Catalyst

A budding floral start-up takes a divine route

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on May 13, 2020 Published on May 13, 2020

Yeshoda and Rhea Karuturi’s Rose Bazaar delivers custom-packaged puja flowers

This was a disruption waiting to happen. An estimated 200 million households in India buy flowers from street-side vendors or from stalls outside temples for their puja needs. Now, here comes a start-up that promises to deliver the puja flowers through apps like Dunzo or Swiggy or direct to home through its own delivery agents.

What’s more, the subscription-based flower service delivers the blooms in specially-formulated packages that guarantee longer shelf life — up to 15 days.

It’s pretty fitting that Rose Bazaar, the budding start-up attempting to organise the unorganised business of puja flowers, is founded by two women who grew up on flower farms.

Meet Yeshoda and Rhea Karuturi, whose dad’s flower empire in Ethiopia was at one time a business case study and the stuff of magazine covers. Of course, it was not roses all the way as Ramakrishna Karuturi’s flower empire wilted and withered. But Yeshoda and Rhea shrug off the thorny subject and say business is all about risks. “Being part of a business family, you always know there are ups and down. Inside it is much more stable than what was reported outside,” says Yeshoda.

How the idea bloomed

There have been many organised flower start-ups catering to the bouquets and celebrations market. But Yeshoda and Rhea realised that the traditional use case of flowers for Indians is vastly different.

The problem was the low shelf life — puja flowers lose their freshness in next to no time. This is where their packaging innovation, which extends the shelf life of flowers by up to five times, came into play. “We are essentially able to pause time and ensure that when our customers get their flowers, they look like they have been harvested just moments ago,” says Yeshoda.

On the other hand, says Rhea, it addresses the problem for farmers too, who are forced to get rid of their harvest at whatever price is available while paying a commission to wholesalers, due to the product’s perishability.

A combination of ethylene blockers and other technology is what allows the flowers to stay fresh longer. The packaging is also 100 per cent biodegradable and compostable. Based on needs, the flowers are customised — boxes could have assorted mixes, only roses, only jasmine, lotus, marigold and so on. Even deliveries are customised — could be daily, alternate days, or a specified day in a week. There are about 50 flower subscription boxes with different rates that Rose Bazaar offers.

Scaling up

Right now, the service is available only in Bengaluru, where the sisters estimate the demand size is about 5,00,000 households. They say that to start with, they did not even migrate business from the unorganised sector but succeeded in creating new demand — for instance, from young urban couples in Whitefield.

Validation for their idea came when Rose Bazaar got chosen by Techstars Bangalore Accelerator as one of its 10 companies in the 2020 batch. This not only earned them a funding of $1,20,000 from the global platform for innovation and entrepreneurship but also 13 weeks of extensive mentoring from experienced professionals.

“We had already tested our hypothesis, and gained significant traction. What Techstars did was to help align our thoughts and open our eyes to new opportunities,” says Yeshoda, pointing out how mentors drew attention to invisible usages of flowers in India. For instance, how cab drivers often stopped at a temple to buy flowers for their cars before starting a journey. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry mentors refined their supply chain, logistics strategy, while Srikandh Balakrishnan, CTO, Enchanting Travels (a Travelopia company) guided them on building a strong culture within the organisation.

Interestingly, Rose Bazaar has employed women who were local flower vendors, or worked in garment factories, upskilled them, and gave them stable jobs. For instance, the packaging manager is a woman who takes care of day-to-day procurement.

From Bengaluru, the target is to scale up to three other cities over the course of the next year. “We will be riding on the back of partners, delivery apps and local grocery stores,” says Rhea.

Covid challenges

The flower delivery service came to a halt during the lockdown but has resumed since May 4. Now, however, packing happens only four times a week and deliveries are batched and only after 7 am.

The Karuturi sisters, however, rose to the occasion and used the lockdown time to strategise on how to add more new twists to old floral traditions.

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Published on May 13, 2020
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