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Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri
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When furniture comes to life...
By building a strong brand in an unorganised segment, style spa has managed a great start. Now it has to ably compete with multi-brand chains
Issue Date - 12/01/2012
Trying to introduce a brand in a market that is highly fragmented, unorganised and dominated by unbranded, local vendors can be a double edged sword. It can either pay you quite handsomely because you are the first to bring a welcome disruption, or it can fail miserably; mainly because the particular category may not be ready for that kind of marketing ingenuity. Chennai-based Style Spa, a furniture brand launched by the S.K. Poddar group is a notable case study for those who want to find themselves in the former category. The company has defied the odds and expanded its network across the country in the past decade and a half (it commenced operations in 1996 in alliance with 53 year old French furniture maker “Gautier” and was associated with them for 5 years), and is now a very serious competitor in the rapidly organising furniture space.

As a premium furniture brand, Gautier has always moved on with an unquenchable thirst for creativity, innovation, research, customer satisfaction and excellence. While maintaining the traditional touch & feel in their products on one hand, Gautier has always ensured that the designs on offer are contemporary and suit the tastes of their customers, which are spread across continents. It has very successfully passed on similar values to the then young company Style Spa. The association with Gautier helped the company immensely in building its expertise initially and understanding how to meet customer expectations. Since the split, the brand “Style Spa” has made a very significant impact on a standalone basis in the Indian market.

In its entire journey, the company has undergone several challenges and continues to do so. Only, the nature of the challenges has changed. In the initial phase, customers had to be educated about the whole concept of branded furniture and organised outlets. Simultaneously, the company had to survive at a time when cheap imports and local furniture vendors were dominating the market. Now people are getting accustomed to mall culture, but players like Style Spa have to compete against large format multi-brand retail chains like Woodart India, Durian Furnitures, Sunrise Furniture Mart, et al, where the immense variety in products and brands proves to be very exciting for customers.

The marketing endeavours of Style Spa have been focused on a select mix of media. Primarily print led communication supported by local level events for that ‘below-the-line’ push have been their preferred media vehicles. With the rapid growth of social media and its popularity among urban Indians, the brand has also bucked the trend of connecting with people using social networking sites like Facebook. The company also does promotional campaigns from time to time to maintain the visibility, but these are never discount-based campaigns, as the brand is positioned as a Money for Value brand. Style Spa saw a great leap in its brand equity when it adopted the brand manifesto, “Everything that we do is for the love of furniture.” The thought behind this was that style and comfort need not be mutually exclusive of each other and consumers need not to compromise on either while buying furniture, since it stays in one’s life for years (their tagline says, “Where life lives”, which has an instant emotional connect). Their ingenuity in terms of positioning and the courage to stand above the rest of the pack have been crucial to their impressive track record in the market so far.

The company is also simultaneously attempting to build lasting loyalty for its brand among customers. In 2010, Style Spa started “Club Sterling”, a loyalty-based program to reward its loyal customers. It offers rewards to its loyal members through accumulated loyalty points. The more you buy, the more points you accumulate, which can be redeemed at any Style Spa retail point. So far, the club has got over 15,600 members. Apart from this, the company is also planning to organise a number of exciting events under Club Sterling to keep customers engaged. Such an effort is arguably the first of its kind by any furniture retailer in India. To add to their potential for repeat business, the company has also started a dedicated customer helpline desk to take care of customer complaints and also register their feedback, sending the message loud and clear that customer experience is the most valuable asset for them in their bid to sustain their brand equity.

These efforts have created a very strong connection between the brand and the market it serves, which is a new benchmark in the furniture industry and also helps the company to sustain in a difficult environment. The company also provides design tips to customers for different rooms and has a personalisation oriented feature on the website, where customers can see how their room will look like with different models of Style Spa furniture.

Style Spa can arguably claim to be the only brand, which sells its products through its own retail stores. This gives them a unique advantage as they are on the back end as well as the front end. Rather than being the retailer that sells the products produced by another manufacturer (s), Style Spa is able to receive regular feedback on customer needs and wants, which it can inculcate in its upcoming product designs and features. Extensive market research is done by the company to provide field inputs to the manufacturing team.

To sustain its quality and design, “Style Spa” has set up one of South Asia’s largest factories specialising in producing panel-based furniture. The mega $15 million plant in Chennai, South India is equipped with automation & CNC controlled machines to meet the high standards of production. This ISO 9001 certified plant can bring out more than 200,000 pieces of furniture annually. Apart from this, they have their own internal quality management systems to ensure a double check. Most of the raw materials are imported from Europe after passing through strict scrutiny. Quality focus is prime while framing every piece of furniture. Computer-simulated creations from the internationally trained design team begin life as prototypes that are tested and checked rigorously before mass production is flagged off. In this journey, Style Spa has been well supported by its highly motivated team of employees who are the true flag bearers of the brand. The core team and the middle management has remained largely unchanged in last 5 years, which has been a major plus for Style Spa. Their experience and accumulated market knowledge has been instrumental to the progress of the company in the right direction.

While fighting the war for market share in metros with the large format stores which offer furniture from multiple vendors, the company realised the potential of mid and small sized cities and started expansion away from the metros in around 2002. Presently, it has over 100 retail stores across 66 cities in the country as a result of its ongoing expansion drive. This has not just enabled the company to tap the virgin markets but has also led to a certain amount of derisking.

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