Go digital to buy furniture

Go digital to buy furniture

Furniture e-tailer, Urban Ladder, aims to change the way the Indian consumer shops for furniture by providing quality at an affordable price-point, minus any hassle at delivery

DIVYA M. CHANDRAMOULI

Building a life from scratch in a city that is unfamiliar, especially setting up a home, can be quite trying. When Ashish Goel and Rajiv Srivatsa, friends who were neighbours in their MBA days at IIM-B, bought homes next to each other in Bengaluru, they found shopping for furniture to be a disappointing experience. Based on this, their entrepreneurial instinct kicked in and they decided to address a pressing need in the Indian furniture segment – that of quality furniture at an affordable price point. In January 2012, they launched Urban Ladder, an online furniture portal.

As the demand for lifestyle products is on the increase, Urban Ladder set about creating a technology platform to showcase a digital store that catered to the furniture needs of the urban target audience.  The mandate was clear – sell high-quality solid wood furniture (it primarily sells sheesham and mango wood products) at reasonable prices.

In its first month, the company outdid its own sales projections by a 100 per cent, thanks to some viral social media marketing. Today, Urban Ladder is the leading online retailer of furniture in India and it delivers in five cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Chennai). The company does not manufacture products itself and instead works with manufacturers from Rajasthan and Bengaluru.  The designs are created in-house and passed on to the manufacturers for execution. “We have offices present in the cities we deliver to and we have a system in place where quality is checked thoroughly,” says Ashish Goel, founder-CEO, Urban Ladder.

Goel and Srivatsa, both first-time entrepreneurs with Urban Ladder, have leveraged on their strengths to define areas of responsibility in running the enterprise. While Goel is responsible for sourcing materials and organising the supply chain, Srivatsa is in-charge of consumer interfacing and technology. The duo draw a lot from the wisdom they gathered at their previous work stints – Goel was as a consultant with MCKinsey & Co. and later served as COO, Amar Chitra Katha Media while Srivatsa has worked with Infosys, Cognizant and Yahoo! in the past.

Going long

Despite the furniture segment in India being dominated by players choosing the brick-and-mortar store format, the founders of Urban Ladder were clear that they were going online. “Looking at it from a long-term point of view, we feel that the physical retail format is not viable,” reasons Goel. While Goel says that the digital format presents the consumer with a clear picture of what he /she is ordering, there is also a cost-saving for the company, from not having an offline presence and this is passed on to the consumer by way of competitive pricing. As to the question of missing the ‘touch and feel’ factor, Goel is quick to assert that the company has invested in creating a technology platform for its digital store that provides visuals and text including measurements, weight and materials used and this leaves little to imagination. “Even today, a large part of purchasing happens off catalogues that are shown to carpenters to replicate a design. There’s no touch and feel factor here,” he says.

By his own admission, Goel states that Urban Ladder’s biggest competitor is the local carpenter and he is confident that the transparency and efficiency of the company’s end-to-end process will win over consumers.

At the very beginning we took a few calls that were contrary to popular business practices. We opted to control our supply chain, end-to-end, without relying on third-party logistics.

Doing business differently

Right from inception, the founders have worked hard to establish certain ground rules on how Urban Ladder would do business. As is the case for any retail business, cracking the supply chain was paramount but cost efficiency at the cost of a dip in quality was unacceptable to the founders. “At the very beginning we took a few calls that were contrary to popular business practices. We opted to control our supply chain, end-to-end, without relying on third-party logistics,” says Goel. He elaborates by saying that no part of the business process is outsourced as an outsourcing partner might not care about delivering an experience to the end consumer. At Urban Ladder, deliveries are made within 15 days from when an order is placed. While nearly all of its products come with a one-year-warranty, in case of a product being damaged, it is exchanged immediately. The company also extends a clean-up after service as part of its delivery process.

In spite of being faced with the task of organising an extensive front-end (technology platform) and back-end, Urban Ladder has stuck to a small taskforce of 50. Goel boasts of ‘zero per cent attrition’ and attributes this to a happy, productive work environment. Importantly, Goel shares that though the team strength has been kept to a minimum, there has been great emphasis on the quality of hires and this has been one area where initial funds were channelised.

Apart from team building, the company’s first round of funding to the tune of US $ 1 million from Kalaari Capital was used towards the creation of physical properties (products) and intellectual properties (the technology platform). “We raised our first round of funding on a paper plan and a prayer,” quips Goel. As investors, Kalaari Capital have shared strategic inputs and have helped immensely when it comes to de-bottlenecking, he adds.

Some of these funds have also helped create a buzz on social media, a marketing tool that Urban Ladder has used extensively. “All our customers are typically active users of social media, so we have stuck to advertising on social media channels through quality engagement and being responsive,” says Goel.

Growing along

In the next fiscal, Urban Ladders aims at delivering to 12 Indian cities, its focus being on the prime metropolitans first as that’s where its target audience resides. “We always wanted to establish scale by adding one or two cities at a time,” shares Goel. Hyderabad, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad are likely options with others to follow. “Apart from our expansion plans, we want to focus on creating better products,” says Goel while adding that the company is also working on innovations for its technology platform. “In the near future, we want to be amongst the top three Indian retailers in the home décor space,” concludes Goel.


Snapshot

Urban Ladder (Descasa Home Decor Online Pvt. Ltd.)

Founders: Ashish Goel, Rajiv Srivatsa

Year: 2012

City: Bengaluru

Industry: Home Décor

USP: Solid wood products at affordable price points

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