Vivek Sharma’s journey from a priest in a small town in Uttar Pradesh to becoming a successful entrepreneur seems to be straight out of a plot of a Bollywood movie. Growing up in a traditional household that placed a high value on continuing traditions, Vivek was expected to carry forward the legacy. “And, I did,” shares Vivek. “But, three years into it, I realised that while I respected and honoured the profession, I couldn’t continue. I wanted to start a business. It was something that no one in my immediate family had attempted ever before.”
While Vivek didn’t know what it would take to start a business, he had a fair idea about the kind of business he wanted to start. “Saharanpur is famous for its wooden handicrafts. I grew up observing tourists stopping by the highway market to shop for them. Belonging to the region, I have always shared a passion for the craft and had strong local knowledge and network in the sector. So a handicraft business was an obvious and natural choice for me,” he says.
An upward curve and the thrust provided by e-commerce
Vivek pursued professional courses to equip himself with the knowledge required to run a business and the craft. In 1998, he launched his wooden handicrafts business. Having taken time to gain knowledge and trust among artisans, Vivek was quickly able to grow the business. In a matter of just three years, he was able to partner with a US-based company to export local handicrafts. Teaming up with a friend, he even opened an offline store in London in 2004. Over the next few years, the business saw steady growth. In 2010, his cousin Visharad Sharma joined the business to oversee the production. The next big milestone for Vivek was the business’ foray into e-commerce. “In 2012, I forayed into the e-commerce space by launching Decor Hand on Flipkart,” he says.
The online business on the e-commerce platform opened a huge opportunity for growth – the business doubled its revenue in the first year of onboarding Flipkart. In addition, Flipkart’s seller support was instrumental in helping Décor Hand grow. “From selecting the name of the brand to the logo as well as its registration, the seller team guided us at each step. Today, the brand is trademark protected, thanks to Flipkart.” shares Vivek.
The impact: beyond revenue growth
The constant influx of orders from the e-commerce platforms not only benefited Vivek but also the artisans he worked with. He says, “When we were strictly an offline business, the demands were seasonal in nature which means that we were able to provide work based on demand. But, that changed when we began our e-commerce business. The regular demand for the products saw us working with the artisans through the year. This not only helped them financially but also infused a sense of ownership and motivated them to do better. Many of the artisans explored new designs and structures.”
Further encouragement came in the form of Flipkart Samarth – a flagship initiative that aimed to go beyond providing just market access for artisans, weavers, craftsmen and rural entrepreneurs. Designed to support the e-commerce journey of artisans right from onboarding to the point where they are familiar with the process of selling online, Flipkart Samarth also provided a host of initiatives and benefits such as dedicated seller support, reduced commission where eligible, and warehousing support among others. For Decor Hand, the Samarth programme helped to launch a dedicated store on the platform and also provided regular promotional support. “The support translated into a significant increase in the earnings of the artisans,” shares Vivek.
The direct impact on the revenue for the artisans has led to a resurgence in the local handicrafts sector says Vivek. “A few years ago, the younger generation of artisans didn’t want to continue with the craft. But, today that has changed. Because of the regular demand which continues to see an upward trend, artisans are able to take their legacy ahead. And, here online platforms like Flipkart have had a big role to play. Today, there is healthy competition in the community and they are motivated to grow,” shares Vivek. He explains that Decor Hand alone works with 250+ artisans in Saharanpur. While the company procures many of the products directly, they also work closely with artisans for customisation requirements.
Why Big Billion Day Sale’s significance is big for the young brand
While the business continues to grow thanks to Decor Hand’s dedicated storefront on Flipkart, the reach of the platform and the constant support it offers to support rural entrepreneurs and artisans and the Big Billion Day Sale has become a landmark event.
“During the sale period, we receive three months’ worth of orders in just a week. The massive promotion during the ‘The Big Billion Day Sale’ results in a 10x increase in customer traffic on our dedicated storefront.” In Decor Hand’s first Big Billion Day Sale in 2019, it shipped about 7,000 orders. That doubled in 2020, where they shipped about 15,000 orders. “The Big Billion Day Sale has set a benchmark for growth and the huge number of orders is a big boost to the morale of the artisan community,” says Vivek.
This year, Vivek was recognised through the FlipSter award – Going Beyond Limitations (Samarth-Social Reward) for driving the highest sales among rural entrepreneurs during the company’s annual festive season sale. “The award was a huge achievement for me and all the artisans we work with. It was the recognition that we needed. Thanks to the award, our brand value has grown manifold.”
The many helping hands in driving Decor Hand’s success story
Vivek agrees that while he was lucky enough not to face dire challenges in his entrepreneurial journey, success wasn’t served on a platter. “The journey as a first-generation entrepreneur has not been easy. I did not have prior experience of holding business conversations and cracking deals. However, I learnt it on the job and got better at it over time.” He says contrary to what most people are likely to believe, even when I decided not to continue with the profession that my family has been associated with for generations, my family has been supportive all throughout.” He says not only did they help him with the initial capital, but they have been his pillar of support during challenging times. “My wife, Pooja, shoulders all responsibilities back home so that I am able to focus on the business. My mother, Veena Rani and my three children – Nitika, Deepika and Soham – have also been supportive at every step of my journey,” he says.
He believes that while the offline business helped him build a solid foundation for the business, it was only after joining Flipkart that he was able to establish the brand. “While everyone knows how to shop online, not everyone knows how to run a business online. So, when I launched Decor Hand on Flipkart, I had little or no knowledge of selling online. But, the training from Flipkart helped. The seller team could be approached to help us address any challenges we faced,” he says. While the data on customer demand, zone-wise demand, product preference, etc helped to make decisions that helped to grow the business, a differentiating factor for Vivek was support with logistics.
“If not for Flipkart, it would have been very challenging to ship the products and ensure timely delivery. With Flipkart taking ownership of the logistics part of the business – right from picking the product from the factory to tracking and delivering it to the customer, we are able to focus on the core business.”
Why the tryst with Flipkart was a game-changer
Having started Decor Hand’s online journey with just one product in the home decor category, today the company is not only a top seller in the category, but has also expanded its portfolio to cater to kitchen, garden and furniture categories. Today, Flipkart contributes about 70 percent of the total revenue from Vivek’s online business operations.
The entrepreneur believes that while the growth has been phenomenal, the online market in India is still at a very nascent stage. “The market size that is yet to be captured is huge. That apart, faster order closing and digital revenue transfers that have become hallmarks of online selling translate into key advantages. By being primarily online, overheads involved in physical store maintenance also get eliminated. For a small business, these are big gains.”
Having built a business that today provides livelihood support for 250+ local artisans, Vivek dreams of growing bigger. “There is a lot of scope to expand our business in categories such as furniture. We are also looking to foray into the interior design category. We are currently testing new samples and designs. The potential is immense. It’s time to look at the bigger picture,” he says signing off.