Catering for industrial workers, one factory at a time

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A startup that is exclusively geared towards RMG employees has built 19 stores in three years and is still moving at full steam

October 17, 2021, 10:40 a.m.

Last changed: October 17, 2021 10:43 a.m.

Apon Wellbeing is setting up retail stores in the RMG factories, where workers can buy everyday products with an average of nine percent discount on the market price. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

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Apon Wellbeing is setting up retail stores in the RMG factories, where workers can buy everyday products with an average of nine percent discount on the market price. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

Siraj Panna is an operator at Alim Knit BD Ltd, one of the largest knitwear companies in Bangladesh. He is part of more than three million people currently employed in our RMG industry.

“I don’t always have money on hand,” said Siraj. And he’s not alone. Dozens of employees in the RMG industry are withheld enough cash for even the most basic things like groceries that last an entire month.

But Alim Knit BD Ltd, the company Siraj works for, is a partner of Apon Wellbeing.

“I can buy products now and later pay with my salary. It’s a great initiative for us. We get more discounts here than anywhere else, ”explains Siraj.

Apon Wellbeing is setting up retail stores in the RMG factories, where workers can buy everyday products with an average of nine percent discount on the market price. These shops, called fair priced shops, have a wide variety of products just like any other average Dhaka supermarket.

Siraj and his partner have been regular customers in the Fair Price shop next to his workplace for three months. The couple are very happy to be able to buy products in the shop whenever they need it.

You can use a wide range of products, from staples like rice, wheat, lentils, cooking oil, spices to snacks like cookies, chips and fresh bread. There is a certain discount for each product, which together results in an average flat-rate discount of 9 percent on the total purchase amount.

Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

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Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

Dairy products, hygiene products, fresh and frozen food, drinks, etc. are also part of the Apon range of fair price shops.

Like Siraj, there are three million others who would be interested in such a service if it were made available. And it wasn’t until 2018 that Apon Wellbeing developed a business model for this otherwise largely ignored target group in order to make food, health insurance and credit services accessible to RMG employees.

“We found that there are thousands of people working under one roof who never got into retailing, even though there are plenty of opportunities in this sector. So I was wondering why people don’t see this as a retail opportunity” said Saif Rashid, founder and CEO of Apon Wellbeing.

In 2015, while delving deeper into the ideology, Saif came across the DBL Group’s CSR initiative – running fair price shops on their premises. However, he found that most of the factories that specialized in manufacturing did not specialize in retailing.

“But if a third party took up the challenge, I think the factories would be willing to give access to implement changes,” he said.

In 2016, Saif matured his idea and received funding from Ashoka, a global organization that supports social entrepreneurs, to experiment with it.

“I quit my job because I thought it was a $ 112 billion market with around 3.4 million people that nobody was serving. So I jumped in, ”Saif said during an interview with The Business Standard.

And five years later, Apon Wellbeing is thriving.

Apon Wellbeing has 20 stores in various RMG factories and supplies around 51,000 employees. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

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Apon Wellbeing has 20 stores in various RMG factories and supplies around 51,000 employees.  Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

Apon Wellbeing has 20 stores in various RMG factories and supplies around 51,000 employees. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed / TBS

It is a multi-channel marketplace start-up that offers RMG employees affordable retail products with credit benefits and annual health insurance coverage of up to Tk 15,000.

Workers can purchase products on credit from Apon Wellbeing without paying interest and clear fees after receiving their salaries. Every employee who buys products worth Tk 2,000 each month can take out health insurance free of charge from the company’s insurance partners.

Apon Wellbeing currently operates 20 shops in various RMG factories and supplies around 51,000 workers, 4,500 of whom are currently insured.

“I’ve bought over Tk 2,000 worth of products every month for the past four months. I’m looking forward to health insurance coverage,” said Mohammed Sobuj, operator of the sewing division of Alim Knit BD Ltd.


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