this March. And that was a challenge for us. I had to negotiate harder with my suppliers as I could not pass on my stress to the clients. Nor could I escalate prices. So I made sure there was a good planning in place for stock purchases.”

Another lesson he learnt was overhead management. “I am proud to say that I did not reduce any of my staff’s salary. No one was made redundant either. All I did was work around my cost and profit.”

Datar’s family supports him in his business and that helped reduce a lot of his financial stress. “The pandemic put everyone in a precarious situation. We had to learn, re-think strategies, re-work budgets. Even as businesses have reopened, we are still learning new things every day. My learning has been in managing overhead costs to a great extent,” he explained.

“The way to do it is by keeping costs low. And planning is critical. If you see, we tend to buy items well in advance. For example, Navaratri and Diwali are two festivals coming up over the next months. We have already bought all our items for these festivals. If you try and purchase in the last minute, the supplier always keeps prices higher by almost 400 to 500 per cent. So we tend to stock up well in advance.”

Keeping depression at bay

Datar, who has been quite open about his earlier battle with depression, said the pandemic did not let him down on this front. “Thanks to regular yoga and meditation, I kept depression at bay,” he said, adding, “Gratitude was something I felt very strongly as well. And that is exactly why I did a lot of charity work.”
Giving back to society

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An Adil store. Datar did not cut salaries of his staff during the pandemic. Image Credit: Ammar Ahmed/Special to Gulf News

Datar was actively involved in the repatriation of stranded Indians. He helped relocate thousands of people stuck in the UAE, who were desperate to return home.

“This was my way of giving back to a society that has given me so much. I thank the UAE and its people for my career success. If it were not for their love and support, I would have struggled financially in my life. My childhood was filled with poverty. So I know the pain of not having food on the table. I know the pain of not having family and your loved ones around you. And that is why when I heard about the plight of the stranded Indians in the UAE, I did not think twice about offering my help. The pandemic has been a great teacher and I have tried to be a good student.”