It started way back in 1882 when the enterprising Whorra family successfully embarked upon manufacturing custom-made silverware, trophies and mementos. Soon thereafter, they made their foray into retail in 2001 with a store at Greater Kailash, New Delhi. Currently, the 12 outlets of Episode stock a wide variety of religious deities, silver-fused glass vases, silver-fused porcelain dinner sets, bar accessories, decorative figurines, photo frames, etc. Deepak Whorra, Director, Episode, recounts the retail journey of the brand to Nivedita Jayaram Pawar.
How has the retail journey been for Episodes so far? What were some of the milestones along the way?
The growth story of Episode was initially rapid but slow and steady in recent times in keeping with the recessionary market. The biggest milestone until now has been the invention of our technique to manufacture light-weight deities like Ganesha statues in 2006. This made it possible for the customer to own a Ganesha idol at a value for money price-point.
I am also proud of the fact that we have managed to build a committed retail and corporate clientele. Some of them include names such as ICICI Securities, RBS, Mercedes, Rolls-Royce, BMW, Armani and Ralph Lauren. The biggest achievement is that clients perceive our brand as offering unique designs and high quality at value for money price-points.
Episode started in Delhi. Which is the best market for the brand today? What other markets are you looking at?
Delhi is still the best market though Mumbai was very good until 2011. Thereafter, it has been Delhi all the way. It contributes to almost 55 percent of our revenues followed by Mumbai, which accounts for 25 percent. Kota has been a very pleasant surprise in terms of demand. Going ahead we will be looking at setting up Episode in Pune, Hyderabad, and Chandigarh. However, that will happen only after we have established ourselves in major markets like Bengaluru and Chennai.
What is the biggest challenge for a retail concept like Episode?
The biggest challenge we have to overcome is copying of designs unscrupulously. Hence, we have to constantly focus on innovation while keeping the value for money promise. Over the past few years, silver prices have increased 5 to 6 times and that makes it difficult to offer silver gifts in the Rs. 5,000–10,000 price range. This is a major obstruction and we are constantly working towards overcoming this.
What is the location strategy for Episode?
We look for three very important factors for an Episode store – convenience for customers, high income areas near the location and ample parking space around. We prefer to open stores in high-street locations rather than malls.
What are some of the innovations that you are extremely proud of at Episode?
We are extremely proud of our invention (patent pending) of cladding silver on glass and porcelain. The innovation that enables us to make light-weight idols is also remarkable. Our collection of Ganeshas has almost created a revolution in the silverware industry.
Perhaps our biggest achievement is the change we brought about in the way customers today look at silverware. It is more design orientated now. No more run-of-the-mills flowers or leaves or the meaningless flutings. Episode has made silverware move from the cupboard to becoming a piece of art and decoration. Products at Episode are a culmination of tradition and technology.
Tell us something about the in-house design team?
We have one senior designer, Shailaja Ranawat, who manages a team of seven designers. Fresh ideas are generated and fine-tuned with experience. Thus, a complicated twirled flower vase or bowl honed to perfection through fabricated techniques developed in-house. Whilst others may struggle to manufacture certain designs, at Episode we achieve perfection by a mixture of 4th or 5th generation techniques combined with our own researched efforts. It takes a fair amount of time for the product to reach the shelf from the conceptualisation stage – sometimes up to six months. We place a string emphasis on the utility aspect of each product.
Tell us about the pieces that have stood the test of time and have become timeless.
There are many. Maheshwaram is one of them. It took one year for 11 craftsmen across 5 states to create this silver Ganesh statue priced at Rs. 35,83,470. The Bermuda Triangle, a silver fruit bowl, was a very difficult design crafted impeccably by cutting and laying in overlap sheets of silver in its purest form. The Likhit Ganesha or Writing Ganesha is one of our all-time best sellers. In this form, Ganesha is seen writing the great epic Mahabharata. It is priced at Rs. 1,21,840.
What about your export market. What percentage of revenue comes from exports?
Export was our main business until about 2004–2005 when we exported to names like Ralph Lauren, Armani, Vera Wang, Sabattini, Joop!, Peter Jones, Lambert, etc.
Gradually, our focus shifted to the domestic market and today our major sales are in India. So, from 85 percent it has now gone down to 30 percent of our turnover.
How large is the manufacturing facility at Episode? Our manufacturing unit located in Noida spans 70,000 sq.ft. and has a built-in capacity of 150 tonnes a year.
What challenges have the rising silver prices posed to the business?
It is a major challenge. The price of silver in the last 4–5 years went up from Rs. 7,000 to Rs. 46,000. The development cycle for a new product is long. So by the time the product reaches the market, it loses relevance in terms of cost-effectiveness. So we have to repeatedly go back to the drawing board in order to re-design so as to achieve the required price-points. For a short period, the generic demand for silverware did suffer a setback, but over a period of two to three years, the consumer has got used to a higher price level and they are back with us as they used to be. Design helped us do that.
What are your future plans?
We are looking to expand the Episode brand to cities like Chennai, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, etc. We plan to have 20 to 23 stores by the end of 2015. We will be also taking the e-commerce route through our own website in the next two months. Post this we will be looking at the market place model of e-commerce.
We will be introducing a new category of products at our airport stores from next month onwards. These will be nautical products like binoculars, telescopes, etc. Enamelled gifts will also be available at these stores.
Retail presence12 stores (5 company-owned stores in Delhi/NCR and 7 franchisees).
Average store size 750–850 sq.ft.
Average investment in a storeRs. 40 lakh to Rs. 1 crore
Best-selling product categories
Deities in silver and candle lighting
Price range of products Silver: Rs. 1,000 onwards up to Rs. 40 lakh; Silver plated: Rs. 300 to Rs. 50,000.
Average ticket size Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 12,000 at high street stores; Rs. 3,000 at airport stores.