“We let technology rule the frontend with easy-to-use customization features.”
Customer experience is continuously getting transformed, especially with COVID-19, that has changed the way businesses operate. In an exclusive chat with TechEela, Lokendra Singh Ranawat, Co-Founder & CEO, WoodenStreet, talks about building a strong customer relationship through technology.
Tell us about Wooden Street. How did you get into the online furniture business which is considered an unorganized sector?
The year was 2015, when we realized that even though the market had a lot of options and e-retail players in the furniture segment, there was one major element missing: personalization. While diversity flows within every household of this nation, the furniture retailers only showed run-of-the-mill designs that you would buy as they were.
We wanted to shift that perspective by introducing the element of customization, providing people tailor-made furniture solutions that would match their personalities and home-interior setups so that unique flavors of individuality and diversity would be retained within every household. Thus, WoodenStreet was born.
What were some of your biggest barriers when starting the online furniture business? How did you overcome them?
One of the biggest barriers for us was supply-chain management. Initially, we were out there depending on third-party services, to carry out all our deliveries across the nation.
But the problem with third-party networks was reliability and dependency, and after partnering with multiple logistics companies, we decided to move on and shift our focus towards developing our own logistics solution that included end-user delivery and furniture installation.
Other problems that we tackled internally were development of in-house management, tracking modules and training of artisans to use modern methods to perfect their craft and meet present-day standards.
Tell us about your strategy for an omnichannel approach to your customers. How are you making online shopping convenient for the buyers?
We have always believed in keeping the customer at the centre of our furniture-buying experience, and that includes helping them in making the right choice for their home. Thus, after initially operating as a website, we set out to launch multiple brick-and-mortar experience stores across India to help cultivate that “touch-and-feel” experience that the customers usually look forward to.
We also let technology rule the front-end with easy-to-use customization features on the website and app, Virtual Reality tours, 3D visualization and visual media in digestible formats for a customer to get a gist of products and the utility offered.
Could you share the funding that you have got for the business till date? How are you planning to invest the amount?
Although bootstrapped since the beginning, we bagged USD 1 Million in seed-funding from RVCF in 2018, and USD 3 Million in Series-A funding from ANI along with RVCF. In both the cases, the funds have been channelled towards greater expansion, both domestic and global. We have already set up a strong foundation for domestic expansion that sits at 25+ experience stores, with new ones opening in Kolkata, Kochi, Coimbatore and Mysuru, along with accessibility technologies such as VR and other mixed-reality options to make shopping more convenient.
You had launched a franchise-based model last year; how is it shaping up?
The franchise model has helped us gain presence in many areas where shaping up an experience store might have proved to be unfeasible. Despite the differences that this offers from a proper Experience Store under our banner, franchising helps in solving our ultimate goal, to provide customers with the choice of doing up their interiors through our premium range of furniture and décor items.
How is the growth of the online furniture business in India? How is Wooden Street responding to the new normal?
The pandemic-induced lockdown did dampen the growth of furniture business within India, but as the Work-from-Home trend took the nation by storm, people realized that their homes lacked the basic needs to carry out this new trend. Thus, this new demand that revolves around setting up a comfortable, productive and ergonomic home office has reignited the furniture market, albeit in a different way.
WoodenStreet’s response towards the ‘New Normal’ has been to develop safe measures to give our customers the freedom of mind for a worry-free shopping. This includes virtual tours, daily sanitization routines followed in every store and other measures such as wearing of masks and social distancing. On the performance front, due to the increase in demand of work-from-home related furniture, we’ve launched new ranges in study table, office chairs and similar categories to help customers choose the right furniture that meets their demands.
What are your key learnings in terms of Marketing and Customer Experience when you started Wooden Street?
The very reason to start with customization at the heart of WoodenStreet was to provide customers with a way to personalize furniture and make it fit their criteria perfectly. It also opened up our understanding of how people gave preference to certain items based on evolving trends.
And these preferences, such as a need for space-saving and multifunctional furniture in today’s booming apartment culture is what one needs to act upon. You have to sell what people really care about and genuinely want to invest their time in. This pandemic, if anything, has emboldened this idea. The more interaction, experience and search for satisfaction you provide your customers with, the more it helps you to grow as a brand.
Any words of advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Find solutions to modern-day problems through the use of technology, especially to foster and cultivate the diverse forms of creative arts within India. Our nation and its people needs minds who can erect a platform that enables multiple lives, from grassroot manufacturers to end-users, connecting them within a network that supports the nation’s economy and provides for everyone’s needs. And who better to take on these challenges than an entrepreneur?
When not working, how do you spend your time?
I prefer spending time with my family, engaging with them at every opportunity I can and enjoying every little moment. It feels liberating and refreshing, and it is something that I really look forward to.