It’s hard to spot Bheemaiah when you first enter his little store in Indiranagar. But look beyond the brightly coloured canes and staffs, and you will see him, hunkered down at his table, hard at work polishing a gnarly stick.
Born into a family of coffee planters, Bheemaiah spent his childhood exploring the wilderness of Coorg. “I love nature and have collected many keepsakes from the forest over the years,” he says. After completing his education in Bangalore, where he forged many close friendships, Bheemaiah settled down in the city to a successful career in event management.
“One day, knowing my penchant for collecting souvenirs, a friend brought back a beautiful rattan vine stick from his travels,” he says. Bheemaiah’s first thought was how he could further ornament the stick, and he got to work smoothening, seasoning, and painting it. “At the end of my efforts, it looked like a piece of art,” he says with pride. Once he’d set the ball rolling, Bheemaiah expanded his collection of sticks and began shaping them into different designs.
His work opened his eyes to the versatility of sticks, which could be used for protection, stability, home decor, and even storage. “My work aroused a lot of curiosity among my friends,” he laughs, “because nobody had ever seen such a thing before.”
A regular at flea markets and craft bazaars in the city, Bheemaiah had seen an array of handmade, handcrafted items, and had witnessed first-hand a growing market for such products in Bangalore. Certain that he had a winning product, he launched his brand Bheem Styx in 2014. “The eponymous brand name,” he says, “was a conscious decision since I am fairly well-known in event management circles and I wanted to leverage my popularity to kickstart my new business.”
Bheem Styx offers a range of natural sticks that are ideal for hikers, social walkers, walking stick collectors, and even home decor. Bheemaiah personally handpicks each stick from forests and plantations, and even on his travels. “I never cut any trees or branches, and only collect fallen twigs and dead wood left behind after landslides or construction activity. The products are all made of natural jungle hardwood,” he adds.
Once sourced, each stick is cleaned, treated, smoothened with sandpaper, and dried to last up to 200 years. It is then hand-carved by Bheemaiah into different shapes and sizes and polished before being given to artists who bring the sticks to life. “My friends, who are anywhere between 3 and 60 years old, double up as my artists, and they are compensated according to the effort and detail of their work,” he explains. Bheemaiah says that each stick has a uniqueness that only nature can design, and so every customer receives a one-of-a-kind design. A piece could take between three months and one-and-a-half years to prepare based on the nature of wood used. Bheemaiah is personally involved at every step of the product’s creation and takes care that only the best designs go to market.
Bheem Styx offers 20 types of all-purpose sticks. There are deep-water walking sticks that gauge the depth of water bodies on hiking trails; specialised trekking sticks that come accessorised with a compass and whistle; catapult sticks that provide relief to weary hikers; walking sticks for the injured and elderly; bug sticks to replace chemical repellants; coat and jewellery hangers, intricately carved spirit face sticks, broomsticks, and many more – all priced between Rs 500 and Rs 6,000.
His large network of friends help him market his products on various social networking platforms. He is also a regular participant at flea markets and art exhibitions in the city. “This allows people to see the products, appreciate the art, and most importantly, understand how functional sticks can be,” he says. His efforts have paid off. However, with growing demand, and difficulty managing a large inventory, Bheemaiah set up his first store in 2015 from where he demonstrates his art and takes customised orders. “Since I began, I’ve sold more than 2,000 sticks,” he says.
In early 2016, with international orders pouring in, Bheemaiah began to find it very challenging to predict demand and track orders received from various platforms. He found he was spending longer hours managing inventory and less time pursuing his passion for carving the sticks.
“That is when I discovered Sellfie, an initiative by Citrus Pay, to assist small entrepreneurs like myself streamline their businesses.” Through the Sellfie app, Bheem Styx now has an online storefront that allows Bheemaiah to share detailed product information quickly on all his social media platforms, promote his brand, and manage his orders better; getting payments is also much easier than before.
“Sellfie is the right answer to the specific business challenges I face. I want my products to give customers the personalised experience a handmade product deserves, and this is something not all e-commerce platforms offer. Now that I’ve taken my business online on my terms, I hope to get Bheem Styx to many more people across the world” - Bheemaiah.
Bheemaiah is used to people being confused or unconvinced about his work, but he is resolute in his decision not to venture outside of carving sticks, and has made it his life’s mission to change people’s perception around their use. “A lot can be done with sticks, and I have only just begun,” he beams.
When people think of sticks, either the aged or the injured come to mind. With his products, he is broadening people’s perspective about how sticks can be used as part of their daily lives. “With my craft, I see beauty where most people don’t and I am always dreaming up new ways of giving something old, destroyed, and useless a new lease of life and new meaning,” he says.
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