Using AI, this retail store development startup is helping offline brands accelerate expansion
Online shopping may be here to stay, but retail stores aren’t going away anywhere. But even though operating online has become easier and faster, launching retail stores remains a challenge.
Gurugram-based startupaims to help brands surmount this with a standard retail expansion playbook that uses AI to help build new stores and maintain existing ones without an in-house projects team.
“More than 98 percent of the retail fitouts industry in India is unorganised, and increasing the offline footprint is considered an enormous challenge. Currently, there is no standard process for opening and scaling offline retail stores. Opening a physical retail store is seen as a massive task, and retail store launches are usually delayed, leading to a significant cost impact,” says 91Squarefeet Co-founder and CEO Amit Bansal.
This is a problem in a country where organised brick-and-mortar retailing has increased 10x since 2012 and is currently a $100 billion market. With Tier 2 markets becoming viable for premium goods and services, organised retail is projected to double by 2025.
91Squarefeet, founded in June 2019 by Amit Bansal, Amit Mishra, and Puneet Bansal, aims to tap this need by helping brands open offline stores at the click of a button. Its AI-driven project management platform lets brands collaborate with suppliers of retail fitouts and speed up their expansion.
“From conceptualisation to completion, we offer hassle-free turnkey retail fitout solutions. We have built a managed marketplace of contractors with a project planning software layer built on top of it,” Amit says.
In barely three years, the startup has ratcheted up an impressive client list: Aditya Birla Group, Reliance Retail, Bridgestone, Yokohama, DHL, OYO, CEAT, Puma, Veedol, ChaiPoint, and Pepperfry among others.
The company has built around 700 stores to date for 30+ brands in India, and currently claims to be building more than 50 outlets on a month-on-month basis.
How it works
Amit says 91Squarefeet uses advanced AI-driven technological systems and software to break the black box of building a store into three stages: recce, planning, and execution. These stages are further segregated into 19 automated steps for progress tracking and discovering areas of intervention.
In the first stage Recce, the field supervisor uses the app to capture the complete scope and dimensions of the site. The Planning tool helps allot the right fit supplier based on the machinery, capacity, pricing, and earlier performance. Once work starts, the live execution dashboard relays live progress reporting, with WhatsApp alerts using dynamic milestone-based checklists and automation.
“Apart from this, our software allows brands to configure workflows and cataloging of building elements as per their use case,” Amit says.
Amit Mishra and Amit Bansal, MBA batchmates, in the 2013-2015 batch, founded SaaS-based logistics startup Quifers. They had a successful exit when the startup was acquired in 2021 by Sitics Logistic Solutions.
In late 2019, Amit Bansal and Puneet Bansal visited Goregaon, Mumbai, and saw hundreds of workshops building store signages. This led to a realisation of how deeply unorganised the retail fit-out industry was. They analysed the many challenges brands face with their retail store expansion plans, and found a big market.
This put Amit Bansal, Puneet Bansal (Chief Product Officer), and Amit Mishra (Chief Finance and Strategy Officer) on a mission to super-simplify setting up physical stores.
“We are not stopping at just building stores; our plan is to create a system to manage the store throughout its life cycle. Brands should be able to buy equipment (racks, mannequins, kitchen equipment), hire and manage manpower, and maintain the store with a single laptop. We are building an operating system for physical retailing,” says Amit.
He adds that as many as one lakh suppliers (furniture, branding, civil work, etc) and a two million workforce thrive in the retail fitout industry.
“We are using tech to map the skillset of every individual supplier, down to their last bit of machinery and manpower. We also progressively ratify them on 45 parameters on their performance and have built an engine to allocate the right job to the right-fit supplier by integrating technology at every stage and ensuring offline brand scalability is a reality,” Amit tells YourStory.
The startup employs 80 people at present.
Funding and monetisation
91Squarefeet is a part of the current YCombinator W-22 batch. It raised $1 million in September 2021 from Omphalos Ventures India, Nikhil Vora of Sixth Sense Ventures, actor Rannvijay Singh Singha, and VG-Angels, among others.
It is also a part of Venture Garage’s portfolio of companies.
“We are in the process of raising a Series A round. We are growing 20 percent MoM and are profitable. We are working with India’s top retailers (Reliance, Tata, Aditya Birla Group) along with a number of MNC brands,” Amit says.
When a brand signs up with 91Squarefeet, it breaks down the retail template into individual elements such as signage, tiling, lighting, chairs, etc, and signs an item rate contract.
“After building a store for the brand, we raise an invoice as per the rate contract and the brand pays the complete project cost. We then pay our suppliers,” Amit says. “In 30 percent of the cases, the startup charges in advance. As we are becoming more important for brands, they are agreeing to give advances.”
The way ahead
According to Amit, new retail fitouts comprise a $15 billion market in India and are growing at a 25 percent CAGR.
“Combining the retail store operations expense as well, it's a $35 billion market in India, and $1.3 trillion globally,” he says.
The founder believes that building a managed marketplace of contractors embedded with a project planning software layer sets the startup apart.
“There are no direct competitors. We compete with a handful of agencies and a lot of big contractors who offer turnkey retail solutions. While agencies get work from brands based on their relationships, big contractors take on work as per their capacity.”
Amit says the scale of 91Squarefeet’s business revolves around empowering local contractors. “With 1,000 active contractors on our marketplace building three stores monthly, we will hit $1 billion in annual revenues by 2025.”
The retail store development startup is targeting large brands looking for offline retail expansion.
“We plan to launch more categories on our marketplace so brands can buy equipment like digital screens, mannequins, etc, hire and manage manpower, and maintain their existing stores at the click of a button,” Amit says.