LBS alumnus and CA founders start online home improvements portal Centralmart India

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Believed to be one of the fastest growing segments in India, home improvements seems to be garnering a lot of national and international players into the market. Today, there are several retail and the real estate biggies entering the foray of home development and improvement. Once a highly unorganised market, brands like Home Centre, Natuzzi, Chateau D'ax and even Evok seem to have increased their portfolio to include the segment of home improvement.

And like any other segment or industry, the home improvement segment too has gone online. Global and national players have made their digital footprint in the virtual world as well. Whether it is bath furnishings or kitchen furnishings or regular furniture, every brand is present not only on multi-brand e-commerce portals, but also have their exclusive brand sites. So where does Centralmart fall under this category?

"While there are big players in the segment, it still is an unorganised sector, and these brands do not look into end-to-end solutions. When there is a home improvement project, there is more to it than just getting in the furnishings.There is interior designs, choosing of the right products at the right price and even completion of a project on time," says Rishit Dalal, CEO and co-founder of Centralmart

The Spark of an idea

Dalal says,

"The idea was born when I was managing the renovation of our home interiors. The whole experience was nightmarish is the least to say-from finding the right interior designer; discovering, selecting and procuring the right products from crowded bazaars all across the city; negotiating all the time without any clue; spending hundreds of thousands of rupees and not even getting proper invoices against payments. The list is simply endless. A project that was supposed to take three months went on for almost nine months. The worse part was I did not know where all my money had gone. I clearly remember having bought all our light fittings from a local vendor - out of which a couple blew off in two weeks. The vendor pointed me to a signboard in his shopthat said,"No Guarantee, No Exchange.’ During the course of the argument that ensued he even said to me, ‘If you go, someone else will come.’

“This made me realise the fact that home improvement is an extremely unorganised industry that is, unfortunately, plagued with unprofessionalism, fake products, bloated prices and deceptive discounts. In most of the cases, the invoices are handwritten, which makes it nearly impossible to budget and keep track of payments during a project. To top it, the customer has no value in the eyes of the vendor. No matter how much you spend, you are not guaranteed a good customer experience.”

An engineer from BITS Pilani and an alumnus of London Business School, Rishit has worked as a management consultant for KPMG in the Middle East, and has also been a part of the family business in materials and exports. Vishesh Dalal, the COO and co-founder, on the other hand is a Chartered Accountant, CFA, M.Com, with over six years of experience with Ernst & Young in the advisory practice.

The Research Begins

After getting a first hand understanding of how unorganised the space was, the duo began their research by studying the several business models, and speaking to several vendors and potential customers. "This simply reinforced our idea. It gave us a deeper understanding of the gap in the the home improvement industry. We were now sure that there was space for an organised, professionally-managed, customer-centric player in the market,"says Rishit.

The actual work of creating this e-commerce portal began late June and the early July 2014. The initial work began with direct collaborations with manufacturers across different categories that cater to different requirements of home and office improvement. These include civil, wood, laminates, hardware, lighting and electrical, plumbing, bathroom and kitchen, all covering a total of over 50,000 authentic products.

The Barriers

Speaking of the biggest challenges they have faced so far, Rishit says, "One of the biggest challenge we faced was getting a completely offline, brick and mortar industry online. We have had to really work on convincing the manufacturers to sell their products online through Centralmart.in, as such a concept does not exist in India in this industry. Many of them were quite ignorant about the Internet, and even said they are happy with their existing offline channels and did not need to sell online."

Moreover, Rishit says, "One of the other big challenge we’ve faced is getting a deeper understanding of the technical products, and cataloguing them correctly. The third biggest challenge we’ve had so far is in organising the supply chain. Most vendors did not have visibility on inventory and deliveries of bulky products is always difficult."

Nevertheless, the team has been able to work around most of the challenges, and launch the beta version of this site. "Since we’re procuring products directly from the manufacturers, we ensure that the prices are low, and, in most cases, more economical than the local vendor," says Rishit. Centralmart.in offers free delivery for orders greater than Rs 10,000.

The Way-forward

Currently a team of five, Rishit and Vishesh are looking to expand their team soon. "We just launched, and have not started any serious marketing campaigns.But we’ve already started getting orders from various parts of India,"says Rishit.

Currently, Centralmart is aiming at professionals such as interior designers, architects and contractors. They’re also looking to handle procurement for their projects as a one-stop shop. "They can focus on developing more business rather than spend resources in procurement, which is a difficult task in itself," says Rishit.

Elaborating further on their plans, Rishit says, "We looking at offering our value proposition to consumers who are doing their home and office interiors on their own. We have plans to not only expand to different parts across India, but also expanding our product selection to become a premier destination for home improvement products in India. We’re determined to change the way this industry operates, and create a lot of efficiencies in the process."

Web url: www.centralmart.in

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