Established in 2010, Chumbak is one of India’s leading multi-category retailers with a strong online presence and over 70 exclusive brand stores. Chumbak, a one-stop-shop for quirky apparel and accessories, truly representing brand India in all its glory, has now roped in actor Sara Ali Khan as its first celebrity brand ambassador.
Speaking to Indian Retailer, Vasant Nangia CEO, Chumbak shares more about the brand:
What are the consumer trends you have seen in this pandemic that makes you gung-ho about retailing?
During the pandemic, all our retail stores were closed but our online business took off. One category which picked up during this time was home category as we have seen a significant upswing in our total sales. As people are spending more time at home, so naturally they don’t want to buy more apparels or things they might have needed to go out. Some have upscaled their habitats while some have taken new hobbies.
The other categories which were preferred by the consumers include dining & kitchen, bedding, pots & planters, etc. All of these categories have seen tremendous growth, especially the pots and planters category. And in-home space, it’s all decor items that have grown disproportionately not that other categories are not selling. Still, as a proportion, this tells us that this trend is here to stay, which is one of the reasons we have brought Sara Ali Khan on board for home and lifestyle categories.
We’re working on other categories like watches and jewellery because people are slowly getting to consume more of that. We are working on the complete brand in terms of design than any particular category.
What kind of new products have you added or reduced from the brand’s portfolio?
In apparel, we’ve skipped two seasons, including spring/ summer and autumn/ winter. So yes, apparel took a backseat. We haven’t added any massive new categories as such. We are planning to add a couple of categories in a few months. Currently, we’ve beefed up our existing categories wherever we have seen growth. We have just now added a whole range of bed linens and next month you’ll see a new range of dinnerware. It takes a while to source, design, and produce - so we are working on it.
In 2021, are you planning to open more brick-and-mortar stores or shifting entirely to digital?
It’s omnichannel. Though we are closer to 50 percent, the market is 20 percent digital and 80 percent offline. People still like to touch and feel the product, so that’s where omnichannel helps. You can select your stuff if you want to pick it up from the store or exchange it because of the size issue. We’re looking at it as an omnichannel - that’s the first thing. Secondly, I’d say we are cautious about the expansion of stores because people are still hesitant to go out. Unless the footfall comes back to normal, we’ll be slow in expansion but that doesn’t mean no to everything. If we find a remarkable space, then we’ll still take it up. We are reorganising our retail in a better way. Unfortunately, some brands have vacated the stores during the pandemic, so more retail spaces are now available, which wasn’t the case earlier. So, we are taking advantage of it and planning to move to better locations. We’ve just done that in Cochin, for example.
Has the store strategy changed in that sense? Are the stores likely to be smaller or are you planning to franchise it or digitally enabling the stores?
Yes, all our stores are already digitally-enabled, which is going to continue. In the future, we’ll not go for an extremely large store because it happens that you’re tempted to make a great space even though it is double to what you need. We are not downsizing as such, but we’ll be cautious. There is no basic change in it when it comes to strategy, but we are improving customer experience within the store. With Sara as our brand ambassador, we’ll make our store look more vibrant. We are not planning to franchise our store. Utmost, we might consider doing it in places we have difficulty to launch like in North-East where we have seen the demand. Otherwise, all our 70+ stores are company-owned.
You saw a major digital push in 2020, which made you upbeat about omnichannel. So what kind of digital initiative did you take during this time?
We beefed up our digital team, which includes both digital sales and tech. It is a new avenue to convince people to shop, so our focus was there. We then wanted to upscale our online presence; hence, we expanded through major websites like Amazon, Myntra, Flipkart, TataCliq, and Ajio. Betterment of content was next. When people cannot go to a store and are shopping online, you don’t want to disappoint them with major product variations. So, we invested in better pictures of products, good descriptions, and the products' environment. In terms of tech, we have revamped our website- categories it in a better way for customer ease. As I said, we have gone to omnichannel, so when you place an order e.g. in Mumbai or Delhi, you will receive the product from the nearest store instead of the central warehouse. This is what you need to do to become fully digital as a company.
Recently, the brand raised some money, so how are you planning to allocate those funds?
It was for beefing up the tech but nothing more than that. At the end of the day, you don’t need to buy a lot of hardware, so most of the enhancements are on the software which doesn’t require a lot of capital.
Are there any changes in the marketing initiatives post-pandemic?
With people spending more time online, the social and digital reach will surge for all brands. We are increasing our brand visibility on third-party websites. We are investing more in our customer base in terms of CRM. There are some frontends as well as backend changes.
Going ahead, are you introducing convenient customer shopping like Whatsapp Shopping?
We have a massive list of apps or devices to increase our sales, but we are taking it slowly. When the situation stabilises a bit, then we might consider it. People usually shop on a popular online portal or brand’s website or in-store; other shopping options are just an enhancement. We’ll adapt to many more technologies but slowly.
From Jan 20202 to Jan 2021, what kind of revenue or turnover has gone digital for you?
Initially, 20-24 percent of our sales were digital and now it is almost 50 percent. With new initiatives, we are hoping to double our sales by next year.
What mediums have worked best for you?
Different things have worked for different categories. For instance, some of our Facebook campaigns have done well; many of our Instagram campaigns have done even better. Our apparel sold very well during Amazon or Myntra big sale days.
Why did you get Sara Ali Khan on board as a brand ambassador?
We went to Sara Ali Khan because of two things - first, she has 30M followers just on Instagram, so her reach is fantastic. Second is a huge overall between her followers and what we think is our target audience, primarily young women. Our main criteria for the brand ambassador were the best match in their followers and our customer base. We are a fun, joyful, and colourful brand, so we needed someone who matches the brand’s personality, and Sara Ali Khan amazingly fits the bill. Lastly, she was also eager and excited to work with Chumbak. So that helped.
You’ve such a vibrant brand so in the future are you looking for more such licensing collaborations?
Yes. Cannot reveal much at the moment but we have always been collaborating with many influencers. It’s just that the reach of Sara Ali Khan is at another level. Product and design collabs are an exciting area that we already had in store for last summer, but it didn’t take off due to the pandemic. Genuinely, we are looking at product and branding collaborations both.
You changed your logo last year. What other changes can we expect from the brand in the future?
Since our TG is maturing, people are getting exposed to International trends, you’ve to grow with the time. You’ll see our brand becoming more relevant to a broader international audience. That doesn’t mean we will start selling internationally, and it means we are adapting with the growing awareness. We want to do the best in what we do but globally. E.g., Logo, people can identify with it even internationally. Similarly, in terms of packaging, product photography, method communication, we ramp it to global standards.
Any plans to test international waters soon?
Not soon. We already have a lot on our plate but eventually yes. We need to figure out how we want to position ourselves internationally. It’s a process that would take time.
Sustainability has become a buzzword during the pandemic. How are you incorporating it into the brand?
The answer would be a little complicated. Firstly, I cannot say I’m a sustainable brand and then sell something else, so being true to yourself is important. We need to have an authentic story before we start talking about it. Our authenticity is we are doing several sustainable things like packaging or working with our suppliers to improve a few things. But we are not ready to talk about it. Secondly, sustainability has various aspects, as we work with thousands of artists across the country who use natural dyes. We want to cement all the things we are doing and then talk to the consumers about it.