If you have ever flaunted that Superman t-shirt or the Batman hat, then you are familiar with the joys of merchandising. While still a small space in India, merchandising is upwards of $200 billion industry in markets like the US and Europe. Despite good demand for products in our own country, we never had any place to buy them. Fakes and roadside pass-offs are probably the only things that Indian customers have access to.
Siddharth Taparia was familiar with the opportunity that the space presents, because in his previous avatar as an employee, Siddharth was the executive director and business head of licensing business for The Walt Disney Company. Here he was responsible for running Disney’s licensing and merchandising business across all categories and had grown the business across verticals like cricket, fashion and real estate. He had developed licensee partnerships across categories to launch products in apparel, footwear, back to school, fashion accessories and consumer electronics among others.
Vox Pop Clothing is his latest enterprise. This management graduate from Harvard has earlier launched an independent record label and after building the business for five years, exited it through a long-term licensing deal with Sony Music. Vox Pop or ‘your voice’ is a brand through which consumers can find merchandise of their favourite icons, characters and stories. Siddharth intends for it to become a destination where consumers go for their brand of choice across categories – be it sports, music, movies, TV shows, cult games or consumer brands.
“The idea is to build a business in the lifestyle merchandise space comprising entertainment, lifestyle, sports, and just about everything. So it can be accessories, footwear, clothing, and then expand across categories as and when we see the opportunity,” explains Siddharth. He admits his relationship with Disney and Marvel helped him get started, and within a short span of 10 months, he has managed to sign agreements with Superman, Batman, Game of Thrones, Dexter and Star Trek.
Vox Pop started in July 2013 and started selling from October. Customers can buy merchandise directly from the Vox Pop site or they have the option to buy products from other online stores like Flipkart, Jabong and eBay. They have also tied up with few offline retailers like Planet Superheroes and Hysteria in Bangalore. “We want to use Voxpopclothing.com to do all order processing. So all retailers should come to the site and have a day-to-day connect, see the products and pick it up. That way we will have both B2B play and B2C play,” says Siddharth.
The website comes out with 15-20 designs each month, and according to Siddharth they are looking closely at the B2C space because of the higher margins it has to offer. B2C is also an advantage because the brands Vox Pop represents already have good mind share, therefore with a little push attracting customers is not tough. “The advantage of working with iconic brands is that I only need to have a call to action. I just need to say that the merchandise is available, I need not build the brand, still the conversion is higher,” he says.
At present, all the merchandise available on the site is purely apparel, however, going forward there are plans to introduce flipflops, boxer shots, iPad covers, iPhone cases and other accessories. Siddharth is bullish about sales in the online space, more than offline retail because of the ability to directly reach customers. Aspiration for branded merchandise is present across the board, and Vox Pop has shipped a good number of orders to tier 2 and 3 cities like Kochi, Guwahati and Chandigarh.
The core team at Vox Pop comprises eight people who handle functions like design, merchandising, marketing and communication. Vox Pop also outsources some of its functions like accounting, technology and social media work.
As a startup, Siddharth says there have been multiple challenges to deal with. Convincing printers to print small quantity orders was a big problem. Demand forecasting was another challenge for Vox Pop — to understand what would be the demand for a new range of product was tough to get right. They have tried pre-order booking to work around the problem. “The pre-booking space on the website helped us get an idea of how much demand a particular product was going to have. So if 70 people are interested in a design, and have listed their preference, then we can reach out to them once the product is in stock. Another design that has only 15 people interested can be removed from the final production list completely. We have leveraged technology for customer insights, distribution and marketing,” says Siddharth.
Vox Pop has received a seed funding of $400,000 from Blume Ventures, and has a couple of angels backing it. Other members advising Vox Pop include an expert from the retail space and a strategic investor from the US with over 20 years experience in fashion and licensing – this investor has been instrumental in helping open many doors for Vox Pop partnerships in the US.
Since starting up, Vox Pop has mostly been stocked out and Siddharth hopes they are able to continue the trend by getting their demand forecasting right. For the long term, he says they want to onboard more brands, and rather than being known as a superhero site, want to be known as an iconic brand site. Therefore getting brands like football teams, music bands, and aspirational alcoholic beverages brands is important, he says.