In an exclusive conversation with Vedang Patel, Co-founder, The Souled Store sheds light on the growth strategy of the company.
Tell us about The Souled Store. How did you come up with an idea to have retail store dedicated to officially licensed merchandise? Pls elaborate your business model, also shed light on your entrepreneurial journey?
The idea of The Souled Store was born on June 7, 2013, with an intention to create a one-stop shop for all fan and quirky merchandise. It was during one discussion that Rohin, Aditya, and I realized that there was no outlet for buying quality merchandise for fans like us in the country. What was available then was a limited range of expensive and badly designed imported products or the sub-quality fakes. To bring quality products at affordable prices to fans like them, we started ideating for a solution. What started in coffee shops in Bandra and a cupboard full of plain white T-shirts gradually grew up to four cupboards and a shared cabin. Having braved all the odds, in a short span of just 5 years we achieved a monthly sales of Rs. 3.5 cr, selling more than 75,000 products per month. Bootstrapped with a total capital of 5.25 lakh, we have recently raised a funding of $3 million. With over 10,00,000 customer base, The Souled Store is one of the biggest online brands in India which majorly sells official merchandise. We are currently the official merchandisers for big-budget movies (Marvel, Batman, Superman, The Justice League, Infinity War, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Zero, Veere Di Wedding, etc.), Cartoons (Cartoon Network, Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, Flintstones etc.), TV Shows (Friends, The Big Bang Theory, South Park etc.), WWE, IPL teams like Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai Indians, and Kings XI Punjab, Kabaddi Franchises, Football Teams, and many more. Having already captured a large segment of the fan merchandise market, we have many more contracts in the pipeline that can be serviced today and are rolling out new properties on weekly basis.
What is your assessment about Indian Licensing & Merchandising (L&M) industry? How do you think Indian market has evolved beyond character licensing? According to you, what are the emerging licensing trends?
The best part about Licensed Merchandise is that it gave rise to products that reflect individuality and diversity. Owing to this uniqueness, the Licensing Industry is booming in India. Since the time we have started, the licensing and merchandising industry has been on a massive uptrend. Another factor adding to its rapid emergence is the explosive growth of online retail. Now, there is a direct way to reach the consumer and this helps mitigate the need of going to buy fake counterparts of your products. The biggest factor for licensing and merchandising to start picking is that the retail is getting more organized and the unorganized portion is decreasing. There are three trends that will majorly rule the Indian Licensing and Merchandising Industry. Now that pop culture and brand licensing have become synonymous with our identity now, not only online players but brick-and-mortar retail distributions are also banking on the growing demand of licensed merchandise. Streaming Video-on-Demand (SVOD) services and Over-the-Top services (OTT) are now competing with terrestrial TV, cable and satellite for viewership. Very soon these providers will have online retail stores to accompany their new shows. Another rising trend is the brand extensions and licensed products coming from new online celebrities and influencers. Patronage is also gaining significance where these online celebrities and influencers provide exclusive products to their patrons.
Are you also the official licensee of all the merchandise retailed via The Souled Store. At present, how many IPs you have in your portfolio? Do you also work with brands to develop their licensing program?
Yes, we are the official licensees of almost all the merchandise we sell (except for the designs made by our in-house design team). In answer to how many IPs, we have over 100+ licenses today on our website encompassing a broad range of licenses and artists such as Harry Potter, Marvel, Tinkle, Gangs of Wasseypur, KKR, MI, and many more
Do you think pop culture scenario has started influencing consumption trends in fashion space? Which are the hot-selling IPs on The Souled Store?
Pop culture has always played a role in the fashion industry. Whether it is on TV, from a celebrity or in a magazine, we see fashion mixed with popular culture everywhere. But the reason this subculture seems to be experiencing its heyday only now is that we are living in the image-centric age of Instagram. Pop culture’s loud aesthetic allows the trend to make noise on social media, this has gained the attention of younger shoppers as they favour uniqueness over craftsmanship.
What is the current distribution of The Souled Store in the online and offline space? Going forward, what are the plans to scale up the distribution?
The Souled Store is only online beside the few offine events that we hold. 95% of the sales come from our website, about 3-4% comes from Amazon and 1% comes from different events like Comic-Con, Kala Ghoda festivals where we set up our temporary stalls every year.
According to you, what are the challenges in selling licensed merchandise?
Today, India still has a very large unorganized part of retail and the counterfeit is a large part of this portion. The biggest hurdle to fighting this counterfeit merchandise is that the legal system doesn’t allow you for swift justice, it’s quite painstaking. Taking action requires lots of time and resources and at times, you don’t know who you are taking action against. One of the biggest untapped areas in merchandising is Bollywood. Even though it is the biggest film making industry, brands targeting this sector are nominal. Bollywood has strong fan communities across the world which is yet to be explored. The influence that Indian cinema has on our lives is immense, and it’s about time we cater to the Bollywood buffs. Movies like Sholay, Don, DDLJ, Gangs of Wasseypur have iconic catchphrases that can be featured in merchandises.
Who do you see as your biggest competition?
Brands like Chumbak, Myntra, Bewakoof are our immediate competitors.
Kindly shed light on your pricing strategy?
All our strategy revolves around the idea to avoid cash burn. Cash burn is something we have never experienced and we persistently aim to work on the same model on a daily basis. We follow Value-based pricing which ensures that our customers feel happy about paying price for the value they’re getting. Pricing according to the value of what our customer base see in our product prevents us from short-changing ourselves while creating an experience for customers that are most aligned with their expectations.
At last, kindly highlight your expansion plans?
We have contemplated a bi-folded growth strategy for the future of our business. First, we plan to start with the widening of our existing range of products. We then propose to diversify our target audience by including more women-centric products. In the next phase, we intend to have a direct extension of everything that our company offers by introducing merchandise exclusively for kids and pets. We as a team make conscious efforts to ensure that customization, our speciality, reflects in every aspect of our business. By creating an immersive retail experience, we want to ensure that our customers not only walk out with a bag full of products but also a heart full of memories. To provide such an unforgettable shopping experience for our customers, we are all set to go offline with our retails stores across the country.