From Tussar silk stoles from Jharkhand to filigree jewellery from Odisha, this online startup sells products which are unique to particular places

Like all other entrepreneurs, Zuhaib Khan left Cadburys and Sherfur Rehman, an erstwhile employee at JP Morgan, left the comforts of a nine to five job to do something of their own. “Traveling was a part our jobs , and there were regular requests from our loved ones to get something unique from a new place, says Khan. From this idea, Shopatplaces.com was born in September 2011.

It is an e-commerce venture that delivers accessories, apparel and bags from 8 states in the country. But how is it different from so many other e-commerce sites, you may ask. “ Our website sells only those products which are famous from a particular place, like Chikan kurtis from Lucknow, Filigree jewellery from Orissa, Tussar silk stoles from Jharkhand, or Leather Belts from Kanpur and so on ,” points out Khan.

The current internet user base in India is approximately 125 million, and among the BRIC Nations, it is the fastest growing market adding over 18 million internet users and growing at an annual rate of 41 per cent. But despite the numbers, is there a need for a business that is not volume driven ? "Pashmina shawls of Kashmir and pearl jewellery from Hyderabad are very famous. Demand for such unique products is always there,” reasons Khan.

Shopatplaces is working on solving the problem of availability, quality assurance and authenticity verification, coupled with the fact that when these products were made available in other parts of the country, the good quality ones are exorbitantly priced. Essentially, the company is trying to get a reasonable supply chain in place . While the company has not shared the extent to which the supply chain can bring down the costs of these products, some industry watchers peg this in the range of 10-40 per cent depending on the type of product.

Shopatplaces is the first one in India to execute this idea of 'Famous Places, Best Buys' and the closest competitor is FabIndia, according to Khan. The company also offers free customization for all its apparel, which it claims is another first in the Indian market. According to its in house research, women who are shopping online presently, buy apparel and get it altered as per their requirements later on. “We know that each woman is unique and what fits one doesn't fit another. If we succeed in providing them customized apparel at no cost and if it fits them perfectly, we will surely have a sticky customer base,” opines Khan.

Initial Challenges

To get a venture like this started and provide value, the founders travelled the country for 5 months to setup its vendor base and supply chain network. Most of the challenges that came in its path were related to supply chain. “The challenges that our vendors face, for instance, of the less availability of organic dyes used in painting of Tussar silk stoles from Jharkhand during monsoons, are very unique and we work with our vendors to overcome these challenges,” reminisces Khan. Similarly, many suppliers had never ever signed any legal vendor agreement and the founders had to explain their vision to them to get them on board.

Funding

The company is currently using its won internal funds out of the pockets of its founders. “We will raise funds but only when the milestones we have decided are achieved, both in terms of product development and revenues,” says Khan. However, the company is scouting for mentors who can guide it to the next level.

Learnings

In the pre-startup phase, the company learnt a lot about the supply chain issues , which is a problem across all forms retail. “Working closely with our vendors and helping them find solutions to the problems they face is in turn helping us build better relationships with them,” says Khan.

The company is trying new avenues of marketing, both online and offline. “We are witnessing traction even from tier-two cities, without any marketing and proves that there is a huge demand for authentic products associated with places,” says Khan. The company plans to reach 100 item sales a day within 6 months with an average ticket size of Rs 1,000-1,200. When asked about revenues, Khan said that the company is not aiming for revenues, but for 'satisfied customers'. “If we have a specific number of 'satisfied customers' in the first 6 months of our operation, they will be our brand ambassadors and we will a solid platform to build upon,” he reasons.

Future plans

Shopatplaces plans to launch another category of fragrances and aims to have products from across India within 12 months of its launch. Further, it plans to make available internationally known products like Italian leather jackets or Indonesian batik print apparel to its customers.

“In five years, we hope to be the most trusted retailer in the minds of our customers,” says Khan.

venkatesh.ganesh@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 15, 2013)
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