Woodgeek is an e-commerce startup that manufactures and sells wooden accessories.
For Saikat Saha, the idea of working with wooden products was a natural transition. Having been a part of the family business of plywood manufacturing for eight years, he would make ceiling tiles and boards from crushed wood waste and experiment with making various eco-friendly products by combining sawdust, crushed wood, and rice husk.
This gradually evolved into the idea of Woodgeek, an online store for making personalised wooden products.
“We use natural materials and digital fabrication tools to make customised bamboo notebooks, wooden sunglasses, and phone cases. Our products reflect our love for wood grain and we want to use the warmth of wood to create products personalised for each customer,” says Saikat.
Starting from notebooks
The idea of using bamboo came as it is an abundant raw material in the region, and was a natural choice for most of his family business products so they used bamboo and other hardwoods to make notebooks, sunglasses, and phone cases.
The first product the team made was the bamboo notebook, which was initially conceived as a promotional gift for clients and distributors for Saikat’s family business. Saikat says,
“It started with an attempt to make a wooden diary as a replacement for the generic corporate diaries and calendars we gave out as gifts at the end of every year.”
Soon they began to make more of the products. Saikat adds that their first wooden notebooks and sunglasses were made from plywood.
However, they turned out to be crude and broke easily. They would also warp easily due to heat. “Not quite the result we were looking for,” adds Saikat. However, a visit to a nearby bamboo flooring factory got him interested in the possibility of making diary covers out of thin bamboo panels.
Learning the process
After working closely with the Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute, Kolkata, he was able to solve the quality issues of breakage and warping. Saikat explains,
“We made bamboo boards by first splitting the bamboo, then resizing the bamboo sticks by cutting, planing, sanding, and finally, by pasting and pressing them in a hot press to form boards. These bamboo boards can be made in various thicknesses and form the raw material used in making our products.”
The bamboo notebooks now use 3 mm pure bamboo boards for the front and back covers. They are spiral bound and come with 80 recycled brown paper pages and a free bamboo pen. Their USP is personalisation — customers can engrave a picture and custom text (in any language) on the notebooks and pens for free.
Woodgeek used digital fabrication tools like CNC routers, laser cutters, and ultraviolet coating techniques to make bamboo sunglasses and phone cases and later expanded to other wood types like rosewood, walnut, and zebrawood.
The bamboo frames are carved out of 12 mm thick bamboo boards using CNC routers and are planed and sandpapered to the respective size. They are hand-finished to ensure uniformity in wood grain and for a consistent, smooth appearance.
Initially, the team worked at their manufacturing facility in Cooch Behar and focused only on the region. Soon they decided to move into the world of e-commerce.
Saikat says manufacturing is traditionally B2B, and that the supply chain in the plywood manufacturing industry is generally in the unorganised sector, with orders being placed over the phone and business being done face to face.
This is in stark contrast to e-commerce, where orders are placed on the website and emails are the primary mode of communication. Saikat says,
“Manufacturing requires significant investment, so we outsource parts of the manufacturing process to other factories. The network of vendors/factories I have developed over eight years in the plywood industry has helped immensely and made this possible.”
Currently, the manufacturing process uses a wide range of woodworking machines like band saws, circular saws, wide belt sanders, double-sided planers, CNC routers, drill presses, UV coating/curing machines, laser engravers, and hot presses.
He adds that using advanced tools in manufacturing ensures higher realisation of timber from each log and less wastage of precious raw material. Woodgeek claims to only use UV-cured and water-based varnish on their products, which have low VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions, thus making their products more eco-friendly.
The team uses locally sourced bamboo from north Bengal for most of the products. This is because bamboo is a fast growing, ecologically sustainable plant. “For non-bamboo-based products, we use hardwood timber from suppliers with sustainable, certified sources,” says Saikat.
Apart from bamboo notebooks, Woodgeek also makes wooden sunglasses and prescription glasses which come with polarised lenses and a special UV coating making them water resistant. This protects the wooden frames from moisture like rain, sweat, and even occasional trips to the swimming pool.
The wooden phone cases are made by combining real wood veneer with a polycarbonate shell. Two- mm-thick veneer, sliced from carefully selected logs, is coated with matte UV-cured varnish and then pasted on a polycarbonate shell to give the wooden phone cases flexibility along with natural style.
The combination creates a thin wooden phone case which can be custom engraved with photos or text for a unique personal phone case. The wooden phone cases are available for the iPhone in bamboo, rosewood, walnut, and zebrawood. They come in two variants — slim cases, which are thin and light and bumper cases, which give added protection to your smartphone.
Working with wood
“Our bamboo end tables are designed for millennials and young buyers. They are stylish, eco-friendly, and functional. The bamboo table tops are made from 15 mm pure bamboo boards with a clear matte finish to preserve the natural look. They are foldable and can easily be tucked away when not in use. They can also be personalised through custom engraving so that each bamboo table is unique,” adds Saikat.
But this focus on aesthetics comes at a price — wood is an expensive raw material, and to ensure uniformity in colour and wood grain, they often have to discard perfectly good timber.
“This is one of the challenges of making retail products from wood and drives up costs. However, the familiarity of using wood as a raw material and the resources and expertise from my plywood manufacturing family business has helped alleviate some of these costs,” says Saikat.
Started in October last year, the team claims to have grown from 8–10 orders to 30–50 orders a day now. They have an average order value of Rs1,200. Although they offer cash on delivery, Saikat mentions that 80 percent of their orders are prepaid, as customers opt or the free custom engraving option, which is not offered when they pay by cash.
The market for wooden accessories
This has virtually eliminated customer returns and cancellations and is a big change from the initial few months when the majority of the orders were cash on delivery and customer returns and cancellations were high.
“Our bamboo notebooks have become popular corporate gifts and our list of corporate clients has steadily increased to include LinkedIn, Adidas, Threadsol, The Government of Maharashtra, IIT Kharagpur, Raymond, and many others. We will be introducing a range of premium wooden products like bamboo pens and a bamboo calculator for our corporate clients,” says Saikat.
The wooden accessories market is more premium and global. There are brands like TSAR, which are priced between Rs 4,500 and Rs 20,000. There also is WeWood, started by Italian entrepreneurs, which uses scrap wood and plants a tree for every watch sold. Watches by JORD and Cocuzzi are durable, lightweight, and water resistant. There is also Indore-based Woodin Watches.
“Woodgeek’s goal is to offer a wide range of unique wooden products to our customers with a strong focus on design and customisation,” concludes Saikat.