You'll find the rarest to the most popular collectibles on this bootstrapped startup's website, 'The House Of Things', curated by Astha Khetan herself.
For 32-year-old Astha Khetan, someone who was as rooted to the idiosyncrasies of her country and hometown, as she was passionate about design, trapping the quirks of history and culture into beautiful keepsakes and utilities became her mission. Thus, marrying the two, she decided to start up in Udaipur, the City of Lakes, and curate the most exquisite collectibles from artists and designers from across the country to supply them to world and showcase India at its most glorious.
The Udaipur connection
Astha Khetan calls herself a '100 percent Udaipur girl' and a ‘mom-preneur’ who has spent most of her life in the city, save for a few short stints studying and working away. After graduation, she completed a degree in marketing from the UK, worked in London for a media giant, and then moved to Mumbai for a stint with Unilever.
Astha's plan was simple - to merge her love for handicrafts, her penchant for travel and her direct access to the artistic treasures of India’s most opulent city. “I wanted to create a space for interaction between design talent and lifestyle customers – a qualitatively curated gallery with a worldwide viewership. And the single biggest advantage of Digital Age is that your location is no longer a constraint,” notes Astha.
Udaipur has always been a hub of small galleries, antiques showrooms, high-quality crafts and textile boutiques. Astha was personally acquainted with the curators and many of these generational establishments. “I was passionate about unique, handcrafted items that were painstakingly created by artisans, and I was also a girl of the present, who appreciated thoughtful, modern design,” she explains, of the underlying ideology behind her company.
The House of Things
Her research brought forth the following void in the lifestyle e-commerce space - popular portals, she feels, retail mass manufactured furniture and home accessories at competitive prices, and keep their selection of premium merchandise limited. “A curatory approach was lacking, and that is what I set about to do. My business would be a labour of love,” she says.
Her target audience was different; her prices were in the premium-to-luxury bracket. “We ourselves were faced with the lack of access, living in a city served by unorganised flea markets and the Internet only,” she explains.
The site was christened 'The House of Things' because they were going to be about the appreciation and celebration of good design. She says,
“The word ‘Things’ would keep us fluid, unrestricted in terms of categories. Our USP would be our sourcing: identifying unique pieces from people who create with care.”
The primary differentiator with The House of Things was always to offer something beautiful, rare and inspired. Their model initially was to source unique pieces from unique brands and to ship across India, which soon turned to servicing 150 other countries, over the span of three exciting years. “We want to promote India as a forward-thinking design destination; not just a crafts hub, and also to be an integrated platform for heritage crafts and niche design from all parts of the world,” she says.
A study in careful curation
Their curators now put together a selection of objects sourced from what they believe to be the finest home brands, accompanied by some serendipitous finds. We also showcase a range of undiscovered brands and some limited edition or one-off products by established designers and artisans.
Astha is particularly proud of these two pieces that are available on the site – An Abyss Table from Duffy London, which is a limited edition centrepiece in glass and wood, and a Radha My Beloved, a beautiful installation by artist Shael Choyal.
They started on the August 5, 2014, and their first order came in about 20 days later - a set of Taamaa flamingos, at Rs 1,500 per piece, to a Mumbai-based customer. Launching the business ahead of the curve, almost three and a half years years ago, when buying luxury goods online was not so common, was a bit of a challenge. “Customers were not sure about buying décor objects, luxury interiors online. Our sales were initially very slow - however once someone got something from us they definitely came back for more. These repeat sales really boosted our confidence during the early days,” she says.
Astha initially thought that their lower ticket items would generate more sales – but was pleasantly surprised to see that their customers ended up buying more of the more expensive pieces. Now, they average about 80,000 visitors on the site in a month.
The House of Things mostly does outright buys from artisans, specially commissioning designs that are only available with them. “Artisans are struggling to preserve age-old traditions in this fast-paced mechanised world. We are trying our best by helping them access new markets, thereby helping them keep their heritage and ensure their livelihood,” she says.
Lessons from the journey
Even as she sits at the helm of a bootstrapped but burgeoning e-commerce company, Astha would like to caution the dreamers of our generation to not get carried away with the idea of the digital boom, or think unrealistically of becoming overnight successes. “A clear idea, a simple plan, thorough research and a transparent financial strategy will help build a solid foundation,” she advises.
More importantly, she feels that an establishment is only as good as its people. She says,
“I connected with the right consultants, conversed with designers and artists, looked out for the right kind of people to be part of my work family. If you want to succeed, make sure every person you hire is better than you in every department."
One of the most successful strategies for The House of Things was to develop collaborative products that are exclusive to the company. By virtue of exclusivity, it is difficult for people to find these products elsewhere. “It is often that people have found the website because they come searching for the product itself,” Astha notes.
The home decor market is expected to garner $664.0 billion by 2020, registering a CAGR of 4.2% during the forecast period 2015-2020, according to AlliedMarketResearch.com. The House of Things will be launching a new website to take on the space by May 2017, with a wider selection of products and furniture, along with additional services such as styling, trade benefits etc.