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Eyeing 300 stores in 36 months: Lokendra Ranawat, Wooden Street

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Wooden Street co-founder, Lokendra Ranawat on the brand’s journey from being an online marketplace to a strong omnichannel player in a complex category like furniture and home decor

Mumbai: The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a substantial shift in consumer behaviour in India, particularly in how people perceive and utilize their living spaces. Homes took centre stage as individuals sought to create more functional and enjoyable environments. There was a significant surge in demand for versatile furniture, such as recliners, convertible sofas, etc. as consumers prioritized comfort while upgrading their homes to cater to the evolving needs of post-pandemic living. According to experts, the furniture category has a lot of potential.

According to a report by Expert Market Research, the Indian furniture market stood at a value of around $23.12 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.9% in the forecast period of 2023-2028.

With monthly sales of around Rs 30 crore and an aggressive offline expansion, 2015-launched furniture and home decor brand Wooden Street has emerged as a noteworthy omnichannel player in this space.

Lokendra Ranawat, who co-founded the brand with Virendra Ranawat, Dinesh Pratap Singh and Vikas Baheti in Udaipur, Rajasthan, shares insights into the brand’s inception, the challenges faced during its early days, and the strategies employed to establish trust and deliver quality to customers during an exclusive interaction with IndiaRetailing at the brand’s office in Udaipur.

Edited excerpts…

What was the inspiration behind starting Wooden Street and how has the brand evolved over the years?

The idea emerged from the collective backgrounds and vision of the four co-founders. We were closely connected despite working in different parts of the world. Coming from Rajasthan, a region rich in artisans and art forms, we wanted to uplift these talented individuals.

Our discussions began to take shape in 2011-2012, a time when e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart were emerging. They didn’t focus on handicrafts and furniture. So, we envisioned a tech platform, Wooden Street, where artisans could not only showcase and sell their products within India but also reach international markets.

This idea stemmed from our experiences abroad, where we observed a lack of such platforms. Wooden Street aimed to provide a bridge between skilled artisans and a global audience, preserving and promoting traditional art forms while embracing technology.

What challenges did you face during the initial stages of building the brand?

Initially, explaining the technological nature of the platform to artisans in places like Jodhpur and Jaipur was a challenge. Convincing them to adapt to a new process for receiving and fulfilling orders required patient explanation and understanding. The timing of manufacturing and delivery also posed difficulties, as some artisans couldn’t always adhere to immediate production timelines, causing delays.

Moreover, the logistics of shipping bulky furniture pieces were complex, given the absence of a well-established supply chain. Ensuring product quality and efficient distribution were pivotal challenges that had to be addressed step by step.

We gradually worked on building a dedicated supply chain, implementing quality checks, establishing distribution centres in various cities, and collaborating with local carpenters, and delivery professionals to execute orders effectively.

The e-commerce landscape is competitive. What strategies helped you establish yourself?

When we started as a tech platform, we realized that selling furniture required customers to have a touch-and-feel experience. Sometimes the image of a product online did not do justice to the end product due to which customers faced confusion. This led to the setting up of experience centres, with Bengaluru being the first location to test this concept.

This was nearly six months after the brand’s launch and the response was positive, as customers found the in-person experience more trustworthy and reassuring than online interactions alone.

Recognizing the importance of an omni-channel strategy, we rapidly expanded our offline presence, opening approximately 10 to 15 stores each month. Today, Wooden Street boasts 100 stores. So, in terms of offline expansion, we were very aggressive.

How much traffic do you get through online and offline channels?

The company’s first point of contact with customers typically occurs through the website, which attracts around 20 to 25 lakh visitors each month. Our experience centres draw an average footfall of about 25,000 per month across stores.

However, determining whether visitors to the physical stores initially interacted with the website or are entirely new prospects is challenging. We do a monthly sales volume of approximately Rs30 crore. Although Wooden Street’s stores primarily serve as experiential showrooms and do not physically stock products, around 30% of customers place orders directly after visiting the store, while the remaining 70% first engage with the website before exploring the physical store.

How did a new player like Wooden Street build trust among customers?

Selling furniture is not as easy as selling a shoe or a shirt. What set Wooden Street apart was the commitment to direct customer engagement and transparency. We boldly displayed contact numbers and integrated a chat box on our website, providing customers with real-time, authentic interactions. This approach allowed customers to ask questions and receive personalized guidance, fostering trust.

Do you also manufacture your own products?

While initially starting as a marketplace, we identified critical gaps in the market and understood that common designs and a lack of innovation were leaving customers unsatisfied. So we set up a research and development (R&D) unit in Jodhpur to create innovative, multi-utility products based on customer demand.

Today, we manufacture 75% of our products, focusing majorly on vendor quality and wood seasoning. We even invested in a seven-layer packaging solution and quality checks. We also built a solid supply chain, with nearly 300 containers and distribution centres in every city.

Initially, setting up everything in-house was a complex task, but that is working well for us now.

How does Wooden Street embrace sustainability?

Sustainability is our key focus. Our wood comes from sustainable forests. Additionally, we offer particle board furniture, which is known for its eco-friendly characteristics. To reduce environmental impact, we have minimized the use of plastic and are actively exploring the use of recyclable cartons for packaging. We have implemented a system where used cartons are returned to the warehouse and directed to recycling plants to create new packaging materials.

What are your strategies to cater to customers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities?

In terms of our marketing strategy for tier two and tier three cities, online presence remains key focus. We are working to enhance our online visibility in these regions. However, recognizing the unique dynamics of these markets, we are also diversifying our approach. This includes newspaper advertisements, local TV advertisements, strategically placed hoardings, and active participation in major society events. Additionally, we are forging partnerships with local influencers within these cities, aiming to create a strong word-of-mouth presence.

Any new products, or markets, you are considering? 

Currently, Wooden Street is on a path of rapid expansion, with plans to open approximately five to six stores each month. Alongside this, the company is diversifying into new product categories such as lamps and lighting, home decor, and home furnishings. In the next 65-90 days, we will launch our lighting brand called Light Street, which will offer a wide array of lighting solutions. Additionally, Wooden Street has already ventured into home furnishings under the brand name “Earthy Threads,” offering items like curtains, cushions, and bedsheets.

Tell us about your expansion plans. 

Wooden Street is expanding rapidly with a list of 20 new cities in its sights, including Bhopal, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai among other cities. In addition to opening five to six stores each month in metros, we plan to launch six new stores in tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

At present, we have 100 stores and our target is to open another 200 stores. So, in all, we want to be a chain of 300 stores in the next 36 months.

Any plans to go international? 

In the coming 12 months, Wooden Street plans to expand internationally, starting with the United Kingdom. Although we had been exporting to the UK before Covid-19, those operations were temporarily halted.

Now, the company is gearing up to reestablish a strong presence in the UK market. Our strategy involves opening a warehouse and gradually transitioning into a retail format. There is a promising demand for Indian designs and aesthetics in the UK and the USA. Therefore, within the next year, we aim to venture into the USA and UK markets.

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