Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Overcoming the Greatest Challenge - Logistics

Kraftinn Lamp at Client Location
(... continued from Kraftinn Journey- Learning the Process)
We see bamboo home furnishings and lamps as a winning opportunity as there were no other players in this area but we realised after making many mistakes that the best delivery and the best customer support systems will only win the game. When we were ready with the product, we realised that there is a very limited option for delivery. Quality service sometimes has a surprisingly high cost and because of geographical disadvantages of operating from Assam, it was very difficult for us to find reliable resources.The logistical challenges of delivery are far more challenging and costly than we anticipated. The challenges of delivery cannot be compared to delivering books, clothes or electronic items.

There were many secondary materials like good quality electrical wires, holders and packing materials etc. were not easily available. We got the wired sourced from Bangalore. Then the challenge for us was to identify packaging materials that are fit for our products at a minimum cost and with minimum environmental impact. At the beginning we tried a mixtures of materials like bubble wrap, corrugated box and heshion cloths for outer layer packing at a surprising high cost.There were times when we spent the whole night engrossed in packing the lamps to ensure that the product reaches safely to the customer. We have verified several number of times that the product is satisfactorily packed and appropriate to get the delivery to the customer’s place safely. When you are in a startup, you have to do all the things on your own to ensure that everything is perfect especially when it is the first order.

Packages meeting the weight and dimension requirements of courier companies are not the easiest. Our products were very light in weight but very voluminous in dimensions and the shipment cost of a particular consignment was much higher than the actual cost of the product. Customer experiences cannot be compromised regardless of issues you cannot control. Then we decided with a approval from the client, to dispatch the shipment via speed post services of Indian postal services which charges the consignment on the basis of weight. So we managed to ship the items.

After the first layer of packaging
Unfortunately for us, out of the 8 packages we shipped, 4 packages were completely damaged during transit. For us, our reputation and customer service is of paramount of importance, so without taking much time, we immediately replaced the damaged lamp and I personally went to Delhi and hand-delivered the lamps at the clients place. The client really appreciated the service and very satisfied with the product. So, our first order, was a complete loss but we have learned a lot by making mistakes. We realised that, despite how good your products are but if you are not able to deliver it safely it has no value.

After the second layer of packaging
Given the fact, and taking so many measurable steps, most of the lamps arrive broken at the client’s place. Unfortunately this is an all too common problem, one that results from rough handling during shipment. We knew that we cannot control the handling of the Indian Postal Service, Blue Dart or any courier services, so we need to make sure that the lamps are fully damaged proof prior to shipment. I would also like to share as per my experience, the differences between the various courier companies and Indian postal services aren’t any, because none of them handle packages gently than the others. Indian Postal services are good, but if the item is bigger, they don’t deliver at home, you have to collect it from the nearest post office which many customers don’t prefer. So, we need to reach a balance by de-risking the delivery into multiple courier companies.

The product after final layer of packaging
We cannot afford to ignore the packaging and transportation and the ever-rising cost of shipping makes it desirable to keep the packing as small and light as possible. We need to facilitate safe transport with minimal expense. It is the time; we need to assess the packaging as a part of the product. We need to monitor each element of the packaging process. So, we make some changes in the products and avoided products which are easily breakable and very voluminous.

The Product remains safe even if a man stands over it
The selection and use of packing materials is very important. This is another area where economics play a part. Corrugated box. thermocol, bubble wrap or foam and the cost of packing has significantly impacted our expenses. This is where recycling comes in. We visited few of the warehouses or small retailers who like many tend to have many packages coming in and we started collecting what can be reused. I've found that the thermocol which used to protect electronic products such as computers, TV and such can be easily cut to fit. We used newspaper as filler so that the lamp is centrally positioned inside the package and the shape of the lamp is not distorted. We used foam to wrap the lamp so that the slit of the bamboo doesn’t come out while unpacking it. After that, we cut the thermocol according to the size of the lamps. Then the package is stitched with SDP or heshion cloth as the outer layer so that the product inside is intact. Given, the effort and values of Kraftinn products, we cannot afford to run risk of having the lamps broken again. So, we have started a practice where all the ready packets has to survive the drop head test, wherein we drop the products several times from top and check whether the package can withstand several such drops and what happened if something weighing 50 Kgs dropped on it.

Finally, with some little effort and learning from mistakes, we have overcome the challenges of packing and our approach varies from one product to next. Now, we can practically guaranty that our products are shipped damage free and it is well reflected in the feedback and reviews of our product.

You can check our ebay Feedback

- +Parikshit Borkotoky 
Founder, Kraftinn 

(to be continued..)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kraftinn Journey - Learning the Process

(... continued from KraftInn - The Journey so far )

Many people discuss about the quality workmanship of bamboo handcrafted items, but the challenges of retaining its originality require different techniques and treatment processes. At the beginning, we thought of supplying the lamps sourced from a group of artisans and the workmanship of these artisans is very excellent, but if the item is not treated, it outweighs the quality. And, moreover, sourcing introduces a lot of delays, and quality and delivery of suppliers is an issue and overall transaction is not financially prudent. We learned early that we would need to have a setup wherein we can have full control of the quality standards and supply chain. 

Immediately, we made a small bamboo shed wherein we could accommodate people to work for us. It was very difficult to find skilled artisans and we had to provide good incentives while persuading them to move to Kraftinn location at Jorhat. We visited more that 15 villages across Assam to search for the right people and finally hired two artisans. 

Bamboo is a rapidly growing fibrous plant and is abundant in mostly tropical forests. It mainly consists of roots, culms and leaves. They are usually hollow and vary in sizes, diameter, colours and textures. The cellulose fibres run along the length of the culm and carry nutrients between roots and leaves. Because of its cellulose fibrous nature, it is one of those materials that have very high tensile strength. But, bamboo, because of its high starch content, has very low resistance to biological degrading agents. 

Bamboo Treatment - The firewood used is waste bamboo for its low pollutant residue
We needed to ensure that the bamboo we use need to be treated to enhance the durability of the bamboo. We use the immersion technique where we immerse bamboo culm in 6% solution of boric acid and borax as suggested by Cane and Bamboo Technology Centre(CBTC), Guwahati, Assam. But, in this process, selection of bamboo also plays an important role. We start by individually hand picking mature bamboo which has to be between 3-5 years old, otherwise the bamboo would shrink and crack when dried. Also, for harvesting Oct-Nov is the ideal time when the starch content in bamboo is at the lowest level. Once the bamboo is treated, it needs to be left to bask in the sun for 4-5 days depending on the sunlight. Then the bamboo needs to be dried in a dark shade to weather.
Bamboo Kept for Drying

Finally, we are ready with treated high quality bamboo for our use. Luckily, our first client was very co-operative and he showed full trust in me and I was able to convince him to extend the delivery deadline.

We didn’t want to take any risk in executing our first order and we started our production and are ready with the desired lamps. As a normal human nature, we prided ourselves on the final outcome of the products regardless of how will we manage to deliver the products safely to the clients place. When, we received the order, we were not very sure about the logistical challenges and quoted the price accordingly. But, the logistical challenges of delivery are far more challenging and costly than we anticipated.

 - Parikshit Borkotoky
Founder, Kraftinn

(continued at Overcoming the Greatest Challenge: Logistics)

Friday, December 7, 2012

KraftInn - The Journey so far

After coming fresh out of my college in 2004, I got a job with an MNC bank in the sales division. But, you may say, because of peer pressure or whatever, I started to believe that to make a solid career in the corporate sector, you need to hop around jobs. Because of no reason, I started looking for better jobs as I was not very clear of what I really wanted. By this time, I ended up in a start-up software company and heading the BFSI domain for the Northern Region.The experience in working in a start-up company was incredible. In a start- up company, you are master of your own destiny. It may be scary sometimes but the sense of responsibilities and ownership drives you to work incredibly hard and allows you to enter into a territory which was unknown to you. There are no cleared defined roles but you will need to get involved in all aspects of the business. This helped me a lot to sharpen my entrepreneurial skills and gave me well rounded view of how a business operates. During October 2009, there was a massive economic slowdown in US, which directly affected the business in India. The company where I was working had to be shut down. I was left with no job and almost no savings of my own.

By virtue of our experience in a start-up, I realized that I too can also build a company. With few of my friends/colleagues, we started a consultancy firm “ROPeS Consulting” named after the initial of the partners name. But, we were not able to match up with the competition and failed in our attempt. Not to mention that recruitment is not among the most lucrative of spaces during a downturn :). The experience made me realize that building a company requires a good understanding of the area in which it operates and also the importance of building core competency.

I packed my bags to Bangalore to start afresh. My brothers are well established in software companies in Bangalore. I discussed with my brothers about the intention of starting a business. There were few ideas spinning around our head at the time but I was not very clear about how to start . Finally, we zeroed up with a thought to start something which can promote the crafts and hand-looms of NE India which has a lot of potential and is being unexplored and untouched. My brothers, sister-in- law ensured their full support and confidence in me. Immediately, we brainstormed about the name for the firm and booked the domain name
Assam is well known for art and craft skills. It is home to 140 different tribes and every tribe practices a different style of craft. The sense of simplicity, style and richness of handicrafts and hand looms in this part of India is truly limitless. So, the name Kraftinn struck, its a slight twist of two words- ‘craft’ that symbolizes our desire to design unique products and harness the skills of artisans who have evolved over generations and ‘inn’ where people passing by, can experience a little bit of the local culture. We envisioned as a place where people can get a little bit of the unique north east culture and take it back to their homes as tangible artifacts like lamps and bags.
Once we had decided on what type of business we would like to run it was then just a case of doing some research work. We looked at various websites and drew up a list of products which were selling and were popular at that time. For the first three months, much of my time went on extensive field research, meeting artisans of different crafts work across the region.

At the beginning, we have chosen bamboo because of its characteristics and availability in Assam. Bamboo home d├ęcor has a good demand and this market is largely disorganized and it’s largely a very niche and untapped category. Besides this, we wanted to start something which will address sustainable income to the artisans, environmental and social awareness by using Eco-friendly products, reviving the dying art forms of Northeast.

I went to Delhi, with some of the samples collected from a local shop from Guwahati, and showed some of the samples to few known exporters. Luckily, we got a lead from a exporter and they introduced me to a reputed designer who was working on a bamboo project. And to our rescue, we clicked our first order of 100 lamps with some amount of customization. That was great sign to start and we were at the top of the world. We were very happy with the start as we were not aware of the challenges of delivering.

- Parikshit Borkotoky

Founder, Kraftinn