By Jekhan Aruliah
On Saturday 11th July 2020 Abans opened its first Elite Showroom in Jaffna (in the Cargills Mall on Hospital Road). In fact this is the first Elite Showroom anywhere north of Anuradhapura. Best known as one of Sri Lanka’s leading electrical goods retailers, Abans is also sole agent in Sri Lanka for Hero motorbikes and Hyundai vehicles. Elite Showrooms are aimed at the more affluent market segment looking for higher spec products. This opening shows Abans’ confidence in the North’s growing prosperity.
A number of Abans’ senior management came to Jaffna for the opening ceremony, giving me the chance to talk with their new Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mr. Channa Pathirana. Channa has had a long career in the Consumer Durables and Electronics (e.g. refrigerators, TVs etc) industry in Sri Lanka. He already had several years in this sector before he joined Abans in 2002. Working his way through the ranks, Channa was appointed Abans COO in 2020.
I asked Channa about the history of Abans’ presence in the North. Abans has sold products in Jaffna since 2001 through a dealer network. As the war was ending in 2009, Channa pitched the idea to the Abans Board that there would be a great opportunity for them as the North recovered and reconstructed after the war. The board agreed, and in 2009 Channa flew to Jaffna 10 times to do the preliminary work of choosing sites, recruiting staff, and opening 10 of its own shops.
The gradual return to post-war stability gave people the confidence to invest in their homes, which were no longer under threat of military or militant action. Nearly 30 years of pent-up demand was ready to be unleashed. Knowing many in the local population had limited access to cash, Abans offered hire-purchase agreements on terms cheaper than borrowing from the banks. Abans had “trade-in offers”, where they give a discount if say an old refrigerator was handed in when a new refrigerator was purchased. More recently Abans does deals with credit card companies to offer interest free loans over upto 5 years. The Tamil Diaspora too were buying fridges, washing machines and other white goods to be delivered to their families in the Northern Province. Even now many purchases are made from abroad, often on the Abans online portal, to be delivered and installed in homes in the Northern Province. 17 staff were hired in 2009 as showroom assistants for those first 10 shops. Over the years, all 17 become showroom managers earning good incomes to bring up their families. The Regional Manager and the Sales Manager for the Northern Province both started as showroom assistants in Jaffna, and worked their way up to these senior positions. From that initial 17 people, Abans now employs over 250 staff in the Northern Province. These include rehabilitated former LTTE cadres, who Abans welcomes into its ranks giving them a chance to enter a well paying career with good prospects for them and their families.
Abans is a profit making business that came North because of the business opportunity, said Channa. Abans shares its profits with the Northern community, doing CSR projects. To help the North in its recovery Abans has built houses and wells, it has sponsored community celebrations, it has put on training courses for the young people to use computers. Of course it hopes widening computer skills will increase the demand for computers, but that’s good for business and good for upskilling the young people.
Channa said that some of his staff had never left Jaffna when they joined Abans. He gets his major suppliers to sponsor trips when sales targets are met, and has taken his top performing teammates to Europe, South East Asia, and the USA.
With its comprehensive training programme, Abans teaches its staff about management, stock control, financial control. Jetwings and Cargills are also national champions who have opened up in the North. These are companies who give their Northern staff the chance to take senior roles and teach them how to operate at National and International standards. These are skills that their staff can use if they leave to join and increase the professionalism of other Northern companies. Or even setup their own companies in the North, that can compete in and beyond the North.
Uthaman Jegatheeswaran, Showroom Manager Elite Jaffna, can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
( — The writer Jekhan Aruliah was born in Sri Lanka and moved with his family to the UK when he was two years of age. Brought up in London, he graduated from Cambridge University in 1986 with a degree in Natural Sciences. Jekhan then spent over two decades in the IT industry, for half of which he was managing offshore software development for British companies in Colombo and in Gurgaon (India). In 2015 Jekhan decided to move to Jaffna where he is now involved in social and economic projects. He can be contacted at email@example.com — )