Finding advantage in diversity
"How's Mona?" So a regular at the Storm Lake Pronto store asks Mona Kaur while paying for his gasoline at the counter. "Where's Sabby?"
"He'll be back in a few minutes," Mona replies with a smile, handing him his change.
With that, the man sits down in a nearby booth; he'll wait. Just to say hello. To him, Pronto proprietors Sabby and Mona Kaur are worth the wait.
Customers sticking around Pronto to visit seems to be an everyday occurrence with the Kaurs, and this is the way they like it. Since purchasing the convenience store on Highway 110 in August 2001, the natives of India have come a long way in breaking down cultural and stereotypical barriers to the point of establishing a first name basis with many of the hundreds of customers setting foot in the store. The Kaurs continue to attract more customers every day with not only their friendliness, but also a recent remodeling and expansion of a liquor store, gift shop, live bait section and, in the near future, video rentals.
"Instead of a convenience store, we've made it into a small grocery store," Sabby said.
Two teenage boys walk into the store, to which Sabby has now returned.
"What's up, Sab?" one asks with a wave on his way to the beverage cooler. "You coming to my graduation party or what?"
"I'll be there," Sabby reassures him. This is one of five open houses that the Kaurs have been invited to attend on the weekend. Sabby plans to visit all of them. After all, the customers he, Mona, and their 5-month-old daughter Simar see in their store every day are more than just friends.
"The customers really are like our family," Sabby said. "If they're not here, what else would we do? We don't have a lot of family around here, so we wouldn't have much left if we didn't see our customers every day."
Although originally from halfway across the globe, Mona moved from Nawashaar, India to Fresno, Ca. with her family at age 9. Originally from Amritsar, India, Sabby earned his master's degree in Economics from Punjab University in India and arrived to the United States in 1996. He then earned his master's in Hospitality from UCLA. The two married last year and then moved to Des Moines, where Sabby managed an Ampride convenience store. He then learned that Pronto was for sale, and after visiting Storm Lake, the Kaurs decided to purchase the store last August.
"I came up a few times and looked at the location and the people, and I really liked it," Sabby said. "All kinds of people live here, so with all of this diversity, it was easy for me to set up my business."
Both Sabby and Mona agreed that America was vastly different from their homeland in some ways.
"America is such a fast country, especially in cities such as New York and L.A., where you're stuck in traffic for two hours. India isn't like that at all," Sabby said. "Secondly, there is no politics approach in the businesses here, like there is in India. This is a one of the examples of the U.S. being a democratic country, and this is why I came here to use my efficiency and education."
Although the Kaurs have a morning employee, they spend a majority of their time working in the store themselves. They both claim this is important in running a successful business.
"To be successful, you have to be around," Sabby said. "This is called 'presence of owner.' We want to give our customers personal attention and service, as well as a homelike atmosphere. We're not just a money maker. Like I said, customers are our family."
"And the customers treat us like we are their family," Mona added. "People are so friendly and personal, and they have accepted us as family in Storm Lake. A lot of the time, we have their order rang up as soon as they walk in the door."
"They won't even let us call them 'sir,'" laughed Sabby.
Sabby said that neither he or Mona have fears of racism, and that they have never had any problems, especially after Sept. 11.
"I've had no fears or problems at all since the attacks because I'm from India, and Mona was raised here." Sabby said. "If someone were to confront me, I'd just tell them that I'm not at all related to them."
Although he and Mona both speak fluent English. Sabby addressed that hard work overshadows the importance of language barriers.
"English is certainly a preference in this country, but what's most important is knowing how to satisfy and help the customer," Sabby said. "I started my first job mopping, sweeping and as a stock boy, and after five months I was the best manager of the same store. I experience it now from the other side since I don't speak Spanish, but I still try my best to satisfy the customer."
In the nine months since Sabby and Mona Kaur first purchased Pronto, the store has changed vastly in both size and atmosphere. Both still have continuing plans to improve the store, and both continue daily to add more to their family of customers.
Mona hands change to another customer as Sabby chats outside at the gas pumps.
"Thanks a lot," Mona says. The customer responds with words that are like music to the Kaurs' ears.
"Thank you Mona, see you tomorrow."