'We revolutionised online lingerie buying in India'
Richa Kar of Zivame, an online portal for buying lingerie, talks about the challenges of being an entrepreneur, and what it takes to make a business succeed.
When Richa Kar told her parents and peers that she had plans to sell lingerie online, their first reaction was, predictably, ‘Oh my God! All that education and now selling…’
Of course with an MBA from NMIMS under her belt (and a civil engineering degree from BITS Pilani), they knew she would easily find another job if this one failed. So did Richa.
“But I was not doing it to fail,” says Richa, who quit her job at SAP Consulting to plug a gap women felt while buying lingerie.
Lingerie is a Rs 15,000 crore market in India. Two-thirds of it is in the unorganised sector and the rest – a whopping Rs 5,000 crore – in the organised sector, of which online buying is just a fraction.
Richa saw this as a huge market waiting for an entrepreneur who could exploit it. Her idea that women could buy lingerie online, whenever they wanted it, from the privacy of their homes, was a winner.
Richa was not new to online retail. She had experience of the retail industry when she worked for Spencer’s Retail for two-and-a-half years in Kolkata and Bengaluru, in marketing and operations.
She joined SAP Consulting after completing her MBA in 2007, and this is where she got an understanding of IT-enabled systems and processes that helped global retailers scale up their operations.
In one of her assignments at SAP Consulting she got exposed to a global retailer dealing in lingerie. That got her thinking about what was happening in this area in India.
She spoke to scores of women about their lingerie buying experiences and was convinced that online retail would work.
On August 25, 2011 she started Zivame (Ziva in Hebrew means ‘radiant’, hence ‘radiant me’). The online retailer sells lingerie, hosiery and stockings and is growing at 15 to 20 per cent every month, on top of a 400 per cent growth in sales last year.
Richa Kar explains how and why she started Zivame, the challenges of being an entrepreneur, and what it takes to make a business succeed.
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'It is socially embarrassing to discuss bra sizes openly; so women don't spend time in choosing the size that best fits them'
Why is an online store for lingerie a better option for women?
A retailer can never stock all the sizes. Like, there are a number of bra sizes - 30A, 30B, 34B, C, D, etc - and for every size you are talking about 12 odd fits. If a retailer has to cater to all these consumers, he will have to store all these sizes.
This leads to problems of shelf space. You will have to stock up a lot to cater to consumers with different kinds of bra sizes. Therefore, retailers will always compromise and go only for fast moving sizes, giving little choice as far as size and fit is concerned to their consumers.
Second, it needs consultation. There are different kinds of bras for different women. It is socially embarrassing to discuss all this openly and so women don’t spend time in choosing the size that best fits them. Physically shopping for lingerie is often an awkward experience for most women.
My research showed that the problem was magnified in smaller B and C towns where there are more social taboos or embarrassments related to buying lingerie.
I thought that online shopping would be best: It gives me as much shelf space as I want, offers 24 X 7 access to customers, and offers them a private shopping experience.
How do buyers try your products? Do you deliver products to their homes for them to try before they buy? What if the size doesn’t fit?
In Bangalore we are launching a 48-hour pick up service. Very soon we will be extending this feature to other metros also. Our return rate is around 4 per cent. The reason we have low return rate (four per cent) is because we put a lot of information on the site.
We have a bra-size calculator which helps women find out the right fit and size. You give two measurements and we will give you a bra size across all the brands that we have.
We also have a very wide choice of sizes and brands. We have close to 80 styles of stockings and panty hose. You will not find that in any other country. We have bra sizes up to 84.
If it does not fit, we have a free exchange programme, as many times as the customer wants. In fact, we encourage exchanges. We have 50 per cent repeat customers, which is a very high loyalty category.
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Photographs: Mike Segar/Reuters
'For a start-up, for every thing that is going right there are ten things that are going wrong'
What challenges did you face?
I understood retail but I had to understand the category. We were the first company to get all the domestic brands online. I had to get the confidence of these brands to believe in something like this and get their brands sold online.
The other challenge was to set up a company, get the website up, start taking orders, use open source software, customise it for our and customers’ needs.
Our team was extremely small when we started. Initially, people didn’t want to join a company that sold lingerie online. Men would not want to join. People thought there would be bank scrutiny because we had an online payment gateway.
There are so many social issues around this category, but it is a must-have category for women, and that is why this business makes so much sense.
Three things every entrepreneur must get right…
Focus, attention to detail and building the right team.
I am a first time entrepreneur and every day is a new learning. There is no book to consult. All entrepreneurs talk about having that single-minded focus and conviction about an idea and I think that is very important.
As long as you can focus on what you want, in all likelihood you will get it. For a start-up, for every thing that is going right there are ten things that are going wrong. As long as you focus on the most important thing, you will succeed.
As a founder and a CEO you need to ensure that you are detail-oriented so that your team is also detail-oriented. A lot of the quality culture you build into a company comes from there. Quality, perfection and excellence are traits that we consciously build into our company and people.
Third, is it is very important to hire the right people. A lot of my success is possibly because we are successful as a team. In Zivame 140 people are working to make the company successful.'
Skills and competency can be built over time, but passion and personality is very important to us. We don’t take a shortcut around that.
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Photographs: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
'Entrepreneurship is about building value, building scale around a business idea'
Your advice to young entrepreneurs…
Entrepreneurship sounds glamorous but it involves a lot of hard work. It leaves one with almost no time for anything else.
One needs to be absolutely focused, devoted to that single idea that you are consumed with and therefore there can be no half-hearted measures. Saying I will do this and at the same time I will also try another idea, it never works.
You have to cut the umbilical cord that links you as an entrepreneur to an alternative. You should not have a fall back option; go all out and pursue your big idea.
But you should also know when to pull out. Also know how to know if you are being successful or not.
Is there any formula to know that?
You have to set your goals and objectives when you start out with an enterprise. If those goals and objectives are not met within a set time frame then you should pull out.
The lever of entrepreneurship can make people do the same thing over and over again without creating any value. If that is what one is doing, it is better to pull out.
Entrepreneurship is about building value, building scale around a business idea.