In finding a solution for the virus attack in his mobile phone in 2004, Suraj Vazirani stumbled on the idea of adding software-downloading service in his cyber cafes. Eventually, his gaming arcade led the way to opening his own mobile retail store. Although he got frustrated for a while and took off to Australia, he returned just a year later with rejuvenated energy, to stumble upon online selling. There has been no looking back since.
Today, the proud owner of maniacstore.com, a complete lifestyle store, Suraj talked to us about the ups and downs he faced in his e-commerce journey and the lessons learnt.
(IOS) So how did it all begin? When did the e-commerce bug bite you?
(Suraj) With the success of all my ventures including the retail stores, my confidence in myself grew. So when friends forced me to try online selling, I figured its worth a shot atleast and I opened an account on eBay in March 2011. At this time, my friend Kiran also joined me. Our first listing, an HTC phone got 2 orders the very next day! Then we listed iPhone 3G/3GS for which we got 3 orders. We realized we could do Rs 3-4 lakh business without any hassles right there. We just had to pack the products and ship!
That’s when we realized online industry has grown in India. Once our sales increased, our Account Manager on eBay offered us ‘Deal of the Week’ feature with which we sold 85 iPhones in one week. Unable to believe our luck, this inspired us and we got deeper into online selling with more accessories and more mobiles and in three months, we crossed Rs 1 crore in sales.
Was it a cakewalk from then on?
Mainly the logistics part was an issue because we were small time seller. Courier companies like Blue Dart and DTDC would not carry items worth more than Rs 10,000 and would charge Rs 200-250 per courier. Out of the Rs 300-400 margins we would get, how could we afford to pay Rs 250 as courier charge? We used to undervalue our items and courier. Once when we got caught, we had to pay a penalty amounting to more than the item cost, but we still paid and ensured the product got delivered to our customer.
How many of you were there?
Just Kiran and myself.
Just two? That’s interesting, how could you manage so much?
We did everything – listing products, processing orders, packing, delivering to courier companies etc. But we had the advantage of being able to fall back on our retail stores and cyber café staff when needed (around 10 people spread out across 2 stores and 1 cyber café). We could just pull the shutters down and get everything done.
So how long did it work you?
After we started maniacstore.com in February 2012. In three months as sales increased, we needed more hands and one by one, we hired people for our requirements.
Did you say bye-bye to eBay and other marketplaces then?
No we did both, and we still do that, although our interest in selling through marketplaces weakened after sales on maniacstore started growing. But we need to do it to fund our store. The revenue we get from our sales in marketplaces is pumped into growing maniacstore.
Promoting your website itself must be a handful?
No promotion as such. We rely on word-of-mouth sharing, facebook publicity, price comparison portals and google ads. Also, we figured our maniacstore bills reaching customers thorugh eBay would make them google for maniacstore at some point.
By 2012, we were operating through other marketplaces too, like Snapdeal, Groupon and Naaptol. Snapdeal helped us to get good substantial figures in the online market; we averaged Rs 5-6 crores in Snapdeal itself for Diwali 2012.
Did you have to scout around for your initial products?
Since we were already into the retail industry for the last 8 to 10 years we already had the sourcing links and lineups in place. We procured everything from the brands or authorized distributors since day 1.
Now do you stock your inventory or source the products after the orders come in?
We have 70% inventory in stock in our warehouse and for the remaining 30% we depend on brands/distributors/models/vendors. We have started migrating to a semi-marketplace model.
Cyber-café to software download to gaming arcade to mobile retail store to online selling.. quite a ride. What kept you going? Any secret mantra?
Since the day I started my own venture, the cyber café, I wanted to be no.1 – the best and the biggest. I continued that with all my following ventures and my team shares the same aspirations, so this hunger and thirst for growth has been my mantra for growth.
Online selling was just an idea that Suraj tried out on the insistence of his friends. However, the figures and responses turned his skepticism into awe in just two days. He is waiting for the day when he will have enough resources and capital to operate only his own store. Till then, he wants to stick to his plan of leveraging on the revenue from marketplaces to grow maniacstore.com.