The word ‘Military’ sparks many visuals in our minds – uniforms, guns, tension, discipline being some of them. Let’s now add one more to that list – ecommerce. Not many in India would associate an ex-Military man to an ecommerce startup.
Neil Gadihoke’s innings in the Indian Navy was going rather well and cherished by him even today. After two decades of the sea, the salt and the spray, countless adventures on warships and foreign cruises, he decided to seek exit from the ‘Uniform White’ and start afresh in civil life.
Thus was founded Indikala, online store for ethnic home decor, by Neil and his wife with the main intention of reviving traditional art and handicraft skills in India. The Fauji couple started their ecommerce venture based on a surprise discussion over a cup of tea. And how did everything unfold? Let’s hear it from him.
Neil shares with IOS.
Actually at that stage about 4 years ago, I did not have even a faint a idea about ‘I’ of internet or ‘E’ of ecommerce. When contemplating about exiting the Navy, the recruitment line of the Navy “An Ocean of Opportunities” struck me and I felt it was very relevant for me at that point. On stepping back into civil life in the end of 2011 fresh out of IIM Lucknow, I got exposed to Internet Marketing thanks to my then corporate jobs. My flair for writing combined with my interest in content and photography on the internet and social media helped me to ease into internet marketing.
My better half, Nidhi, had always been passionate about Home Décor and Handicrafts. In two decades, we changed 22 houses due to frequent changes in posting with the Indian Navy, all across the country also 2 house shifts during a stint in the United States. But every time we moved, the drawing and dining rooms in each new Naval housing unit were decorated to perfection before even the kitchen was operational. Local artisans, whether in Mumbai, Kochi or Vishakhapatnam, were the flavour in Nidhi’s home decor scheme.
One day over tea we realised we could create a brand combining my new found flair for the internet and Nidhi’s passion for home décor and handicrafts. And what better platform than India’s booming E commerce domain.
However, the odds were stacked against us. Both of us were in our mid-forties, we didn’t have any business background, we had no money to spare as both our kids were at the capital intensive stage of their education, and most daunting of all, we had never taken any major risk. Also, Nidhi’s intense passion for street animals welfare was keeping her engaged for most part of the day, and for her to get involved in a major venture like Indikala, would be physically and mentally taxing.
After much thinking, we decided it was now or never and we took the plunge into Indikala. Why Indikala? Because we wanted a name that conveyed the essence of traditional Indian art and home décor.
WRONG: Ecommerce is not just for big players!
It is a misnomer that in India ecommerce is a game only for the large players and not for startups. True, there are challenges of capital limitations and scale, but if a start up can create a niche and remain relentless at its aim, success is inevitable. There is space for anyone who is prepared to stick on despite early frustrations and disappointments.
The Indikala team
The team at Indikala consists of only 5 people. Nidhi and self tackle the sourcing, new product addition, photography, accounts, website management, marketing and customer relations. While Mukesh, Laxman and Vijay team up to take charge of storage, inventory management, packing, dispatch and routine paper work with logistics partners.
We source our products directly from manufacturers mostly from the unorganised sector in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat. We are particular that the products must be made from safe and eco friendly colours and material.
The challenge here is consistency of product look and feel, as the colour, design or size of the product, may vary on a repeat order from the same manufacturer. But only because these products are hand produced by karigars and cannot be mass manufactured by machines.
Like I mentioned, the main hurdle is the inconsistency in the final finish of some products. We mention in the product description of every such product that there may be slight variation in design/colour between the displayed and dispatched product.
We also talk to the customers before dispatching orders. We answer their questions honestly and do not overpromise on the look or feel of the product. If the customer is even slightly hesitant /doubtful of the purchase, we encourage them to think over or even to cancel the order.
Wooden and cast iron products are not a challenge. For the ones made from terracotta or glass, or a combination of these, or similar which tend to break, we bubble wrap them and add a layer of thermocol.
We have also realized that putting a notice “ Fragile: Handle with Care” works for it does have a positive impact on courier handling.
Our biggest marketing strategy has been delighting customers through excellent and expeditious service. Word of mouth does the rest for us. We are also doing some social media campaigns, google adwords and blogs featuring various aspects of traditional art. For Corporate Orders/Gifting requirements, we visit the client locations and show a sampling of Indikala products.
Apart from India, we are trying to reach out to the NRI/expatriate community as well as the native North American audience. We have already set up an independent business unit (www.artntrendy.com) which is based out of Dallas, US. The inventory is held in Dallas itself, hence any order in North America can be fulfilled in 2 to 3 days. To market this organisation, we are making ourselves visible in the local community groups and expatriate community groups. This is an exciting prospect and we are still in the stage of fine tuning that model for the North American market, though the sales have very been encouraging till now.
Contrast between Fauji Life and Self Business
The transition can be overwhelming in the initial stages. A rough analogy would be shifting from Mars to Earth. The office work environment in Armed forces is all about text and word documents, while in civil life, especially in business, it is about number crunching and excel sheets.
In Fauj, there is a proper feedback loop of work completion. At the end of the day, you get information on work progress or impediments faced. In business, I realized that one needs to seek and demand work completion information, as the feedback loop does not function in auto, especially with manufacturers of handicrafts in the unorganised sector.
Punctuality and refined behaviour are a given in Fauj. However, when running your own business, be prepared to deal with late comers and pan chewing and gutka eating handicraft manufacturers, without getting worked up.
Yet, Neil seems happy with the transition, happy with ecommerce, happy with 10 order per day, compared to 3 orders per week 11 months ago.