We believe in investing in people and culture: Raul Rai

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New Delhi, Sep 19 (IANSlife) Nicobar is all of three years, but it is already being recognised as a self-sustaining profitable enterprise. IANSlife caught up with Raul Rai, co-founder at Nicobar.com and director at Goodearth.in, to find out exactly what it takes to take the lead in the game.

*Good Earth’s affordable luxury clothing and home line Nicobar is all of three years, but it has set the pace for design in the country. How?

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I don’t think we can really take the credit for setting the pace for design in the country, but there are a couple of things that I’m glad we did. First, we were very clear on our purpose. Second, we believe in investing in people and culture, and third, we took a strategic call on doing offline and online seamlessly at the same time. Fourth and most important, we focus on creating an eco-system and collaborations with other young entrepreneurs and talent. So the focus at Nicobar is not always on ourselves.

*When you say your purpose was clear, what exactly was your purpose?

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We wanted to create a clear tropical design signature for India. Like what IKEA is for Sweden or Muji has done for Japan. We had Aparna who embodied the ethos of India intrinsically as a person and we reflected it through our communication in simple, clear and tropical design.

*What is Nicobar’s sensibility?

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At Nicobar, we understand that the journey is as important as the destination. That the world already has too many products and we don’t need more. We want to create products that are mindful, lasting and stylish with no compromise on the quality. So we use materials like bamboo, earthenware etc. Nicobar avoids plastic at every stage from production to retail. Our warehouse is 90 per cent plastic free, and we encourage people to recycle the boxes.

Conversations at the office about sustainability are taken seriously. For example it’s absolutely okay with us to adopt a stray dog, put up a post on our social media, ‘Nico the dog’ which goes on to be the highest performing post.

*What do you think gives you an edge?

This purpose of tropical modern design signature, sustainability and our team. We realise that it’s important to invest in the right kind of people. We also know its important to focus on offline and online, the touch and feel of the product is important as is the digital experience. To build and scale a brand, you cannot do one without the other. We prefer to be a small company with a large movement, rather than be a large company with slow movement.

*Any hurdles along the way?

I find it’s so difficult to be an entrepreneur in India in the lifestyle space. Which is why we focus a lot on collaborations and do whatever we can to enable young talent and professionals. At Nicobar, we have a tendency if to choose a meandering longer route if its green, even if it is longer and tougher than the highway. May be someday there will be a greener expressway, but until that day and until we have the capital to sustain it, we prefer the longer more meaningful route.

Often companies tend to project they are not just about making money, but you admit that it is about commerce. Comment.

I think enough companies are honest about the fact that they need to be commercially viable and churn out positive numbers. People may not want to talk about numbers, because they may fear exposing themselves to competitors, but most businesses don’t shy away from talking about building a self-sustaining profitable enterprise. At least we don’t.

So what more will it take be build this self-sustaining profitable enterprise

Well, the focus now is on building scale, instead of building profitability. We are good at units, economics and intrinsically profitable. Investors looking for that. When we speak of scalability, given the capital resources we have, and as per our business plan, we are looking to double our retail footprint from 14 stores to around 30 across cities. We also plan to invest in digital marketing, instead of paying lakhs in rent in malls because the returns on digital investment are almost four to five times of the amount spent on brick-and-mortar stores.

*Is international expansion on the cards?

Yes, it is important, but we are in no hurry. We would like to create a international footprint like IKEA represents Sweden or Muji for Japan. We have just opened our new store Suneva Fushi in Maldives, and hope to grow. While we want to go global we know we need a partner who can take us there, and has a know-how of international waters. We don’t mind a lifestyle conglomerate whose focus is on sustainability, or a tie-up like European business family Estee did with Kama. We are also happy with domestic families, who have a bigger vision and even individuals who care for the environment. Ultimately, we need a partner/investor who believes in our purpose and has a bigger vision. But we are in no rush.

*Nicobar comes out with eight or nine collections a year, do you think that you might fall into the trap of fast fashion ?

When you compare, you need to take a holistic approach. Not just the pace, you also need to see the volumes. If you design something that will last for six months, then you need to keep updating, and therefore also polluting. We design products that last three to five years. Clothes, accessories and collectibles are all items, which can be mixed and matched. So they can be used and worn many times over. We produce eight or nine collections a year, but these cut across clothes, accessories and collectibles. So it’s not a lot, we are in the business of sustainability, not pace.



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