JFA is the first brick and mortar furniture store in South India to become an omnichannel seller. Zoho Commerce is an excellent platform for our growth. It's a world class product in Indian price (more affordable).
- Ramkumar Rajendran,
How long do you think it takes to create an online furniture store with Zoho Commerce? Jayabharatam Furniture Appliances, a legacy Indian furniture brand based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, went live with a fully-functioning site in just over two hours. And just three months after kick-starting its Zoho Commerce journey, it crossed $200,000 in sales. Now, JFA is on course to cross the $500,000 mark — all within the first year of operations on Zoho Commerce. How did JFA do it?
Jayabharatham Furniture & Appliances Private Limited (JFA) has existed since 1937. In 2016, third-generation entrepreneur, Ramkumar Rajendran, took up the mantle to help the company compete in a quickly changing world.
"We know what our customers like, we take pride in the after-service, and we have generations after generations of families buying our furniture to set up their homes."
But a legacy brand that is more than eight decades old still has to keep up with the times to stay relevant—and that means taking the business online.
JFA tried selling online as early as 1998 with Sify. "Someone bought a computer table from Kashmir (about 2,800 km away from Chennai)," Rajendran recollects fondly. Of course, it was an experiment far too ahead of its time, and it fizzled soon after.
Rajendran, with his background in engineering and management, continued to actively experiment with establishing an online presence between 2009 - 2019.
Venture capital-backed players like PepperFry and Urban Ladder entered the market in 2015/2016, sparking a frenzy of online furniture buying in India. JFA hoped to cash in by partnering with these brands, and also listing products on ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon. But the marketplaces quickly ate the company's profits by charging a commission fee in the range of 35%. Complicating matters, only shoe racks, office furniture, and chairs priced under Rs.15,000 (about $180 USD) were selling. Online sales didn't translate to even 1% of the monthly revenue JFA was generating through its six offline stores located in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. "Furniture is still largely a touch-and-feel product and people hesitate to buy the bigger items online without physically inspecting the product quality and its dimensions," Rajendran explained. "We hardly did three to four transactions (per) month."
"Moreover, the team at Amazon was only interested in onboarding sellers to meet their sales target. We had no help after that."
The experience forced JFA to exit the marketplace and build its own website using site builders like Magento and WooCommerce, but the constantly-evolving taxation laws in India, specifically the new GST (Goods and Services Tax) policy, made the upkeep of a functioning ecommerce website a massive undertaking.
Rajendran knew two things for sure: He wanted to expand, and venture capital funds were going to be key to his plan. "But they wanted us to scale our ecommerce sales from 1 to 75% to get their backing and that wasn't happening," he says. "During the Retail Leadership Summit in April 2022, a friend asked us to try Shopify and gave us the idea of having an omnichannel website."
However, after comparing and evaluating platforms, JFA decided to move forward with Zoho Commerce in June, 2022.
JFA's initiation into the Zoho ecosystem had already begun in 2020 due to the pandemic-fueled demand for cloud-based services. JFA began using Zoho Books alongside its custom accounting software, but transitioned fully to Books in April, 2021 due to the convenience. It soon started using Zoho Analytics, Desk, and CRM for everyday operations. Zoho Commerce was a natural addition to JFA's suit of apps, due to its seamless integration with other Zoho products.
In Shopify, we had to update stock prices manually. We also couldn't integrate with Inventory. With 18,000 SKUs, it was difficult to handle price changes. With Zoho Commerce, the stock list (and) pricing were automatically updated in real time due to seamless integration with other Zoho products. The online payment gateway integration, the Price List feature, the ease of use, and option to scale up in Zoho Commerce were other plus points. So we decided to go with Zoho Commerce."
The initial omnichannel strategy was quite simple: Give the customers the touch-and-feel experience they sought, and eliminate the hassle of a repeat trip to make the purchase. "Buying furniture is never an impulsive decision here," Rajendran says. "They come and inspect, go back, and discuss with the family before finalizing the purchase."
By making in-store products available online, JFA gave customers the convenience of avoiding a repeat trip and the confidence of ordering a quality product.
Benefits and ROI
JFA initially launched the omnichannel website in June, 2022 with 3,000 products from one of its outlets. By December, it had added all 18,000 SKUs from all six outlets to its site.
It now offers an in-store payment option and uses customized workflows, including invoice generation. JFA even provides a novelty element for the online buyer with a 360-degree virtual view of its main showroom and products. The website now has an average of 7,000 unique visitors per month and has registered 70% organic growth. "JFA is now South India's first brick and mortar furniture retail chain to transition to an omnichannel store," said Ramkumar.
With the omnichannel efforts yielding dividends, JFA is looking to expand its presence and franchising efforts. "The VCs wanted 75%, and we have now routed 100% of our sales online."
"Zoho Commerce is an excellent platform for our next phase of growth, both in the online and offline channels," said Ramkumar.
There's only one way to go from here for JFA—and that's upwards!