In Conversation with Rohin Samtaney
What has been the journey of The Souled Store?
The Souled Store began roughly five years ago, in June 2013. There weren’t too many companies or brands in the pop culture space in the country. There was no brand tapping customers who wanted to celebrate ‘fandom’. Even if there were brands offering products in the pop culture space, the designs were either limited or exorbitantly priced. There was a huge gap in the market – so many customers have been fans of iconic properties such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, sporting events (with their favourite teams in different games), etc, but there have been very limited number of product offerings for customers. There was nothing affordable in the market in this segment – for us, therefore, this was the gap, and the opportunity, which we decided to address.
How should brands stand apart from the rest of the competitors? What did The Souled Store do to get it right?
Typically, brands that get licenses from companies such as Warner Brothers, Turner, Disney, etc, get style guides to help them curate products. While many brands in the business may have gone exactly as per the style guides, The Souled Store modified and tweaked the products to reach out to customers. We were extremely innovative in our product design strategy, appealing to our target audience through creativity, correct price point, good quality, and consistently providing good service to our clients. We have a very strong design team but I think we also do well because of the way we communicate with our customer base. They recognise The Souled Store as a fun, quirky brand that reaches out in the most unique ways, whether online or offline. I think at the core of our offering is the creativity and innovative communication. We make the designs very impactful and that’s what attracts consumers to our brand. I think the mistake many other competitive brands made was that they failed to create innovative, unique products.
What was the biggest challenge in building the business/ brand?
We experienced very slow growth initially. However, we were not disturbed by it because we wanted to get the model right. Initially our biggest challenge was to identify the right manufacturer for our various products. It is an unorganised sector and quite often the challenge is to explain to the manufacturer to offer us the right quality in a limited time span. Manufacturing delays continue to be a challenge for a brand like ours. There are times when we launch a certain product on the website but get faced with a challenge of a delay from the manufacturing end. We try and avoid it but sometimes it is beyond our control. I also feel that human talent for a brand like ours is a challenge – we are a brand straddling both, creativity and business, after all. From the content that goes in our newsletters, on social media, on our website, to the design and products that we plan to the financials that we look at closely, we always need a team of people who can think creatively and logistically.
How long did you plan before launching the brand? What was the turning point for the brand?
The planning began six months before we actually started. We took time to figure the designs, the product offerings, the setting up of the website, getting our manufacturing in place, even ensuring that our customer care service was in place as was the last mile delivery to ensure customer satisfaction. We were always confident of our designs but we had slow progress initially, as I have already mentioned earlier. The turning point for the brand was in 2015 when global brands took note of our products. We tied up with Comedy Central for the marathon of Friends, and some of the channel’s other shows. We have partnered with several other brands and I think our credibility is what’s allowing brands to look at our website as a platform to engage with like-minded audiences. Kenny Sebastian, the famous standup comedian, for instance, wanted to raise money for stray animals through sales of customised t-shirts. We partnered with him and the idea was successful. I think it is also the ease of functioning with our clients that gets companies and celebrities to come on board with us. We design, ideate, manage communication with the target audience through our website. It’s a win-win situation for both, the client and us.
What’s the one factor for The Sould Store’s success?
It’s in getting the basics right and tweaking it creatively. We innovate in terms of design, communication, execute customer care really well. That’s the vital ingredient of our success. For instance, in the case of merchandise for Friends, other than the regular product offerings, we included Phoebe Buffay’s Book of Songs. It is a collection of the character’s top songs along with a quiz, which is based on her songs. Similarly, with Harry Potter merchandise, we initially offered our customers the ‘Hogwarts Acceptance Letter.’ These additional creative products became talking points for our customers.
What will be the focus area for the brand in the next one-two years?
We are scaling up our product range substantially with a clear focus on women wear. For example, we will soon launch t-shirt dresses for women. We are going to introduce other products such as duffel bags, flip-flops, badges, trinkets, and a wider range in apparel. In terms of communication, we will focus on creating very interesting offline events that will go with our ethos of being a fun and quirky brand. The idea is to allow people to experience our brand in unique ways. We will focus more on offline events that will be engaging and fun, full of humour and wit, which is the central focus of our brand. We want people to know that if you are a fan of anything, you can find its product range on The Souled Store.