The founders of Aahaa Stores saw an opportunity to build a B2B e-commerce platform for office supplies

The founders of Aahaa Stores saw an opportunity to build a B2B e-commerce platform for office supplies

Despite large companies automating most of their processes, the non-core stationery purchase department remains largely untouched, with ample room for ad hoc purchases and lack of transparency in transactions. Aahaa Stores developed a platform to tackle just this, bringing in several features and services for employees and companies to breeze through stationary purchases, with a dash of ease and layer of transparency.

Ashok Sattanathan, Co-Founder & CEO, Aahaa Stores

Aahaa Stores was founded in 2013 when its founders, Asokan Sattanathan, Rajaraman Sundaresan and Harish Kannan realized that while much thought goes into the purchase of inputs for core businesses, indirect purchases including IT, stationery, facility consumables and corporate gifts are mostly neglected. “It was an area of discontentment across organizations but they didn’t know how to address it. Despite businesses opting for transformation through automation in other areas, this area remained largely untouched, with purchases being made in an ad hoc manner,” notes its co-founder & chairman, Sattanathan. A couple of early concerns that the founders tried to address through their venture was; how can we ensure employees get the stationery and other supplies on time and as per their requirements? And, how do we prevent pilfering and bring a transparent accounting systems in place? This is where their collective experience came into play.

Creating A Great Customer Experience

Each of the founders held leadership roles across multiple industries such as telecom, retail catalogue, gifting, automotive and engineering, and across functions such as supply chain, marketing, IT and materials.

In fact, it was this experience that Sattanathan used to analyse the need and break the entire purchase process into small sequences. He particularly focused on small value, high volume purchases, believing it to be the key step in identifying the right solution. “Typically, e-commerce represents the supplier and works on the assumption that there is one buyer who has a clear idea of what he needs. In non-core purchases, there are multiple buyers within an organization who could be spread across geographies. A common purchase also creates the problem of stocking,” he explains.

One of the first capabilities Aahaa developed was to stock and distribute from and to various locations. Then, it introduced onboarding multiple stationery suppliers, to be able to cater to the unique requirements of each buyer. A master catalogue was created to enable different employees to choose the products they need, which would then be approved and paid for by the authorized signatory who makes these purchases in the organization. In fact, choice of vendors for each category, prices and discounts were also made available for the purchaser to choose from, to help the company strike a suitable deal.


The decision to name it Aahaa was to enable companies to experience a wow! moment when purchasing stationery items; ‘Aahaa’ being an exclamation of wonder in Tamil.


What’s interesting is based on the needs and requirements of various categories of customers, Aahaa has introduced several additional services. For one, the company has launched an Aahaa Buyers’ Club (ABC) for large companies such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro, which typically buy in bulk. For example, if a large company needs around 100,000 to 125,000 reams of A4 printer papers every month, through the Club, they can aggregate their requirements and buy at a discount. This also ensures that they do not face any shortage of papers, since the order is placed in advance. Secondly, Aahaa also provides uniforms in standard sizes for large corporates, by collecting details and couriering it to them. Thirdly, Banks can get standard forms for their various products printed through the Aahaa store and benefit from volume discounts. “We make buying simple for these companies. Banks and BFSIs with multiple branches across the country get uniform service by signing up with us,” points out Sattanathan. The company has nine of the 33 private banks, and several insurance companies as its customers.

Riding On Growth  

Today, Aahaa has 80 employees across Chennai (headquarters), Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Gurgaon, with satellite offices in Pune and Hyderabad. And, it has 150 large corporate customers, 110 of whom are in the Rs. 1,000 crore turnover category. “In the B2B segment, our focus is on large corporates. Once we establish ourselves there, we can then meet the needs of 40 lakh SMEs across the country,” shares a confident Sattanathan.

With Aahaa growing 2.5 times to 3 times on a year- on- year basis,  the founders have already taken steps to setup more offices in different regions, with each being headed by a regional manager and supported by a sales team. Another step the company has taken to ride on its growth is to enter into partnerships for warehouses, with logistics being managed by its own fleet.

Creating Awareness & Expanding Its Presence

“Marketing was a difficult proposition and needed hard selling, with it being positioned as a service to deal with the buyers’ needs efficiently,” he admits. Even otherwise, the segment is not without challenges – it needs organizational sponsorship to motivate employees to use the service. For one, from the earlier 30 days – 45 days credit for payments, the process now requires buyers to pay within a week to a fortnight. “We are putting in a lot of effort to create greater awareness about the advantages of buying on our platform,” he shares. For example, it emphasizes on the price advantage that buyers can enjoy by being part of the Aahaa platform, or telling buyers that they pay only a service fee, thus paying only when they make a good deal. “Over and above that, the platform also enables buyers to analyze their purchases – something that was not possible before. This feature will help them make informed decisions when buying stationery,” explains Sattanathan. Lastly, with GST, buyers can also get input credit, since only registered vendors are part of the platform, thus resulting in savings of 12 per cent to 18 per cent. “For the suppliers too, e-commerce platforms are an easy way to access large corporates and, therefore, we try to forge direct partnerships with them,” adds the entrepreneur.

Coming to numbers, Aahaa expects to register Rs. 36 crore in revenue this year (as against Rs. 18.6 crore in 2017), and take this number to Rs. 100 crore by next year. Of course, this target can be achieved if Aahaa is able to increase its monthly revenues from the current Rs. 3 crore to Rs. 4.5 crore by the next quarter, and increase by Rs. 1.5 crore every quarter, as Sattanathan projects. “By March 2019, we expect to touch Rs. 10 crore per month in revenues and in three years, we expect to register a turnover of Rs. 200 crore to Rs.250 crore, get 150 employees on board and establish direct presence in 15 locations across India,” he shares. 

While the strategies to achieve these numbers and reach have been charted out, the company also plans to seek external funding to expand its talent base, make its platform agnostic and expand its infrastructure base to be able to service different markets. In fact, expanding to the overseas market is also on the anvil and will need corresponding investment to scale logistics and provide multi-currency enablement on its platform. “Overall, our vision is to transform the way large corporates make their indirect purchases,” he states, on a concluding note.


Snapshot

Aahaa Stores

Founders: Asokan Sattanathan, Rajaraman Sundaresan and Shri Harish Kannan

Year: 2013

Focus: A platform for large companies in India to make non-core purchases


Concept in Brief

Creating Structure In Non-Core Purchases At Companies

Though stationery purchase is not a core activity for businesses, the traditional way of purchasing it causes much discontentment and losses that go unchecked. Having dealt with supply chain closely and helped the way businesses make the process of core purchases more efficient through automation, Ashok Sattanathan along with Rajaraman Sundaresan and Shri Harish Kannan started Aahaa Stores to create a wow! moment for organisations as they aggregate requirements and make a unified purchase on an ecommerce platform. They not only benefit from discounts on bulk purchases but also have tools that help them make the right purchases at the right time. Right from office supplies to corporate gifts to uniforms, the platform offers a range of products, through direct partnership with suppliers. The company expects to touch Rs. 250 crore in three years from its current Rs 35 crore and is in the process of seeking funding to fuel its growth.

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.