Month: May 2014

Creating an Indian Super Hero

Try and try till you succeed! An adage that aptly sums up Rajiv Chilaka’s journey in the world of animation and thrilling kids with pukka made in India cartoon series. If you have al little one at home, chances are Chota Bheem is his imaginary friend and this Chota Bheem was a dream for Rajiv for 3 long years before he could have his little patrons enjoy his strength and madness!

From the Memory Book
In Rajiv Chilaka’s own words, “As a child Mickey Mouse, Superman, He-man and Spiderman fascinated me no end. I would turn to my father and always demand a personal meeting with them and to my dismay each time he would turn it down saying – they live in the US. Back then, my innocent mind made a decision – to have an Indian superhero! It was there in the subconscious. Life moved on. I went ahead to get a degree in software engineering and worked in the US in the early 2000 as a software engineer. Things were awesome! Something struck me and I decided I wasn’t a fit as a software engineer. My calling came and I got myself a certified degree in Animation from San Francisco University. India pulled me back to her and on returning I set up my small animation studio. We worked on creating a cartoon series on Krishna but then Krishna wasn’t our character and any other company would take him away from us if they did a better job. Three years of struggle and three rejections and then finally my little Indian superhero – Chota Bheem was born. Proud to say that today, Chota Bheem commands 80 per cent of the air-time on a cartoon channel and this very same concept faced 3 rejections earlier as people weren’t comfortable with having an Indian cartoon with a completely new character.”

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Ask him to talk about some decisions he is proud of and he shares, “When 3D came into picture, a lot many studios re-invented themselves to have a 3D set-up. I held on to what I had. I knew 3D was in demand and that the entertainment business was undergoing a change but I held on to my @d set-up and now looking back, this was one of my best decisions undertaken.” Today, Chilaka’s Chota Bheem has not only managed to create a storm in the cartoon world but in retail too, Chota Bheem’s merchandize is a hit – be it for water bottles or bags. Chilaka set-up Green Gold stores and he has a strong franchise network selling nothing but Chota Bheem merchandise.

Words of Wisdom
“There is no winning without losing!” Rajiv strongly feels that there is immense talent in India – that all the small studios, which are into animation, have a lot of potential. It is just about being persistent and determination to carry on rather than give up. As he says, “Success really doesn’t come in overnight and that is my message to entrepreneurs. We have gone through a lot many struggles but today when I look back, it was all learning! I am happy to have gone through it!”

Listen to your Gut
Chilaka shares, “Listen to your intuition. It is the universe talking to you!”

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Kalanjali – Propagating India’s Cultural Heritage

Engaging Customers through India’s Art and Crafts – the Story of Kalanjali                

 Indian heritage manages to catch the fancy of people across the globe. No wonder the shops which deal in handicrafts, arts and artifacts are a hit at any of the Indian airports or locations close to the airports. A lot many of such stores also find a prominent place in 5-star hotels. Kalanjali Arts and Crafts is one such name that its patrons vouch for when it comes to authentic Indian arts and crafts. Brainchild of the Ramoji Group of Hyderabad which also has other business interests like publishing, film production and distribution, film studios, satellite television, financial services, hospitality and tourism, processed foods and handlooms, Kalanjali Arts and Crafts also has to its credit the setting up of India’s first fully functional ecommerce site for exclusive Indian arts and crafts.

A Humble Journey

Very well defining the concept of Kalanjali Arts and Crafts, Sailaja Kiron, director, Kalanjali shares, “Kalanjali is primarily a retail chain promoting hand-made products like handicrafts, handloom products, ethnic and traditional sarees, dress materials and other women’s wear with very rich hand-work. It is a tribute to art and a celebration of beauty. ”

Established in 1992, Kalanjali aptly reflects the rich Indian tradition, culture, history extending Indian skills in the area of arts and crafts. Says Kiron, “Kalanjali’s handcrafted Indian textiles, steeped in tradition, are the living heritage of the glory of Indian subcontinent. Our thrust has always been on the design development and fabric construction of ready to wear garments. Enthused by the positive response from our customers we built the brand “Kalanjali” on a pan India basis by establishing showrooms at Baroda, Ahmedabad, two in Bangalore;  apart from 3 outlets in Hyderabad itself and many more are in the pipe line across India.”

 Apart from apparels and textiles the store is the sacred place to find the secrets of India’s most beautiful works of art like rare and exquisite pottery, unique metal ware, woodcraft, paintings and more.  Adds Kiron, “It has the largest and the most exclusive collection of Indian Handicrafts. Kalanjali is an enriching experience into rich Indian tradition and cultural heritage. It is much more than just a purchasing experience.”

What perhaps sets this store stand out is its commitment in the perseverance of specific Indian art which in some cases ran into the danger of becoming extinct. Says Kiron, “We conceive our role as an effective link between the artisan producer and the customers. We have undertaken an extremely imaginative approach to present the rich panorama of the traditional handicrafts practiced in different regions of India in their depth and variety.” Commenting on the competitors for the brand, Kiron says, “There are hardly any competitors for our kind of range, the widely known brand with pan India basis has simple garments which are just plain where as we construct garments from Pure Handloom Fabrics.”

 Kiron’s dedication reflects in the tag line of Kalanjali “our weaves are our worship”; true to her spirit, warps and wefts underwent a transformation, with designer and trendy inputs, new formats evolved from the old tradition but all this to keep in sync with the market dyunamics though utmost care was always undertaken not to mess around with the authentic essence of the India heritage the product carried with it. Her guidelines to her inspired team has always been to sustain the regional character of a product.

Challenges

Shares Kiron, “This journey of 18 years been very tough particularly because the craftsmen were very reluctant to adapt anything new; were not willing to walk beyond the traditional domain in terms of materials, techniques and design. Kalanjali imbibed in their DNA to explore further, loom widths have been modified to make fabrics of varied needs. Lots of experiments have been done in the combination of warps and wefts.”

In the field of Handicrafts Kalanjali can take the privilege of calling itself a “savior” of several perishing crafts like silver filigri, bidri etc. Shares Kiron, “The artisans of this particular crafts were shifting to alternative employment opportunities because of lack of demand, marketing support and lack of capital particularly being expensive nature of work. At that juncture, we not only supported them financially but also provided design inputs to make the product gel with times thus giving them a good marketing platform to reach to the larger audiences.”

Talking about the ecommerce facility being extended by Kalanjali, Kiron says, “Shopping at Kalanjali is quick, easy and safe. One can place orders from anywhere in the world for delivery worldwide. Kalanjali accepts all Indian and International Credit/Debit cards, in addition to offering a host of other payment options. It also employs stringent security measures; to ensure customers shopping experience is safe either off line or online at www.kalanjali.com .”

Keeping itself abreast with technology, each merchandize at the store is bar coded and the store representatives have a live access to all the branches for inventory management and any recent decisions made by the governing board. There is an in-house library and premium membership facility for designers and the executive staff for continuous improvement and design development.

On Offer

 The brick and mortar store as well as the online store caters to audiences across socio-economic classes where one can come across products starting from Rs. 9/- each to Rs. 99, 99,999/- each in the premium category. Though according to Kiron, bulk of the brand’s sale comes from the premium category.

 Some of the prominent categories of Items are as following.

Textiles- sarees, ready-to-wear women’s wear, yardage, unstitched material, textile accessories, men’s wear, kid’s wear etc.

Handicrafts – wood wares, art metal ware, paintings, stone wares and marble artifacts, jewelry, leather, pottery and ceramics, paper and paper products, cane and bamboo etc.

 Retail Presence and Future Plans

Kalanjali showroom (including the textile division), stores and administrative office together is spread over an approximate area of 1,50,000 Sft. Kalanjali has mega plans, its adding up another 70,000 sft very shortly across India and is looking forward to have its presence in every major city of India. 

Milestones Achieved

16-11-1992      Handicrafts and Handloom showroom at Hyderabad

04-09-1995      Textile showroom at Hyderabad

 15-02-2002     Textile flagship showroom at Hyderabad

09-10-2002      Textile showroom at Vijayawada                  

24-03-2006      Handlooms mini showroom at Paradise, Hyderabad

04-10-2008      Textile showroom at Vizag    

09-10-2008      Textile showroom at Kukatpally,Hyderabad 

01-06-2008      Handlooms mini showroom at Total Mall, Bangalore

04-09-2008      Handlooms mini showroom at Baroda                     

01-03-2010      Handlooms mini showroom at Manrti Mall, Bangalore

08-04-2010      Textile showroom at Manrti Mall, Bangalore          

16-11-2005      Brisah – Luxury exclusive ladies wear showroom      

-Zainab Morbiwala
penned for STOrai magazine 

Ecommerce Mania in India and Lessons from K. Vaitheesawaran

From diapers to condoms, we have all of it being sold online now! Exclusive portals have mushroomed which specialize is just eyewear to even portals that sell ‘adult’ stuff; we have it all! Lots came and many closed down too but then those that have stood the test of time in the ecommerce industry in India include names like – Flipkart.com, Jabong.com, Myntra.com, ebay.in, amazon.in, homeshop18.com and fabfurnish.com. A business trend clearly adopted from the West, ecommerce in India has surpassed the stage of ‘infancy’ in India at lightening speed. With high internet penetration, people in the smallest of towns and villages are connected to the online shopping world. A company called SalonWares that has introduced brands like Kent Brushes and Andis Trimmers in India reveals that they have people from villages ordering Kent shaving brushes and hair brushes worth Rs. 7000 and above! And whoever thought India is reeling under the economic depression phase!

The revolution of the ecommerce industry in India was started in a way by indiaplaza.com. Taking lead here was the sale of music It was gradually that other products were added to the list and then indiaplaza came to be known for its tempting bargains offered on books. It does sadden me to see the demise of indiaplaza.com today. Reasons could be many – from not being able to keep pace with the changing dynamics of ecommerce in India or it could also be young minds coming together and raising funds for the launch of their ecommerce projects and offering things that youth fancy and in the way that they fancy!

Appended is the journey on K Vaitheesawaran, founder- indiaplaza.com that I had collated for the magazine I was spearheading a few years ago –

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Taking India Online – Indiaplaza.in

 

Once upon a time, long ago way back in the previous century (actually in 1998 but 13 years is a long time on the internet) while I was working for Wipro, I was assigned a special project where I had to contact several people outside India.I was using the phone when someone suggested I should try email.I had no idea what he was talking about (seriously) and one of my friends helped me get an Hotmail id. While using Hotmail I saw an ad promoting a store selling books on the internet. I clicked on it, landed on the site amazon.com and as far as I was concerned, this click changed my life. I spent hours every day browsing through this site, absolutely fascinated by the concept of selling stuff online and felt that this was something waiting to be replicated in India.

In 1999, along with a few friends I got an opportunity to co-found India’s first e-commerce company www.fabmart.com.We did not face much of an issue getting our seed funding. Our challenge was starting the business itself.

Since we were attempting to launch a unique concept, we faced serious challenges communicating the business idea with employees, suppliers and customers.

We decided to launch our site by selling music CDs and cassettes. We started off by meeting music companies and requesting them to sell their music on our site.Most of them were perplexed with our business and had a simple response – please buy whatever you want for your stocks and we can supply. When we said we wanted their meta data to upload on the site, they were like what?

We also struggled to hire employees for our company. It was the time of the IT boom andmost potential hires felt we were a technology company offering e-commerce solutions to companies globally. When we said we were a retail company, many smart people declined to join us.

The third biggest challenge we faced was to acquire customers. These were the early days of internet commerce and customers had a lot of concerns regarding delivery, privacy, security etc. We realized that gaining the trust of customers was critical to our success and we launched a series of trust building measures like secure log in, SSL technology, 7 days no questions asked guarantee, 24 hour call centers, cash-on-delivery and many more, all of which are industry standards today and has been copied by other e-commerce companies.

When you pioneer an industry you are faced to learn most things through trial and error. We got a few things right and we also made several mistakes which helped us learn new things and also build our business slowly but steadily. One key mistake was an error of judgment. We assumed that ecommerce in India will grow very rapidly. After a few months we realized that we had just signed up for the marathon and not the 100 meters sprint event! When the dot com bust happened followed by 9/11, our goose was truly cooked. There was no one interested in funding our business and we had to use all our wits to survive.

We had started off by selling music online and briefly considered focusing only on music but after a few months when we noticed that the growth was slow we decided to expand into new categories. In retrospect, it was the best decision we ever took and this laid the foundation for the Indiaplaza promise we make today of great selection.  Retail margins in India are the lowest in the world for any category and unless on online shopping company expands into multiple categories, it is difficult to builda profitable business. So we expanded into books, movies, music, watches and groceries within 6 months.

Our grocery decision helped us survive the next few years. We started our online business for music and books with one warehouse in Bangalore. However, for grocery we expanded into warehouses in multiple cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune. We saw a lot of customers ordering grocery online but the business was losing money.To reduce the losses we opened an offline grocery store in Bangalore in January 2002 purely as an experiment. Within six months the offline venture started growing significantly and it allowed us to open many grocery stores in Bangalore.

So now we had an online store selling multiple items and also offline grocery chain. To reflect the new business, we renamed our company and brand to Fabmall, India’s first integrated online and offline Retail Company. The online business continued to grow slowly while the Fabmall offline grocery chain was exploding. In December 2006, the Fabmall grocery chain was acquired by the Aditya Birla group and renamed More.

We continued to run the online business and we were beginning to observe early signs of the oncoming growth. We had risen funding from the Indigo Monsoon Group, USA and I also felt that going forward, it made sense for us to rebrand the online business. The Indigo Monsoon Group had recently acquired a website in the USA which was focused on helping NRI gifting to India. This website was called indiaplaza.com.

I decided to merge the two companies and changed the new brand to indiaplaza.com

In my view brand names are very important. They must convey the type of business in a simple manner to customers and also build a connection with them. Indiaplaza does both because it explains to customers that it is a place where Indians can meet and shop and also the wordIndia which can build a strong emotional connect with consumers. The brand has worked beautifully for us.

Over the last 13 years since we pioneered online shopping in India, many things have changed.

The biggest change has been in the market size. When we started 1999, less than 3 million people used the internet in India and hardly 20 thousand people were shopping online. Today over 7 million people shop online in India and the internet user base has crossed 100 million, which means many millions of new shoppers will go online.

The other important change relates to comfort. Thanks to ATM machines, online bill payment and online purchase of train and air tickets, millions of customers have become comfortable with online transactions. These customers have graduated from buying tickets to low value products like books and today happily look for deals for mobiles, cameras and other electronic gadgets. What’s more, consumers are now beginning to lap up apparel, footwear and other lifestyle items online.

The third important change relates to investment. In the dot com boom and bust period, over hundred e-commerce companies were launched but we are the only survivors today. Most e-commerce companies had to close down because they were not adequately funded with capital. However, in the past few years, a few hundred million dollars have been invested into e-commerce companies and this is a clear sign that e-commerce is finally here to stay. For a company like us, it is a matter of great satisfaction that our pioneering efforts years back have led to the creation of a thriving industry.

I do have one concern though. Most e-commerce companies have been reckless in their efforts to grow the business. They have focused on topline growth and ignored profitability and sustainability. This is an issue since the business then requires a never ending supply of capital to keep growing which is not possible.

At Indiaplaza we have been clear from the beginning, we are running a business and a business must make money. I hope that all e-commerce companies also start looking at this for the overall health of the industry. Internet retail is here to stay and must grow in a healthy manner.

Ten Things I Learnt over 13 Years in E-commerce

 

1. Retail is about detail.

 

2. Consumers are disloyal by nature, any business that is built on the LTV (lifetime value) theory of consumers is likely to fail.

 

3. There are no online shoppers and offline shoppers. There are only shoppers and they will shop where they find value.

 

4. Offline retailers will continue to struggle in e-commerce as long as they keep repeating things that worked for them offline. The digital medium is different, very different.

 

5. Offline retailers have an intrinsic advantage in e-commerce due to their warehousing, inventory and the benefits of scale. They are just not using it well.

 

6. Anything can be sold online, this is limited by the e-tailers imagination, customers are quite open to try out new things.

 

7. Traffic and sales are easy to buy. The key success parameter in e-commerce is conversion rate %.

 

8. There is too much of myth about the looks of a website. Customers don’t value this highly, all they need is a site that is fast and reliable not sexy and award winning design.

 

9. Cash on delivery is inconvenient for customers. They realize this after a few transactions.

 

10. Single category online stores may find it hard to survive, they will face competition from multi-category internet retailers like Indiaplaza and single category focused offline retailers who have higher scale.

 

(This article is by K Vaitheeswaran, Founder & CEO of Indiaplaza.com – India’s first online shopping company. K Vaitheeswaran is also known as the father of e-commerce in India. He is a serial entrepreneur in the retail industry and the views expressed are his own. He can be reached at vaithee@indiaplaza.in)