As the race to bring all traditionally offline sectors to online mediums heats up, unexplored niches are getting harder to find. More often than not, these niches will be found by people who get inspired by a problem that they themselves have faced. This is what happened in the launch story of centralmart.in – an online store for building and home products. Rishit Dalal, CEO, shares the story.
Who is the team behind Centralmart.in? How did you settle on this idea?
I am an engineer from BITS, Pilani and an alumnus of London Business School. I have worked as a management consultant in the past, and subsequently led the exports vertical in our family business of building materials. My Co-founder Vishesh Dalal is a Chartered Accountant, CFA and MCom by academics. He has worked in the advisory vertical at Ernst & Young for over five years.
We were renovating our home in Mumbai in 2013. Spending days meandering through crowded bazaars, discovering products and negotiating with unorganized retailers (and always feeling cheated!), it was a terrible experience. At the end of 9 months (a project that was supposed to completed in 3 months), we had spent lakhs of rupees and had a huge pile of hand-written bills which we could not even understand! We didn’t know where all the money had done and we were not satisfied with the quality of products, many of which started having issues within a few weeks. The retailers from whom we bought did not care about after-sales support. “No Guarantee, No Exchange” was their policy. The whole experience opened our eyes to an interesting opportunity – why not create an organized platform for home improvement products in India and solve the problems prevalent in the highly fragmented and unorganized industry? And – Centralmart.in was born.
You are operating in an industry where the products have traditionally been sold in retail shops. Also there are multiple influencers like contractor, designer etc. on the buying decisions. How do you plan on educating the customer to buy online and what have you learnt in the process?
We have entered an industry in which products have been traditionally sold through complex brick and mortar distribution networks. Hence, many vendors we have tied up with do not have systematic reach across India. Consequently, customers in many places do not have visibility and access to all the products available in the home improvement space. It is a two-sided network. Moreover, there is no transparency in pricing so customers generally end up paying more as list prices are bloated up and then deceptively high discounts are offered. Sometimes, people order something and get something else. But we are determined to change the way this industry operates.
You are right in saying that there are multiple influencers as the products are technical in nature. Architects, interior designers, contractors specify most products and the end customer only looks at the design aspect in most cases. But until now, influencers and end-customers did not have access to an organized platform where they could discover products conveniently and then make an informed buying decision. There are myriad quality products at various price-points in the market but customers are only aware of the high visibility products. We plan on educating customers to discover the right products and buy online through a robust, multipronged marketing strategy which would comprise digital and offline channels. We also have a unique “Assisted Buying” service in which we help customers select and buy products based on their needs over telephone.
For a startup, you already have an impressive and wide range of products available on your website. How did you go about it? And how do you ensure availability and an efficient supply chain?
Collaborating with vendors, cataloging products and managing content was a big challenge we encountered due to the high unorganized nature of the industry. In order to develop detailed content for technical products with the right attributes and filters, we built an in-house content team right from the outset. We have collaborated with over 50 vendors and are working on an asset-light, zero-inventory model. To ensure availability, our team regularly updates inventory from vendors. For deliveries, we have collaborated with reputed logistics players to pick-up products from the vendor and deliveries it directly to the customer. This keeps the supply chain highly efficient and cost-effective, eliminating double-handling.
Every e-commerce company in India today is facing the trick question of what if one of the big 3 (Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal) enters into your domain – how do you plan on meeting this challenge?
Centralmart.in is a specialized e-commerce player for home improvement products. We are a vertical player compared to horizontals like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal. What we offer is a wide breadth of brands and products in every category we sell, strong technical content, specialized domain knowledge and a customer experience which is unique to this industry. We are also developing technology which would soon transform the way customers do home improvement. Most importantly, we exactly know who our customer is compared to horizontal players for whom anyone from the entire population could be a customer. So, we are building an ecosystem around our customer needs and aim to become the go-to place for home improvement. We aim to create our own niche in the market and are not competing with horizontals.
How are you planning on growth and expansion?
It has been 2 months since launch, and we have already received orders from over 7 cities across India. We will soon be executing a focused marketing strategy which would increase brand awareness and propel sales. In parallel, we are building a strong team and developing technology to give a superior customer experience and address need-gaps. While we are based out of Mumbai and servicing orders across India, we aim to gradually build a strong presence in multiple cities to ensure our customers can take full advantage of our offering.
What is your one tip for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I believe that a venture can be successful in the long-term only if it solves a critical problem, addresses a need-gap and/or creates efficiencies in the ecosystem. Hence, it is extremely important to build any venture around the specific needs of your target customers.