We are publishing an interview of Mr. Vikas Maini, Founder & CEO of Curves & Carvings.
About the founders
Vikas is from Chandigarh. After completing B.Tech, he moved to Pune to pursue MBA from Symbiosis. On completion of MBA in 2002, he joined Bajaj Auto in Sales & Marketing. Thereafter he worked with various automobile companies like Tata Motors, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz India in senior roles for next 12 years. He was last designated as National Key Account Manager with Mercedes-Benz, thus entrusted with responsibility of creating and maintaining, enduring and long lasting relationship with Mercedes Key retail and corporate buyers.
He always had an artistic fascination towards a Vintage / Antique school of Architecture. The idea of Curves&Carvings.com came into being when he was looking to tastefully furnish his own home, and he struggled to find any store for buying classic furniture in Pune market. There was nothing available online too.
The search for home furniture led him to the doorsteps of artisans, who actually were practising this as handicraft from generations, but were only doing it for selective requirements. His own experience of struggles and keen interest in designer luxury home decor ignited the passion to solve this for others. Thus Curves & Carvings came into existence with its unique proposition.
Q.: Please tell us about the investors (if there is any)
Ans: The venture is self-funded till date.
Q.: What is the problem you are trying to solve? Can you share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
Ans: Indian furniture happens to be a 15 billion $ industry with YOY growth rate of 15%. Out of that 50% is home furniture. Indian customer prefers wooden furniture over anything. 50% of home furniture is still made of teak. 80% of Indian homes still get their furniture customized, and made from local carpenters. All this data lead us to believe that Customized teak wood designer furniture market is worth at least 3 billion $, which is a fairly big problem and opportunity to solve. The following insights give credence to these statements.
The manufacturing and sales are largely geographically clustered in North India. This kind of furniture is hardly available in other parts of India, especially B /C/D cities. There is no established brand in this space. There are no quality benchmarks. Businesses are largely stand alone, small shops. There is a general mistrust among customers on quality and pricing. Buyer experience just doesn’t exist.
No use of technology / software in manufacturing / customer touch points. No investment in automation. Manual manufacturing, labour intensive with poor productivity levels. It’s a totally unorganised industry, with ‘juggad’ mindset. No documentation relies on experience of artisans. High investment, retail space, inventory led model. High margin as well 300-400%. Despite high returns, artisans are poor lot and exploited badly. Returns of their work have not reached them. Poor marketing effort from manufacturers coupled with high pricing and poor commitment levels on quality and finish, is slowly making it a dying art.
Q.: Tell us about the Product / Solution. Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
Ans: We are now a niche player, india’s only online brand which offers customers customized teak wood designer furniture in Antique / Vintage designs, that too at competitive pricing range. We offer our customers 1000+ unique designs for Home furniture, which are made to order. Based on insights, we found that there are interventions required at various stage of supply chain, which we need to define and set right.
We have defined, standardized and set benchmarks for our entire supply chain whether its material procurement, kiln seasoning, wood treatment, design, manufacturing, packaging, loading, transportation, unloading etc. C&C have its own internal standard structured guidelines, right from procurement of wood to final delivery, and service delivery to ensure a unique customer experience throughout.
We also realised technology has a huge role to play in our business. We have created and implemented a unique algorithm to ensure there is minimum variance between design and actual furniture delivered to customer. This is very critical to our business, as ours is a unique online store which provides customised furniture, which is hand crafted right from wooden carving to final finishing.
Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learnings that you have? Who in your mind is your ideal customer? Do you have at least one of them signed up?
Ans: Furniture happens to be unorganized sector. We assumed that we will help organize the manufacturing and logistical challenges. This has been a struggle for us till date. We have been able to overcome design and manufacturing challenges to an extent. However, logistics for big items like furniture keeps on challenging us. Our ideal customer is someone in age band of 38-45, with annual income of 20+ lacs.
We have retailed goods to 200+ customers in last 27 months, with average ticket size of Rs 90,000/- each.
Q.: How are you pricing the Product? What is the logic behind it? What is the model you are following – Free / Freemium / Premium etc. ? Explain your thought process.
Ans: Established business interests have kept this genre of furniture to a limited customers, those who can afford to purchase this artificially highly price inflated furniture. We did the thorough research on market pricing, and figured out that businesses are making 200-400% profit on selling this furniture. We on the other hand thought of bringing down the pricing to more affordable range, one that mid and upper middle class are also able to afford, thereby expanding market size in big way.
In a way our pricing logic is affordable luxury. If someone happens to do some research, they will found us most competitively priced across India, in fact globally. A genuine buyer will find us cheaper than every Urbanladder and pepperfry too, on like to like comparison.
Q.:How did you get your first customer?
Ans: Our first customer, a real estate tycoon from Mumbai saw our site right away after launch. He was building landmark villa ‘Timmy Villa’ at Mud-island, Mumbai. And he was interested in purchasing authentic original bedroom furniture for his villa. We visited his property, and signed off a deal. His positive references lead us to multiple purchases from Mumbai, including furnishing entire villa end-to-end at prestigious Aamby valley, Lonavala.
Q. : What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product leading to something bigger? If so, how?
Ans: We want to create authentic Indian Home Décor Luxury designer online platform. Furniture happens to be starting point for us. We would like to enter Furnishings, Upholstery, Artefacts, Kitchen, and Sanitary luxury space going forward in tie-up with established brands.
Q. : What is the insight that you have about this market, which no one else has? Uniqueness about your Startup.
Ans: To understand and capturing the customer expectations is a key insight as per us. During this journey so far, Vikas has personally spoken to 2000+ prospective customers, been to customers places, taken measurements, got furniture made, packaged, loaded, arranged transportation, unloaded and installed furniture myself, not once but over and over again.
Besides enriching him with the keen intuitive sense of customer requirement, these insights play a key role in business design, product design and development and customer interactions. Our startup is unique in our basic business offering to begin with, which goes further into defining every customer touch in a unique and differentiated way.
Q. : Who do You Perceive as Your Competition?
Ans: We don’t have any competition.
Q. : What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months?
Ans: Over next six months, we would ideally like to open our ‘display studios’ at Delhi / NCR & Hyderabad, to provide our customers with touch and feel of our product quality.
Q. : What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Ans: Hang on, Keep faith. Don’t run after funding. Focus on fundamentals. Positive cash flow is blood line of any business. Get there fast.
Q. : Any other information you would like to share?
Ans: We are cash positive and profitable company from day one. We are now looking to pace our growth. A humble beginning now looks to gain momentous momentum!
Thanks Vikas. Best of luck!