I have bought everything, except two or three magnets … there's no place to keep all the stuff at home, so I gift them to people,” says Anushka Kalro, a graphic design student at Bangalore's Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, who is one of the more than 8,200 fans of Chumbak on Facebook.

Chumbak (magnet in Hindi) is a former marketing executive's attempt to showcase India in a fun, contemporary and colourful way. Thirty-year-old Shubhra Chadda, who founded Chumbak, says her old job involved a lot of travel and on each trip she would hunt for that one souvenir which was “all that she could afford” — the fridge magnet. Her fridge was full of magnets from abroad, but she noticed that she didn't have any from India. She tried in vain to find an India-centric magnet, but couldn't find a nice one. And that's how the idea of ‘Chumbak' came up.

Marketing strategy

Just a year old, Chumbak is creating a buzz on the Internet. It is extremely active on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and builds a rapport with customers that way. It is also one of the ways it markets its products, which have grown from just magnets to mugs, tins, coasters, gift-wrapping paper and even boxer shorts. “Within 15-20 minutes of putting up pictures of new products or designs, they get 50 likes and 20 comments on Facebook,” says Kalro.

Chumbak holds weekly competitions and winners get Chumbak merchandise. Shilpa Kamath, who works for an IT major, heard about the brand on Facebook, and has won a competition herself. “A lot of my friends know about it and have been buying stuff online,” she says. She also adds that she has seen similar products in stores such as Archies, but nothing compares to the designs Chumbak offers.

The brand is quick to adapt, so whether it's Valentine's Day or the Cricket World Cup, it comes up with new designs and concepts each time.

The response to Chumbak has been fantastic, says co-founder Alicia Souza. In fact, initially, it approached only a couple of retailers. Since then, retailers have been coming to them. After a year, its products are in 80 stores across 30 cities, apart from brisk sales through its online store. It also has a presence in the UK and the US via Amazon.co.uk and Redpatang.com respectively.

With some of Chumbak's designs being pretty whacky, Alicia says she makes sure the designs are not too in-your-face. “A lot of things could be funnier, but we don't want to cross that line,” says Souza.

Money matters

To fund Chumbak, Shubhra even sold her house for Rs 40 lakh and put it all into the business. She says, “You need that kind of money to be well stocked, for hiring and getting a new warehouse.” While initially she did try getting funding elsewhere (through business plans), she didn't want to spend any more time convincing other people about her idea. Souza was saving for the down payment to buy a house when she too decided to put all her money into Chumbak.

The level of commitment in Chumbak is apparent when both founders say that so far, they have not been pulling salaries or income from the business. “Whatever money we get, we are putting it back in,” says Chadda. Souza says, “Because these are smaller products, we have to put in that much more effort in selling large numbers to make a profit.”

While Rs 40 lakh was the initial investment, Chumbak has managed to break even within a year and is currently self-sustaining, ploughing back all the cash it gets from sales back into the business.

As Chumbak has many small products, Chadda says they had to change warehouses twice just to get the space required to source all the materials. While they previously sorted products in plastic boxes, they are all set to revamp the inventory style to a more organised way of stocking — by using barcodes to keep a check of inventory, instead of doing it manually each time. A couple of packers and an accountant have been recruited to help manage stocks.

Chadda does source some of the products from China, especially those that contain PVC rubber. She says, “I tried very hard to find a supplier in India but the intricacies of design and quality are very different.” It's all hand-work and has to be done the right way. She places bulk orders — about 4,000 pieces of each design — every time she gets stuff from China and has already ordered three times!

Target market

Chumbak started because Chadda felt India needed better souvenirs. But along the way she discovered that if a tourist wanted a souvenir, a pashmina shawl would be a novelty as well. It dawned on her that it was not only tourists that were buyers of Chumbak's products, but young professionals in their 20s and 30s who wanted to see ‘their' India in a quirky style. So from souvenir, it went on to sell lifestyle products.

Chadda has done everything from carrying cartons up flights of stairs, to marketing, dealing with suppliers and managing accounts. She says that she, along with her family, have spent up to a month packaging things.

Anushka Kalro says she loves the way Chumbak brands itself: “From their packing to everything else, they go into such detail. You can even make bookmarks out of the packing.”

For budding entrepreneurs, Chadda has a piece of advice: If you really want to get good at what you are doing, just do everything. By doing what it takes and knowing how it's done, the chances of your being taken for a ride by third parties is a lot lesser.

How it happened?

Chumbak didn't happen just like that in no time. Chadda played with the idea for five years during which she met designers who designed cliché versions of what she had in mind. Until she was introduced to Souza — Chadda instantly fell in love with her designs. But soon, she got cold feet and Chumbak went on the backburner and it simply became something that she would talk to friends about — “the dream she had”.

It was her husband, Vivek, who pushed her by telling her “if you don't do Chumbak now, you'll never do it”. Chadda got in touch with Souza again, who was working at a bank in Australia at the time, and a few e-mails and Skype conversations later, Souza took the flight to Bangalore and Chumbak has been in full gear since.

“You know how you have a Plan A and a Plan B… this was my Plan B,” Souza says with a smile.

(This article was published on March 16, 2011)
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