Mumbai

Pop culture with a personal touch

Aditya Sharma, Rohin Samtaney and Vedang of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel.

Aditya Sharma, Rohin Samtaney and Vedang of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel.

Mumbai: Vedang Patel (28) was never comfortable with the nine-to-five routine. A mechanical engineer from Sardar Patel College of Engineering, Mumbai in 2010 and part of a college team that built and raced three cars that won national awards in technology and innovation, Mr. Patel wanted to plunge into a venture that could provide a platform to celebrate pop-culture fandom with quirky products.

While working as an analyst at a financial services company in 2011, he met Aditya Sharma (28) and Rohin Samtaney (29), both engineers. The three shared a passion for pop culture and saw the opportunity for it in India. They realised there was no good outlet for Indian consumers to buy fan merchandise. The only options were a limited range of extremely expensive imports from the US or poor quality fakes. “Being fans of TV shows, comics and pop culture in general, we knew that this could be done better and at affordable prices,” says Mr. Samtaney.

Mumbai 31/10/17 Products of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel Photo: Emmanual Yogini

Mumbai 31/10/17 Products of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel Photo: Emmanual Yogini

The three put together savings of Rs. 5.25 lakh and started The Souled Store in June 2013 from a small rented premise in Mumbai Central. The Souled Store is an online one-stop destination for all fan and quirky merchandise ranging from superheroes to TV shows, sports, music etc. “The store is all about doing the things we love, right from the bottom of our soul,” says Mr. Samtaney, who handles marketing and customer relations.

Quirky merchandise

From a team of three and a small cupboard of T-shirts, TSS now has a team of 75, including 18 designers, and provides 14 kinds of products including T-shirts, boxer shorts, tote bags, backpacks, wall art, notebooks, mugs, coasters, badges and stickers. And from monthly sales of Rs. 50,000 in 2013, they now have sales crossing over Rs. 2.5 crore per month, with over 5,00,000 customers. They have become one of the biggest online brands in India that have the licences to sell the official merchandise of superheroes, movies, cartoons, TV shows and sports events.

Mumbai 31/10/17 Products of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel Photo: Emmanual Yogini

Mumbai 31/10/17 Products of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel Photo: Emmanual Yogini

It wasn’t all that easy getting here, though. Aditya Sharma who heads Business Development, Backend Operations (Warehousing) and licensing, says the startup faced “all types of hurdles” in the initial phase. From problems like registrations, licences, compliances to unprofessional business ethics by suppliers and manufacturers. “We realised later that delays were just something we had to assume when doing business with the unorganised sector,” he says.

TSS is now collaborating with artists from various fields such as music and stand up comedy. Its USP, according to Mr. Patel, is the strong in-house design team. “We do not just do the regular logos and copy-paste merchandise. Once we acquire a licence for official merchandise, we are presented with a set of original and ready designs. However, we redo the designs and make them wittier and quirkier,” he says. Mr. Patel and looks after designing, digital promotions, finance and inventory management. This way, their designs stand out from those of other brands, and independent artists get a platform. “Every time a customer buys from us, we give a royalty to the artist who created the design.”

TSS comes up with ideas to ensure that customers have a unique brand experience. Hence, a customer may receive a personalised official Hogwarts acceptance letter exactly like the one Harry Potter gets, but with the customer’s name on it.

Mumbai 31/10/17 Products of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel Photo: Emmanual Yogini

Mumbai 31/10/17 Products of the Souled Store in their office at Lower Parel Photo: Emmanual Yogini

These gestures have won appreciation from customers. Says Sameer Parab (26), Procurement Specialist working at an international supply chain company, “I always had a fear of ordering clothes online simply because I felt these may not come in the right sizes. But The Souled Store had three things that enticed me: A user-friendly website; a plethora of choices with amazing prints/artworks/designs and the team’s remarkable sense of humour.”

Nikita Gautam (17), a class XII student from New Delhi has been buying T-shirts from TSS for the past two years. “They are the most diverse, reasonably priced and meticulously designed store ever. The team is humble and we share the same fandoms,” she says.

Future plan

To be able to meet the growing demand — the aim is to reach 10 lakh customers by March 2018 — TSS is looking for funding. Their customers have been in the age group of 16 to 28 years, and they now wish to diversify into women’s products and kids wear. By 2018, there is a plan to open pop-up stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune. “Our popup stores will revolve around creating interactive experiences for our customers which will be integrated with the merchandise we sell. We want to change the game with how retail is traditionally done which currently is only about selling the product. We, on the other hand, want to sell an experience,” says Mr. Patel.

“We plan to make TSS a global brand that resonates with all things pop culture where people can express creatively and freely.”

Snapshot:

The Souled Store

Founder: Vedang Patel, Aditya Sharma, Rohin Samtaney

Founded: 2013

Funding: Bootstrapped

Employees: 75

Web: thesouledstore.com


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 3:05:16 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/pop-culture-with-a-personal-touch/article19963843.ece