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Making sure that ‘eco’ doesn’t equal exorbitant and is not just for the elite – Eco Corner’s vision

Snigdha Sinha
31st Aug 2015
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From an idea to an experiment to business

“It all started with a simple idea. Eco-friendly products can be tastefully designed, easy to maintain and yet be affordable. The idea evolved into an experiment. The experiment evolved into a business. The business evolved into a community of eco-conscious citizens,” says Amish.

In 2003, ‘Ideas Incorporated’ was launched. It was meant to be an eco-friendly stationery company. The business quickly grew and threw light on how there was a market for eco-friendly products in the lifestyle and home décor space as well. In May 2007, serving this space, ‘Eco Corner’ was born. The company is founded by husband-wife duo, Amish and Urvashi Mody.

Eco Corner engages with rural artisans and NGOs, for their products.

Amish adds,

We have some amazing art forms in India. Many of them that churn out exquisite eco-friendly products. Unfortunately, they lack access to a perennial platform that allows them to sell their creations through-out the year. This lead to the genesis of Eco Corner.

Change is the only constant


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The brand started with being a retailer and was largely curating products. During this time over 95% of their revenue came from their single standalone store. In 2012, they started expanding their in-house products and embarked on launching an extensive shop-in-shop network across India.Towards the end of 2013, they entered into the souvenir segment with airports being the focus area. If you’ve lounged around the Kempegowda (Bengaluru) airport, Eco Corner products can be seen at the souvenir shop ‘Lotus House’. The focus for 2015 is on online sales through their own website and partner websites. Amish tells us why, “Till last year it accounted for less than 5% of our total business, but now it is showing double-digit growth with much lower customer acquisition costs as compared to the physical stores.” He understands that businesses that don’t adapt to the changing patterns of the cutomer’s behaviour are at risk of running dry. “Like I always say, running a business is like riding a bicycle. The day I stop pedalling, I will fall down.”

Making sure that ‘eco’ and ‘organic’ doesn’t equal exorbitant


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Eco-friendly products have become synonymous with pricing being extremely high. One of Eco Corner’s founding principles was to maintain honest pricing and hence serve a larger section of the audience. The goal was to create a platform that would support rural artisans and local crafts, and one that celebrates creativity, luring even the less eco-conscious as customers. He adds, “Once we arrive at the fair price offering (which is benchmarked against that of our competition) we work on reducing costs through bulk purchases and eliminating middle men in almost all of our purchases.”Establishing cooperative self-help units

Eco Corner has helped establish two self-help tailoring units in the past 3 years of operation. Each of these units is managed by tailors, who according to Amish, have tripled their income since they started working with Eco Corner. Both these units provide employment to under-privileged skilled labour.

Supporting rural entrepreneurship

Real entrepreneurship is when it reaches every strata of society. Since the very beginning, Eco Corner has been sourcing handmade paper from a mill in rural Rajasthan. Three years ago, the company took the initiative to help the unit start manufacturing products with design inputs from the Eco Corner team. Amish says, “This helped increase average revenues of the unit by ten-fold from 2012 to 2014.”

Providing a platform for rural art forms

Eco Corner currently provides a platform to various NGOs, one of which promotes the ancient art form ‘Warli’. Eco Corner retails various hand-painted Warli products including serving trays, coasters, pen stands and magazine racks among others. Amish says, “This partnership was initiated in 2014 and has contributed to an average revenue of Rs. 10,000 a month to the group since inception. In addition, they source an exquisite range of Palm Leaf products from a self-help group of women based in a remote village in Tamil Nadu. Vibrant Palm leaf products have been traditionally created by rural artisans of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These hand-crafted products continue to provide livelihood to women in some of the most remote villages of this region.

How Eco friendly are they?

Upcycled glass bottles
Upcycled glass bottles

Amish says completely! “All products retailed at Eco Corner are created using eco-friendly materials which are either recycled or are completely biodegradable without adversely impacting the environment or contributing to the landfills.”

Not the hamster on a wheel, just yet

We’re taken aback when Amish tells us that he doesn’t want investment just yet. With every other startup running after funding, what makes him think differently?

We want to build a certain brand traction before diluting our equity to enable us to get a better valuation for our company. We remain a positive cashflow company and would rather maintain this than tweak the business model to chase top line which helps valuations grow exponentially.

He then reminds us of what seasoned seed investors often talk about – profitability; a topic Dave Richards (Co-founder, Unitus Seed Fund) also spoke about at a SocialStory Meetup.


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Amish continues, “Every other start-up today especially in the online retail space is chasing topline and valuations without even attempting to focus on a path to profitability. Personally, this I think is a high-risk strategy which will result in probably few emerging as winners but a vast majority of start-ups shutting down in a couple of years.”It is well known in the startup space that once the first investment is taken, you’re the hamster on a wheel. He says, “They (startups) focus on chasing valuation to raise the next round of funds rather than focusing on the product itself and relying on internal accruals through positive cashflows to survive.”

Once Eco Corner conquers certain milestones they have set for themselves, they will reach out to investors, “Yes investors need to see their investments multiply and a clear exit which enables them to capitalize on their investment. But this should not adversely impact the company’s clear vision and goals.”

Challenges

While they have grown by leaps and bounds, there are kinks that need to be ironed. Amish talks about a few – Building a national brand with current available resources. Managing the supply chain network of rural artisans. On that note, he adds, “We are after all a bridge between the organised and unorganised sectors in many cases.” High Cost of customer acquisition for both online (for their own website) and offline channels has also been a struggle. And lastly, finding that sweet spot among product innovation, sustainable resources and yet maintaining affordability.

Dreaming with eyes wide open

Their vision is to become India’s largest eco-friendly lifestyle retail brand that continues to create and curate the most expansive range of products that could range from lifestyle, home decor and souvenir products to even food eventually. It’s Make in India all the way!

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