For most businesses, life revolves around the store – be it a flagship showroom in the centre of town, a slew of outlets on every street, a pop-up in an unexpected zone or just a tiny kiosk in a busy mall. The fancy display, the bright lights, the attendants, the crushing rent... that’s the first step to establishing a brand and turning a profit.
Or is it? For a new breed of retailers across India, a store is actually a marker that the brand is already established, the profits already turned. We spoke to three online stores that recently launched brick-and-mortar versions of their businesses.
“You can try before you buy”
Akshay Narvekar Founder, Bombay Shirt Company
People started noticing. Buddies and family would ask him for tips and he realised he had a business idea up his customised sleeve. But in Mumbai, opening a shop would mean at least a 5,000-sqft area and lakhs of rupees in rent. So he just took his brand, the Bombay Shirt Company, online.
Bombayshirt.com launched in August 2012 with three people. Stylists would go to customers’ homes with swatches of fabric, and mall kiosks would help people customise their shirts. Orders started to pour in, word-of-mouth and social media promotions helped popularise the brand.
This July, Narvekar finally made enough money (and fans) to open a store in Kala Ghoda. "Sizes provided by customers are not always accurate. Many want to feel the fabric before ordering, which is not possible online. So an offline store makes sense," says Narvekar.
Narvekar is one of the few businessmen using virtual-world experience to push real-world retail. But some things are surprisingly common to both formats. Both stores are "always busy on the weekends", Narvekar says.
“Online shops helped us test the waters”
Vivek Prabhakar, Co-founder and CEO, Chumbak
Offbeat souvenirs, funky jewellery and kitschy clothes on Vivek Prabhakar and Shubhra Chadda’s Chumbak.com were all the rage when it was launched in April 2010. But now the website contributes only 20 per cent of their business. The company’s 21 offline stores take centre stage.
The young entrepreneurs have now set up what they call the “world’s largest Chumbak store” in Delhi and Bangalore. Ten smaller formats are also opening.
While the quirky nature of the brand seems a perfect fit for the Web, where shoppers are usually younger, Prabhakar and Chadda say a regular store was always the plan. “We wanted to be visible on both platforms,” Prabhakar explains.
It wasn’t just lack of space or funds that stopped the two earlier. They simply didn’t have enough products to fill a shop. “There was no method to our madness when it came to launching our products,” says Prabhakar, 36, Chumbak CEO.
So, like any good businessman, they tested the waters online for two years while introducing new products, dropping slow-moving categories and tweaking the prices to suit more customers.
In July 2013, Chumbak had its first real test. Their first store, a tiny one, opened in Forum Mall, Bangalore. But what was meant to be a pilot project for three-four months, lasted just a few days. “We were completely overwhelmed by the response from customers,” says Prabhakar.
Within a week we knew the idea was a hit and decided to speed up the process of opening our stores.” Twenty more opened within the next few months. The start-up today employs more than 70 people.
“Our hybrid model is a success mostly because customers wanted to see and buy our products – all under one roof,” says Prabhakar.
"A store builds trust in the site”
A furniture shop needs at least 30,000 sqft, crores in investment and an exhaustive inventory. Vikram Chopra and Mehul Agrawal had none of these.
But they were determined to find a way to make furniture available and affordable. Where else to go but online? FabFurnish.com launched in March 2012. Chopra dropped out of The Wharton School’s MBA programme to start the website. Within six months, they opened their first store in Gurgaon; a tiny 5,000 sqft one with very limited stock.
“The idea of the shop is to give a boost to the website. Seeing a brick-and-mortar store helps build trust,” Chopra says. They also have similar stores in Faridabad and Bangalore.
The site, which gets 1.5 lakh visitors a day, gives customers a 360-degree view of every product, with details like raw material, dimensions and finish. The store gives undecided buyers the assurance that the furniture lives up to its imagery.
While most sites are built to boost shop sales, FabFurnish just might be the one tipping the scales.
From HT Brunch, November 30
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