Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Design Trends in upcoming Retail Stores

Designs on their mind.

The story of a team of five youngsters who sensed an opportunity before others and built one of the largest independent studios in the country

FOR A while it seemed like the design revolution was going to pass India. With a retail boom well and truly on, it was only natural that there would be a ripple effect in product and display design, but many retailers chose to go overseas for store design and display. Shark Design is one of those companies that had sniffed the opportunity five years ago and lapped it up. Its founders seem to have got a headstart over a host of advertising agencies that are beginning to get interested in design.

The design firm, run by five thirty-somethings, has been at the forefront of the retail store design business in the last five years.

Their work is there to see at practically every retail store — Pantaloon, Etam, Reebok, Samsung and the Worldspace lounges, to name but a few. And it’s not just the store design for these retailers, the actual point-of purchase displays and other retail knickknacks have all been designed and manufactured by Shark Design. While the company asserts its presence also in 3D modelling and animation, it would be no exaggeration to say that nearly all its revenues come from retail design and manufacturing.

How did it all come about? In 2002, three friends, Ashish Jain, Manish Jain and Avnish Jain kicked steady day-jobs in some of the biggest advertising agencies of the country to start their own business. But back then, design wasn’t uppermost on their minds. The company they set up was Eventz Entertainment, which as the name suggests, was an event management company. It was only next year that Eventz Entertainment morphed into Shark Design, and Avnish was the brains behind the design. Today, just about four years later, Shark Design is one of the largest independent design studios in the country, and one of the few that have a fully equipped manufacturing facility as well. The design firm clocked a turnover of Rs 30 crore in FY07. It had already broken even after three years of operation in FY06. Interestingly, the design house ran entirely on its own steam out of a small office in Delhi. There were no bank loans, and no borrowings from family etc.

(Clockwise from left): Ajay Naqvi, Avenish Jain, Manish Jain and Ashish Jain

Amit Ajwani, one of the five partners who joined the organisation just after it was set up, describes the defining moment for the company. He says: “It was a Samsung event that we were working on. We were asked by them to create a display unit for an event and that was the beginning.” Mr Ajwani was an old JWT hand and had studied together with one of the co-founders, in Indore. He quit JWT about three years ago, where he was servicing a bulk of the Unilever businesses to take charge of the Mumbai branch of Shark Design. Ajay Naqvi, formerly of Ogilvy & Mather — and the man with the baritone voice behind “kuch log Sumo chalate hai” — came on board around the same time.

The advertising background of the founding partners has been a great influence in shaping the agency. Says Mr Ajwani: “We spend a lot of time on shop floors trying to understand consumer behaviour and we see how we can translate these learnings into our design and manufacturing.” That surely must have impressed Kishore Biyani, the Future Group head honcho. Mr Biyani recounts spending hours on the shop floor in his book, and he’s given most of the new retail business to Shark Design even though Future Group has an in-house design firm called Idiom. A lot of emphasis has also been spent on market research and understanding what clients want. Besides the Future Group, for whom Shark handles Pantaloon, Etam and aLL stores, the other big clients include Samsung and Worldspace.

Mr Ajwani and the others are too concerned about the imminent entry of foreign design houses. Fitch Design, one of the leading retail design firms worldwide, has just made a big-bang entry into India by bagging the AV Birla Retail account and designing their ‘more.’ stores. Most of the domestic work would still go to Indian design firms since the account size would be too small for someone like Fitch.

Second, Shark’s manufacturing facilities allow them to work on design execution instead of actual design and it has already worked with Fitch on a few designs that the latter has created. The company also says it is cheaper than any of the big design houses, with Mr Ajwani reckoning that it charges barely a sixth of what a big design house like Fitch would charge.

Of course, the five don’t want to rest on their laurels. Mr Ajwani has clearly stated that the company aims to top Rs 100 crore by 2010, which means that it has to grow at 100% every year for the next three years. Unless the organised retail industry is completely thrown off the rails by all manner of protesters, it would take a brave man to bet against this sort of growth.

Article Resources:
Irshad Daftari is the Chief Editor in the The Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Startups called "Starship Enterprise". For more information on Shark Design log on Successful Entrepreneur - Design Studios

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