New Delhi: Sierra Living is a company that has made inroads in the furniture export market with its creative appeal and its resilience. The Sunday Guardian spoke to the director of the company, Kuldeep Nathawat, to explore what his philosophy has been to keep the company not only afloat, but also profitable during a time when most businesses are struggling. Excerpts:
Q: Tell us about your business. How did you start?
A: We export high quality handmade wooden and iron furniture to the United States and Canada. Our aim is to provide premium furniture at an affordable price. Our furniture comes from artisans in India and Indonesia. We initially started as a small company out of Jaipur selling furniture through eBay. With some trial and error, we perfected our supply chain and honed our packaging process to deliver our furniture in pristine condition to our customers. Having established ourselves on eBay, we expanded our market to include other e-commerce channels, with the majority of sales coming through our own portal
Q: What kind of challenges did you face initially?
A: Our biggest challenge is delivering our product in a safe and timely manner. The product needs to be loaded and offloaded multiple times and as a result there is a high chance of the furniture being damaged along the way. This was difficult on our customers as well as the artisans because of the amount of time it takes to build one piece of furniture. To overcome this, we studied every piece of the logistics process and studied furniture that had been damaged along the way. We changed our packaging process to reflect what we had learned to reduce the incidence of damaged products. Furthermore, given that there was no way to circumnavigate the long building and overseas delivery process, we decided to keep the entire process as transparent to the consumer by providing real-time updates with photos and GPS locations of all.
Q: How does the world view your designs and quality?
A: Our customers are very pleased with our products and comment on the craftsmanship. The products are customized to the customer’s every need and we go above and beyond to ensure the customer’s utmost satisfaction.
Q: How is your business helping the cause of Make in India?
A: Our headquarters is in Jodhpur, India, and is over a 100 plus strong. We employ artisans, furniture designers, web designers, IT technicians, and a marketing team. We support our artisans by financing their children’s education. During the pandemic, we paid pre-pandemic salaries to our staff in India in order to maintain the robust presence we have in India and support our employees.
Q: Tell us about your future plans.
A: Introduction of new designs and expansion to other countries. We have already started our operations in Indonesia.
Q: Did the pandemic pose any challenges?
A: Our sales went up, but ocean freight (container charges) shot up like anything—increased by six to seven times and then also, there is no guarantee for container availability. It has adversely affected the entire export business.