Nepali Times
On the right track



In the teeming alleyways of Thamel's bustling streets, Shona's trekking supply shop is an unprepossessing, indistinctive hole in the wall that hardly lures you in. But ask any experienced trekker or mountaineer where to go to rent or buy kit in the capital and they will say Shona's.

What singles out the 15-year-old business is not only that it is run by a woman, the charismatic Shona Lama, but that she is from the mountains?Taplejung and is an experienced and passionate trekker herself.

"I love trekking and I know what you need and what you don't need. I have seen how often people make mistakes and how they suffer," Shona told us after Nepali Times selected her shop as Company of the Month for January 2009. "Unless you trek yourself you can't give out advice."

In fact it was while trekking in 1981 that Shona gave birth to her second daughter in Jomsom. Shona started hiring out and selling equipment because her first husband was a climber. In those days, she says, it was common for climbers' wives to run such businesses in Thamel, but many have since launched hotels or emigrated to the US. She is now a rarity.

What is also rare, and somewhat disarming, is her reluctance to sell her customers anything that is surplus to their needs. Why go for the pricier thermals when the cheaper ones will keep you just as warm? Why buy two fleeces when you really only need one for 14 days in the Everest region? Meanwhile, she enthusiastically dispenses mountain advice for free.

In a market which is highly competitive and in which word of mouth is everything, it's a brilliant sales tactic for a company that has never done any advertising. Talking and laughing with clients who hail from all corners of the world and dispensing advice and encouragement regarding their impending adventure keeps
her going.

"We deal with every nation in the world. Meeting famous climbers, writers and photographers is nice. Every day is different. When people go and come back and give you two bottles of beer because they were happy with their equipment, it feels nice," says Shona.

When it comes to trekking she likes to be alone, carrying her own equipment rather than taking porters, which may explain why she urges hikers not to purchase too much and keep their packs as light as possible.

Renting out mountain equipment such as plastic boots, crampons and sleeping bags to those scaling all the trekking peaks of Nepal accounts for most of the business. Shona works seven days a week and sells, or rents out, 120 sleeping bags and 90 trekking jackets each month of the season.

She claims that business remains steady though the shop can weather the slower periods because she and her husband live a pretty humble life. "We have lunch for Rs 30 and dinner for Rs 50," she says. Her children are grown up and have independent means, so she doesn't have to worry too much about the ongoing business.

Nevertheless, these are worrying times for the dozens in the trekking equipment industry. Tourism is bound to be severely dented by the global economic crisis. And those that can still afford to come to Nepal will be deterred if the country returns to political instability.

But putting aside such macro issues, which make starting out in the trade a pretty daunting prospect, Shona concludes: "Business is about luck as much as it's about business.
And it's about interest and passion too."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)