05 May 2015 10:06:51 IST

Scaling the urban ladder

An online furniture store that offers distinctive products at attractive prices

Ashish Goel and Rajeev Srivatsa, on two separate occasions, had wandered the streets of Marathahalli, Bangalore’s prime furniture market. In search of a bed and sofa set, they spent hours sifting through wrought iron, plastic, and heavy, intricately carved furniture with velvet upholstery to boot. None of these appealed to their taste; was there no middle ground, they wondered.

Months passed, and they ended up buying pieces they weren’t satisfied with. Eight months later, Urban Ladder was born to cater to people who, like its founders, wanted furniture that didn’t look like it had been freshly shipped in from the sets of Star Trek or the 17th century palaces of Rajasthan.

A friendship established during their years at IIM-B and their common desire to do something exciting and creative led them to found a furniture store that offered distinctive products at prices that consumers would find attractive. Before entering the B2C space, their career graphs had spanned McKinsey & Company, Yahoo, Infosys, Cognizant, and Amar Chitra Katha.

Net-savvy buyers

Urban Ladder is an e-retailer of furniture that targets internet-savvy buyers in the 25-40 age group who seek trendy and affordable furniture. Started in 2012, Urban Ladder today delivers to Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, and Chennai besides Bangalore, where the company was started.

Most orders come from Bangalore, followed by Delhi and Mumbai. Urban Ladder offers close to 30 categories of furniture, including beds, sofas, dining and coffee tables, and has over 400 products for shoppers to choose from. In design terms it is “transitional furniture,” midway between traditional and ornate and contemporary chrome and glass. “Our furniture has clean lines; it’s simple, with one classical element,” says Srivatsa.

While they try to provide a wide variety to choose from, they make sure the number of products on offer is just enough to not confuse or overwhelm the buyer; they keep numbers at a level they can efficiently service. “We have a carefully-curated catalogue which reflects not only ours, but our clients’ tastes as well,” he says. Urban Ladder gauges clients’ preferences through reviews on its website and through its social media presence.

Product lifecycle

When they started on a trial basis, Ashish and Rajeev launched a basic web site. It offered close to 40 products chosen from their suppliers’ catalogue with designs or styles that were difficult to find. Most of the offerings are designed in-house and made in Rajasthan.

Feedback forms an essential part of each production process, and their customers — both those who go on to buy and those who don’t — always have their ear. “For instance, while designing our range of study tables, we try to address all kinds of requirements — of the short, tall, of those having space constraints, others wanting more storage. Some who’d like a wider top to spread their work on, others a longer one to seat two,” says Rajeev.

Once approved they commission a 3D model and prototype on which they get feedback, and test it at their merchandising centre in Bangalore. Post due-diligence, they place their order with the manufacturer. In the interim they photograph the product create a story for it. Each product range has its own name, which Rajeev says is “conceived after long hours of deliberation by Ashish and the rest of our team.” The write-up that accompanies each product essentially does the job of a sales person, and is the “story of the product.” Once they have the required number of pieces, they go online.

To make the web experience feel life-like, some products such as the ‘Oxford’ range of sofas are accompanied with a slideshow of photographs that retell the product’s journey from its manufacturing. Apart from this, they also offer a set of fabric samples which they mail free of cost.

For Keerti Kataria, a customer from Gurgaon, “Urban Ladder has a wide range of products to suit all budgets. I bought a pair of shelves. From selecting, delivery, installation to payment, it was smooth sailing.”

Future plans

Having recently secured $5 million from venture capital firms SAIF Partners and Kalaari Capital in series-A funding, Urban Ladder hopes to go places. According to Deepak Gaur, Managing Director, SAIF Partners, “The online furniture market is still at a nascent stage in India and to succeed in this vertical, a company needs to have a deep understanding of the gap in the market and a unique solution to fill this gap. We feel Urban Ladder is working towards this unique solution with exceptional product offerings and creating a niche with its customers.”

While Rajeev doesn’t disclose the number of orders they service each month, he claims orders have been growing 50-60 per cent every month since launch. “The average ticket cost we’re clocking is ₹15,000 per order which is, perhaps the highest in e-commerce in India.” In the future, he sees Urban Ladder “being the biggest furniture retailer in the world, best in customer service and quality, and a company Indians can be proud of.”