Banking on the exclusivity of selling only sheesham wood furniture, the decade-old manufacturer forayed into the online furniture space as insaraf.com to offer finished as well as customised products to Indian consumers at affordable rates.
Change is the only constant in life, and if one doesn’t gear up to deal with changes, the race is as good as lost. This is something Raghunandan Saraf, a third-generation entrepreneur, understood well when he joined his traditional furniture business that was started four decades ago.
Instead of just expanding and taking care of the family furniture exports business that was serving global markets like Germany, England, and others, Raghunandan spotted the dire situation in the Indian market. He, however, did not opt for the conventional mode of opening stores but decided to go online first.
In 2014, Saraf Furniture forayed into the online furniture space as insaraf.com to offer value-for-money furniture made of sheesham wood to Indian consumers. The manufacturer and online seller provides finished as well as customised products to buyers.
The platform offers pieces starting from Rs 999 to Rs 1,89,990 across a wide range of categories like bars, beds, boxes, drawers, tables, clocks and many others. Talking about affordability, Raghunandan claims that the Saraf Furniture products differ by 30-60 percent from online and 60-130 percent from offline sellers.
Every entrepreneurial journey comes with its own set of challenges and for Raghunandan, Founder & CEO of Saraf Furniture, revamping their traditional furniture exports business and starting India operations has not been easy too.
“While setting up in the initial phases, we did face some challenges related to customer awareness regarding the difference between regular furniture and furniture made of solid sheesham wood,” he adds.
To overcome this challenge and create awareness among customers about sheesham wood furniture, the company decided to foray into the offline market and opened experience stores in cities across India, where customers not interested in buying online can touch, feel, and buy the products.
Currently, the brand has offline stores in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi, and Surat. The company highlights that it will expand its offline footprint to Chennai, Mumbai, and Pune this year. In terms of online presence, Saraf Furniture is not only selling via the website but is also available as an app in the iOS version. The Android version is currently in the works.
Revamping the traditional business
Thirty-two-year-old Raghunandan has been well acquainted with the furniture business since his school days. As a teenager who wanted to help his father, he recalls assisting him in several business meetings, client interactions, and overseas trade shows. And that’s where his tryst with business began.
After completing his MBA from SRCC in Delhi, Raghunandan moved back to his hometown Sadarshahr in Rajasthan to join his family business. However, the growing desire to revamp the traditional furniture exports business led him to start Saraf Furniture.
“As I was growing up and started to observe our traditional business more closely, I realised that with numerous players entering the market, which is pretty unorganised, there was little room for visibility in our family business of furniture exports. Being a tech enthusiast, I was greatly fascinated by the online medium and decided to launch Saraf Furniture as my own independent venture,” he adds.
After launching the venture in 2014, Raghunandan was then joined by one of his brothers, who has been taking care of the production and the employees.
Understanding the Indian furniture industry
According to a recently published report India Furniture Market Forecast and Opportunities, 2019, by TechSci Research, the country’s furniture market is projected to cross $32 billion by 2019.
It is expected to grow at a rapid pace due to rising disposable income, expanding the middle class and a growing number of urban households.
The report reveals that wooden furniture is expected to continue its dominance in the Indian furniture market. Home furniture market is expected to witness the fastest growth over the next five years, followed by office and institutional segments, the report says.
Currently, Godrej Interio, Nilkamal, Featherlite, and Durian are some of the furniture giants in the Indian market.
India’s furniture sector is reportedly 90 percent unorganised. Several new-age companies have entered the market to organise the market and offer convenience to buyers through the power of internet. Some of the biggies dominating the e-furniture market include Pepperfry, FabFurnish, and Urban Ladder. However, when it comes to brands offering customised furniture, Saraf Furniture faces competition from Stitchwood and Wooden Street.
Speaking about strategies to stay ahead, Saraf Furniture is banking on features like exclusivity of sheesham wood furniture, easy financing options, product customisation, lifetime termite resistant warranty, free shipping all over India, international shipping to create a niche in the market.
“Personalisation and consultations for manufacturing a product involve big expenses and customers are required to make online advance payments for buying furniture online which somewhere discourages them to shop from online retailers. We understand this consumer hesitance and focus on offering easy financing options and EMIs to combat this issue,” adds Raghunandan.
Plans for future
The online platform, which is looked after by an 18-member team, has generated Rs 46 crore in revenues with operational margins of around 11 percent. Claiming to have witnessed robust growth, the third generation entrepreneur also reveals that around 330,000 pieces of wooden furniture have been sold via insaraf.com.
Going ahead, the brand is planning to expand its offline footprint across the country by opening more experience centres in other metros as well as Tier-I and II cities. Currently, Saraf Furniture has five operational centres and the firm wants to increase the number to 15 by the end of next year.