When we are kids we have lots of dreams, we dream of being a teacher at the age of 10 then we move on to dreaming to become a doctor at 15. Same was for Alina, managing director of Cera Nepal. But regardless of countless dreams she had, joining her father’s venture Cera Nepal and taking it to new heights was something that stayed alive throughout her childhood. And after 5 years of grooming, research and market understanding, she finally joined Cera Nepal as the managing director a year ago.
Since then there has been no looking back. She has surely taken Cera Nepal to new heights with incorporation of modern business tools, social media being one.
Read our conversation with the very humble and ambitious Alina Prajapati to know more about one of the very first ceramic companies in Nepal.
Can you please introduce yourself?
I am Alina Prajpati, the managing director of Cera Nepal. In the past my parents were running this venture and it has been a year since I joined Cera Nepal with the motive of making things better here. I completed my bachelor degree and worked for some organizations then I decided to leave my job and work at Cera Nepal because I saw some really good potential in our own pottery business. The demand in this sector is very high but it has lots of challenges to scale up. Despite the challenges I am confident that I can do well and add value to Cera Nepal.
You mentioned that you have a certain innovation and change you want to bring to Cera Nepal. Can you mention them?
Previously, Cera Nepal was operating more as a traditional small business, with limited resources. However, as the saying goes change is the heartbeat of growth, I want to bring in that change to Cera Nepal. For instance, previously, like I said we were a brick and mortar store with almost zero online presence. Now to adapt to the digital environment, I have started Cera Nepal’s Facebook and Instagram page, we also have our website now. This has allowed us to reach to new customers and tap new markets.
Similarly, we have started pottery sessions which were there in the past too, but I’d say the sessions were not optimally marketed. Now, we are marketing it on our social media stating the benefits it brings to an individual.
Moreover, there were no proper policies related to accounting, work life balance, professionalism, or difference between personal and professional life. I am actively working on bringing concrete managerial policies at Cera Nepal now. Along with this, we have started incorporating innovation into our business in terms of product designs. Previously we used to make products based on the clients’ designs now we have launched products with our own designs.
Yes, these are the changes we are bringing and have brought at Cera Nepal, it is more of improvising the traditional practices through modern technologies around us.
Is this a family business?
No it’s not. Actually my grandfather used to make pots and clay utensils, it was his profession. Then my dad, Ratna Prashad Prajapati, took training for both pottery as well as ceramics. He visited Thailand, India and other nations, learned new additional skills related to ceramic items, then returned back and started Cera Nepal Udyog. So, Cera Nepal is not a generationally passed down family business, my dad established the business on his own.
Who are your allies in running Cera Nepal as of now?
We have 10 staff which includes both part time and full time staff. Apart from this my entire family, my mom, my dad, my brother and me, we collectively work on the management aspect. My brother looks after IT, technology, designing and also helps me with marketing. My parents look after the production and I look after the entire management as well as marketing.
How has the COVID crisis affected the operation of your venture?
Because of the COVID, 90% of our production is down. Also, we have very limited staff working with us as of now. In addition, we have not been able to export our products. Similarly, we had been importing some raw materials too which again has been halted.
But it also brought in a lot of opportunities I’d say. Because of the lockdown, import was halted so people started looking for local alternatives and the demand for our pots did increase during the lockdown. Similar is the case for pottery sessions. We have been getting a lot of inquiries and appointments for pottery classes.
What products are exported? And what about the domestic market?
We mainly export the ceramic products. Nepal has a small market for handicraft products. So, as we all are well aware they are mainly exported. It has been more than 30 year we have been in this business, so we have a well established international market. We export our products to Europe, USA and Japan.
Similarly, for the domestic market, the demand is increasing mainly for the flower pot with an increase in peoples’ interest in gardening. But again not all products are consumed by the local Nepali market.
How did you decide that extending pottery services would add value to both your customers and Cera Nepal?
Pottery is something that you know is there, for instance you watch videos, you see pottery places when strolling around Bhaktapur but people haven’t actually got to experience it first hand. And we at Cera Nepal wanted to promote that experience, the feeling of creating a piece from the very scratch.
Also pottery sessions aren’t something that is new to us. Even before I started working here, we used to conduct pottery sessions during birthday parties and other events. People even used to visit us. So, it was there but as we say everything has its own time, somehow during the lockdown people started noticing our pottery sessions. And they also liked the idea of one experiencing it hands on. Also we have started conducting ceramic training classes on a monthly basis.
Any unique customer experience you’ve had in terms of pottery lessons?
Every customer visits our pottery lessons with different motives. Recently we had a lady who visited us during her post pregnancy period with the motive of relaxation whereas others come for fun. Likewise, what we have noticed is that parents tend to bring their kids along with them because they want them to experience the feeling of creating something from the very scratch themselves. All in all, all the experiences we have had are unique with a common ground of sense of fulfillment and satisfaction the customers achieve after the pottery lessons.
How can people enroll for the pottery classes?
If you are really keen and want to learn pottery as a skill then you can come every week. But for now we are more inclined towards pottery sessions where we engage the people for half an hour to one hour. For timing and all, they can simply contact us on our Facebook and Instagram page and let us know the day they want to visit and based on the schedule we allocate them a time. They can just let us know a day before and a week before for monthly class.
Would one hour be sufficient for the people taking the pottery session?
Actually, it is more than sufficient. You can have a whole day session too but our brain is not programmed that way, the human brain can concentrate on one thing for a maximum of one hour. So, a one hour session is more than enough time.
What would be the price for the pottery session?
As of now we are charging Rs.500 per person for an hour session. And under this charge you can also take your creation with you on the same day. However, if you want to take your creations home after it dries which takes around 2 weeks then there are some additional charges that you’ll have to pay.
What are your future plans for Cera Nepal?
We have a bunch of plans for the future. We will be coming up with new in house designs that would mainly tap the domestic market. Similarly we are also working on infrastructure and resources for our expansion. Likewise, we will also scale up our pottery sessions because as of now we are going very slow and we have not optimally promoted the sessions due to the pandemic. So, we will be working on that. To be precise, we will be more focused on the marketing, branding and customer satisfaction in the coming years.
How has your journey been so far as the managing director of Cera Nepal?
Taking up this role was questionable for me. Yes, I knew that at some point of time I’d join Cera Nepal but I wasn’t 100% sure. But when I started my journey, I got a lot of support from the people I know as well as people I didn’t know. So, because of all these support I was able to tackle all the challenges that came across my way and move past the self doubt that I had regarding this role. The journey has been full of learnings and the hustle has truly been worth it.
Book your appointment for a pottery session, a perfect way to detox and relaxation here
Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya