THINKING out of the box and keeping good relations with customers is the secret to success for online saree shop owner Sumitha Mohandas.
The 27-year-old entrepreneur who owns and runs Avalon Sarees in Johor Baru said she has a steady stream of customers now but it was not always that way.
“When I first started the online saree business in 2009, most people were not used to purchasing clothes online,” she told MetroBiz.
Sumitha said that she was determined to make an impact in the traditional Indian market and tried her best to promote and maintain good relations with the handful of customers.
“I understood the importance of customers having to feel, see and touch the material but I tried my best to give them a “feel” of the sarees using pictures and descriptive words,” she said, adding that she had opened a mini outlet in Taman Ungku Tun Aminah for traditional customers who still wanted to feel their sarees.
Sumitha said that she had invested about RM200,000 to kickstart her online business and although the sum may seem steep, the bulk of it went into setting up the website, getting a team to handle professional shots of the products and purchasing an array of handpicked sarees for customers.
“I understood who my target market was and picked trendy and unique sarees that were funky and fun for young girls aged between 18 and 24 to wear.
“I also constantly kept myself updated with the latest trends by looking at countless magazines, websites and even watching the latest Indian movies to ensure that my products have an edge over the hundreds of other saree shops available in the local market,” she said.
She said another factor that attracted customers to the online business was the ability to view her products any time and place orders on a lazy Saturday afternoon or in the wee hours of the morning.
“When I first started, I personally looked into every order and to be honest I almost went a little mad,” she said jokingly.
Sumitha said that she was constantly online via her computer and her mobile phone just to ensure that she responded promptly to requests or questions relating to her products.
“It was initially so exciting to make friends and speak to many people but on the other hand it was also overwhelming to have to answer all sorts of questions from the measurement of the beads, the weight of the saree, the exact shade and texture of the cloth.
“The saree may seem like a simple 5ft long cloth but there is an enormous selection available in the market which infuses an array of materials, designs, concepts, trends and techniques,” she said, adding that she however enjoyed the challenge.
“Initially, we used to sell a couple of sarees priced at an average of RM300 daily and slowly the orders kept on increasing.
“Now we have a wide selection of products which include casual sarees from RM199 to more elaborate bridal sarees which can fetch to more than RM2,000,” she said.
Sumitha added that Avalon Sarees also had hundreds of local customers and have even managed to attract saree enthusiasts internationally including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Egypt, Europe, and even Fiji.
“To keep ourselves attractive, we also try our best to keep the prices low and the varieties high.
“Due to popular demand, we have also opened two outlets (one in Plaza Tasek, Skudai and the other in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya) for customers who still feel the need to touch and feel the sarees before purchasing them,” she said.
Besides sarees, Sumitha’s online shop also offers other types of Indian apparel including lengas, kurthas, kurthis, traditional bags, and other Indian accessories at www.avalonsarees.com