Stories

The Queen of Saree Selling, Sangeetha R, Reinventing Kalamkari and Zero Money Marketing using Social Media.

Ramdas Shenoyy speaks to #SangeethasKalamkari who redefines the use of Digital marketing with zero marketing spend. A Literature graduate and a special educator, NIFT designer, she will give a run for their money to any Corporate marketer with 5,73,000 FB followers

The Journey

Sangeetha runs a school for special children and was planning to scale up the school. When she was doing this, she realized that the education initiative which she was involved in was difficult to replicate and scale because parents enrolled students because of her presence as a special educator. It was difficult to cater to more than 100 children and thought of diversifying into another arena. Her first thoughts were of restaurant but she zeroed on clothing. She was of the opinion that these businesses do not need any professional qualification as entry barrier. She dived into the clothing industry in 2011 without any formal background based on her understanding as a saree lover and buyer of sarees. “I had a kind of over confidence initially, which was a wrong thought” says Sangeetha. “I under estimated the field and was over confident when I started it” added Sangeetha.

Later she enrolled herself for the NIFT program and completed her designing course. She is a staunch believer in doing detailed study of technology, learning and markets.

This Hyderabad lady also completed an entrepreneurship course from #IndianSchoolofBusiness – 10,000 Women Entrepreneurs course by Goldman Sachs. With new business on her plate she didn’t stall her school initiative. She says with a sense of confidence, “I don’t give up anything and am expanding the school business too by developing centres in tertiary cities”.

Why and what is Kalamkari?

Initially she started as a trader where she wanted to cater to the handlooms of India. She took a franchisee of some other local operator, but within a month she was pushed to be alone and do it. It was then that she started doing her homework of where she needs to source the material, where she will sell the material etc. The initial journey involved impulsive decisions, wrong investments and some mistakes to learn from but she gradually learnt the skills of trade and did a good job in trading sarees. At first, she used to source from Mumbai and Kolkata where she would personally visit these cities all the way from Hyderabad, but when the vendors realized her business potential they directly supplied to Hyderabad markets. It was like opening the market for the suppliers in Hyderabad. It was a business threat to her and she was trying to carve out the USP for her product offerings, that is how she landed to Kalamkari.

Kalamkari is a fabric art. It has a long history of its own. Earlier it was used to narrate stories with morals etc. and done with organic paints for long shelf life. The earlier kings and queens used it for interior decoration. The last 70-80 years designers started using it. “When I entered Kalamkari there was no awareness” says Sangeetha, but she felt that there was a great potential. She went to the artisans, and whatever they made she bought and sold it. Earlier the artisans used the normal gadda cloth, the thick fabric and Sangeetha re-invented the fabric once again. She added her own designs and designed it in Hyderabad, but the cost of marketing, labour charges made it really expensive. She started off by participating in general saree exhibitions but not a soul peeped into her exhibition stall. That experience did not deter her and she was confident about the product but was looking for an alternative channel.

The Queen of social media marketing

The brave entrepreneur then did a solo exhibition in Hyderabad. The next challenge was to bring the target audience to the exhibition, which meant she had to educate and inform the target group. So, she went to her artisans, took videos of the 16 steps or stages that are involved in making the special designer fabric and started putting the post on FaceBook page. She also put literature about Kalamkari, the history, the process etc. She did not have money to invest on models, so she started draping it and posted her pictures. “It was interesting for the public. I was not a model, so if I can wear it any one can” said Sangeetha. Her customers could relate to it and the exhibition was a major hit and got an overwhelming response where people came and visited the solo exhibition and her journey with Kalamkari kicked off.

Every three months she did an exhibition and promoting it on her FaceBook page.

She not only got the local customers but she attracted global customers her major customer base.

Now, she moved her exhibitions to different cities from Hyderabad to Bengalaru to Chennai to Vijaywada to Coimbatore to Mumbai carrying the success baton to different cities. People were just mad about the products but then it was easily replicated, where instead of hand printing people used screen printing, so similar looking design which sells at Rs 14000 people started selling at Rs 1000. It was a double whammy when the artisans who she was promoting directly tried to get in touch with other designers after 2 years of being in a business peak, she faced challenging business times.

Quitting was not in her DNA, she diversified into — back to looms focusing on sarees competing with the biggies. She got a weaver to agree and got into live shows on Facebook where the customers could get the sarees at weaver price with some small margins. She actually did mid night shows to cater to the international audience. The customers love her saree products and now actually wake up in midnight to attend her show. She calls it the virtual retail experience of shopping sarees directly from the source, that too for customers in US, UK, Malaysia, Singapore, UAE and even Australia. The first show was the Gadwal saree show. The weaver did not allow her to take the saree. She sat with the weaver and from there she streamed the show to the target audience and sold on the spot 50 sarees where the payment is made immediately (she now uses Insta mojo as payment gateway). Her team sends a link to the prospective buyers and whoever makes the payment first gets the saree. She also had the earlier teething problems, where competitor would block the sarees and later not make the payment, but now spammers are also discouraged. Soon other saree weavers came on board seeing the success and she now has a good team of weavers with her.

She talks basic economics, where she says “A good product with reasonable price is always in demand”. Now she has again moved back to weekly 2 live shows and monthly 1 exhibition, followed by retail walk-ins. A 3-prong channel strategy where Live Shows are the major contributors.

Advice to entrepreneurs for using social media

Initially she used to spend heavily on social media for ad spends to increase likes etc. with a notion that if you do not promote you do not get reach and cut to now for last 1 year she has not spent 1 Rupee on advertisement. She, calls it Zero Money Marketing. She is the only resource for marketing. She feels if one is looking at word of mouth, then you need to be really qualified on the subject and one should have rich content to promote your offering. “The product is the hero, and the add on complements are – where I interact with my public” says Sangeetha. She conducts online live polls to decide on the location for her exhibition. So if her customers decides Chennai, she would keep her exhibition in Chennai. She creates an excitement and curiosity over a simple product like Saree. She really uses the medium so effectively that even before she conducts her physical exhibition her 3- day slots for the exhibition get pre-booked on FaceBook. “We make the customers feel that they are important to us and we show our genuine interest in them” said Sangeetha. “I don’t fake it. I genuinely value their opinion” added Sangeetha. Sangeetha’s marketing strategy will put any marketer to shame, where her customers bring her all the leads. Her advice to entrepreneurs is be spontaneous in whatever you do on social media. “You have to be always alert and new and if something is not new, you be the new and may be tell a story”

Social Impact and Vision

During her exhibitions she receives love from her customers, who come, who hug her – woman loving another woman that is the biggest achievement she has achieved in her journey. The husbands tell her that they do not watch Daily soaps anymore, they are watching the saree show. Women have started wearing sarees again—a social impact on cultural front. She also guides the home sellers– women who are entrepreneurs in their own right in saree business, cloth business. The beauty of the business that in sarees there is nothing called trends. Whoever is trending if they wear the saree, that saree will trend. Say if Alia Bhat wears a particular saree and if Alia Bhat is trending then the saree will trend.

She wants to cater to the unorganized space addressing home sellers who she feels are always good in verbal communication, they are multi-talented, multi-tasking. She wants to cater to them with good products. She feels they have the desire to be financial independent and 90% of women would love selling sarees and she would reach them. She has already started training her batches of home-sellers in Chennai and Bengalaru and may be a Saree Selling University in future.

#sareeposes #sareedesign #Sareeonline #Sareemodel #sareeamazon #lehenga #designersarees #sari

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About Ramdas Shenoyy

Ramdas Shenoyy is a senior marketing and communications professional with over two decades of working across industries and domains.
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