Breaking into the retail visual merchandising scene in Tamil Nadu through their startup Imaginethat, duo Dhurgha and Ashok are channeling their creativity and overcoming challenges to grow at a steady clip.
When it comes to fashion and style Tamil Nadu is seen as being conservative and lagging a step behind the rest. The popular perception is that we don’t believe in taking risks, when we can play it safe. Having lived in this State for the better part of my life, I thought things were changing but it seems it’s not happening fast enough for entrepreneurs Dhurgha Niranjan Kumar and Ashok Kannan who drive Imaginethat, a retail visual merchandising startup. In the two years they’ve been in business they’ve done more projects in other states, and an ambitious one in Mauritius! Well, we’re curious to know how that came about.
A team clicks into place
Dhurgha has a degree in fashion, had worked in the visual space for a few years and even tried her hand at a business before she met Ashok, who had been keen on starting a business of his own. Having equipped himself with management insights and skills in graphic design at an e-commerce firm, he was ready to take the plunge. It was during the COVID lockdown that he was introduced to Dhurgha and they landed their first project involving graphic design for a concrete mix company in Coimbatore. Completing the work within the deadline and budget overcoming lockdown hurdles, they felt confident things would fall in place.
Foray into retail visual merchandising
They were on the lookout for projects where their complementing skills could be put to good use and that’s how they eased into retail visual merchandising. So what does this specialisation involve? “It starts right from when the architects design the plan for the retail space. When we receive this plan, we research to understand the nature of the client’s business, how many products the client needs to showcase and the space available to stock and display them. We then do the calculations and allocate space for different categories and product lines. We advice on what fixtures need to be used to optimise the displays while we also finalise details of mannequins. But it doesn’t stop there,” explains Dhurgha.
It’s all about improving sales
Sharing insights on the retail consumer, Dhurgha observes, “The Indian shopper is poor at decision making. So when showcasing garments for example, we try to make it easy for them by showing them sample ensembles. This allows them to pick quickly leaving them with more time to browse and shop more.” While Dhurgha works on displaying and pairing products to make shopping easy and enjoyable for the customer, Ashok works on the aesthetics and branding including logos, signages, posters, photography and other elements. Together they crack the concept of look and feel with the final effort spent on the display windows. Dhurgha elaborates, “There is a difference between interior design and visual merchandising. While the former also includes civil work, our focus is more on the products and displays, to give a holistic shopping experience and hence sales for our customers.”
Spreading the word
“Having said that, it’s still a challenge to convince some prospects why visual merchandising is important. We try and create awareness on the impact retail experience can have on their sales. When the ambience is good and shopping is made convenient, customers are inclined to shop for more. Surprisingly, we find that retailers further south, in Tirunelveli for example, are more open to investing in visual merchandising, probably because it helps them stand out in their market and
immediately attracts customer. We’ve had a very good response from places like Nellore and in Odisha we have a very strong client relationship. Our business has been growing organically without much effort and only through word of mouth,” confesses Dhurgha.
Flexibility encourages trust
Imaginethat is flexible in many ways, trying to accommodate the needs of their customers, so they can experience the benefits of investing in visual merchandising. We advice changing the show window every quarter and the in-store design as per the seasons which is only spring, summer and winter for us. To make it more economical for our clients we plan the decor in such a way, they can up-cycle and recycle the elements used. While they work on turnkey projects, from design to complete handover of the store, we don’t say no if the client wants them to handle just the show window or the branding.
Reporting from Mauritius
As a fledgling outfit based in Chennai, how did they manage to successfully complete a large project in Mauritius? Ashok answers, “Our customer Jetha Tulsidas, who had a chain of 12 stores, was planning a new store retailing Indian apparel. The architecture design was India inspired too. So we endeavoured to blend this feel into the retail experience. We had to work hard within a short period of time to put together the various elements because the store was huge and unlike Indian stores, the windows were as high as 16 feet. It took us 25 days to fix the design language, palette and concept and we had just 10 days to create the various props while ensuring the ideas were novel too. For their sari collection, for instance, we sourced a weaver’s spindle from Kancheepuram that’s gracing the store to this day. At the end it was a very satisfying experience.”
Passion and plans
Both Dhurgha and Ashok emphasise how passion for their work and learnings at every site is keeping them energised and engaged. “We’re doing what we love. What more can we ask for?” exclaims the exuberant Dhurgha. She also enjoys craftwork and encouraged by Ashok, she stays in touch with painting and art, personally creating nifty gift pieces such as plant holders, fridge magnets, painted bottles and more under her own brand NiralArt .So what she does at Imaginethat melds in perfectly with what piques her interests. As for Ashok, he says with quiet confidence,”We’ve worked without food or sleep through two nights in a row working to meet deadlines. That’s because we are committed to our work and would like to build on our success. My vision for Imaginethat is to grow it to a public limited company but at a steady, consistent pace. I always keep checking to see if our growth graph is on the rise. We don’t want to overcommit and then pay the price. But I’m sure soon we’ll build capacity to be able to handle 10 projects simultaneously.
Imaginethat are available on Insta.
Contact: + 91 7395995361 / 9600006916