Imagine this – it’s a Saturday evening and there’s a raging battle at home on what the POA (plan of action) should be. One retail merchandiser has found a funny solution that might bring about some peace and a lot more fun – the mother-in-law dice! And if that doesn’t relax the mood, light up and flick away the ash into a toilet-shaped ash tray, courtesy Happily Unmarried.
The products I’ve described above give you just a glimpse into the mad universe of Happily Unmarried – there’s a lot more where those came from; from doormats that warn you about your wife’s moodswings to photo frames that help you climb the corporate ladder faster, and beer and chai mugs that have you sipping and laughing, all at once. Clearly, the creators of these products are smart chaps who do some serious business – they’ve taken everyday humour and married it with utility products to create a range that people want to own. But getting Rajat Tuli, founder-director, Happily Unmarried, to take my questions seriously is another task altogether. I begin by asking him the most obvious one – why the name ‘Happily Unmarried’? “We wanted a name which would suggest everything that we do and Happily Unmarried came up. We both (Tuli and co-founder Rahul Anand) loved it. There was no second option,” says Tuli, while adding that post their respective marriages, a lot of people call them ‘unhappily married’ but it’s a small price to pay.
It’s not all fun and games at Happily Unmarried; there is a process at play. As for responsibilities, Tuli oversees retail and distribution and Anand looks after business development, while both look into product development and day-to-day operations. I ask Tuli to trace back to the beginning and he says, “We started by pawning our laptop and for some time after that, we were running Happily Unmarried through credit cards and personal loans.” In 2005, the duo took the plunge in Goa, where they established the company’s first store. Goa was the chosen destination as the founders believed that “all things interesting” made their first appearance in this city.
The first store generated a lot of word-of-mouth publicity for the brand and this gave the founders the confidence to go pan-India. “When we began, there were not as many malls as you see today. But we did the rounds in cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and found many takers for our products. This helped us establish several distribution partners in each city who were keen to stock our brand in their stores,” adds Tuli. The decision to find distribution partners as opposed to self-owned stores stemmed from the fact that the founding duo found it hard to be directly involved at several locations, all at once. Today, Happily Unmarried’s products can be found across the length and breadth of India, including Tier-II cities such as Nagpur, Surat and Coimbatore.
In the first half of 2012, the company will experiment with the franchise route through its first franchisee run store in Shillong. And as Tuli says, “We’ll give this a shot and see where it takes us.”
Designed to make you laugh
Tuli guides me through the design philosophy at Happily Unmarried – at the very top, the product has to make you laugh or at least break out into a smile. Additionally, he stresses on the fact that a product’s utility value is important and the design and execution team never lose sight of that. Thirdly, it’s got to be a product that everybody wants to get their hands on; it has to have mass appeal. I quiz him about having the ‘next funny idea’ up and ready, and he assures me that it’s a pretty easy feat; you just have to relate to people at a personal level. “We found that nobody was talking to us Indians in a language we understood and that’s simply what we do,” says Tuli. He takes most pride in the fact that many people and their NRI cousins are now a proud owner of something from the Happily Unmarried stable.
Founders: Rajat Tuli, Rahul Anand
Industry: Merchandise retail
Revenue: Rs. 4 crore this fiscal (expected)
The design team at Happily Unmarried brainstorm on a regular basis. It has helped them stay funny, stay real and importantly, it has led to the identification of several product categories such as coil holders, doormats, CD holders and more. “We want to zone in on a really boring category and make it interesting,” states Tuli. And the categories keep expanding – the next in line is bags. “We want to make bags of many kinds, including satchels and laptop bags,” he adds.
One of the significant changes at Happily Unmarried has been the addition of Jagdish Shivdasani as head of marketing. “He’s somebody with over 20 years of experience in marketing and he helped take jewellery brand, Nakshatra, from two to a 100 stores,” says Tuli, while adding, “He’s been telling us that there’s a 50 to 100 crore rupees opportunity that is waiting for us and we just need to get there.” Tuli talks more numbers as he shares his revenue expectations for this fiscal, “We hope to do about four crore rupees at a growth rate of 100 per cent.” Just when I begin to think this interview is getting too serious for Tuli, he is quick to assure me that the guys at Happily Unmarried never make charts, maps, or growth plans. “We don’t lie to ourselves or our customers and we don’t have any lofty vision statements, basically, there’s no b***s***,” he says rather happily.
Happily Unmarried’s best sellers as classified by Rajat Tuli
Jimmy Hendrix poster
We Indians are a messed up lot who speak a lot of Hinglish. And that’s what prompted us to do a poster with an image of rockstar Jimmy Hendrix where the text read ‘Jimmi, Jimmi, Jimmi; aaja, aaja, aaja!’ We took the line from the smash hit hindi film Disco Dancer and turned it into a fun poster. This was a huge hit because it connected with so many people on so many levels.
Ek cheeni, do cheeni chai mug
Clearly, we don’t believe in being politically correct. Also, Indians drink a lot of tea. So, we did a chai mug that took into account people’s preference for sugar. The pun is on the word cheeni (sugar) which is represented by Cheens (hindi for Chinese). This was one of our ideas that everybody liked instantly.
Sandas ash tray
We wanted to do something that was an Indian icon. We literally sat on the idea for two or three days and then we came up with the image of a sandas (Indian toilet), it doesn’t get more Indian than that! Since one of our designers was a specialist in metal products, we chose to go with aluminium to execute the design. This was one of our first successes and a memorable one at that.