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Hey guys, welcome to the fifth episode of The Impatient Marketer. Today we have with us Sandeep Kataria, the Co-founder of Turms Wear. For all those who do not know what Turms Wear is, Turms Wear is India’s first intelligent apparel brand. More about the brand soon. Hey, Sandeep good to have you on the show!
Thanks, my pleasure.
So tell us something about yourself. Were you always intrigued by innovation?
Yes, so, first of all, I'd like to clarify. So a lot of people have this confusion. The name of the website is “Turmswear.com”. The brand is “Turms”. Just wanted to clarify that out first. About myself, I started my career in a multinational fintech firm as a software engineer as an application developer. Like many engineers in India, I realized that I don't want to do coding. That was the time when like most people, I was about to slip out and look for MBA entrance tests. That is when I met Sujayath Ali, a fine gentleman. He is the founder of Voonik. Voonik at that time was a 4-5 people company. I was the first person to start the marketing team there. So Sujhayat approached me for a role in application development and I told him that I don't want to do it, I wanted to do something else. I wanted to move on the business side of things and he was kind enough to give me the opportunity. So, that's how I started my career in marketing. From there it's a journey from where I am still figuring a path out.
As you said, you were the VP of marketing in Voonik. So how did your journey of starting your own company look like?
So yeah, I started as a manager in marketing and with time the designations come, right? That doesn't really matter. What really mattered was your response to someone saying something very significant. After that, I had stepped out to consult on my own. I was looking at starting off a digital marketing school of my own initially. Actually, after Voonik I was consulting for a while. I met Rameshwar who was my colleague at Voonik. So, Rameshwar along with Rohit had found this technology. This use case of nano-technology in apparels and I was extremely intrigued by the idea. I will tell you more about it in the course of this call. I really did not have to start off on my own.
I would be honest and I must say it was not as difficult as it is for me or someone who starts off on their own. I got an opportunity to partner with people who had found out something really exciting. It was my good fortune that my partner saw some skill sets in me to add value to something that they were already doing. Having said that, it's always difficult with your startup with a limited corpus in the capital, as things can get really difficult, especially on the financial side. The curiosity and nervousness are always there about what's going to happen next and how far are you going to reach? We have come quite a long way but the curiosity and nervousness still remain.
So, what is the inspiration behind creating the Turms Wear? What is the target audience you are looking at?
I tell you what, see if today you step out in a place like Delhi which gets extremely hot in the summers, in the months of May and June. If you step out even for 30 minutes, you will realize that your clothes are stinking. Which should not be acceptable in today’s world technology, right? Technology has touched all phrases and parts of our lives. It has changed the way we look, changed the way we commute and has changed the way we communicate. Then why not the way we dress up? Clothes have traditionally and historically been a high maintenance thing. So if I told you that I will give you a shirt or tee-shirt that you don't have to bother about caring for too much. Which need little caring, little washing and will not stink at the end of the day! That was the inspiration behind it. We are looking at changing the way people look at clothes, changing the way people dress up.
Every brand that starts off, faces a lot of challenges, which is inevitable. So what are the marketing failures that you have faced and what are the improvement and what is the improvement process that you look at?
There are quite a few marketing failures but they are not particularly about Turms. Since you have a complete series which is about marketing, I will go back to some of our initial marketing failures at Voonik and most of these will be in digital marketing. So there's a lot of add fraud that happens in the market. If you work with an ad- agency or an ad- network, you tell them the amount of traffic or app installs you need. Or the numbers of purchases at a given cost. There are a lot of tech-savvy, advanced ways of how these people do fraud but one very common way in which it is done is that they will buy your organic traffic from Google. That is somebody bidding on his own branding. What I can do tomorrow is that I can bid on iZooto and I can buy the traffic cheaply from Google and I can give it to you at a higher rate. So we realized at a point of time in Voonik that our organic traffic was falling. We took some time to realize that we are paying somebody for traffic which is actually ours, that we are paying to somebody who is bidding on our keyword. Which I think is definitely not at a strategic level but at a tactical operational level, a marketing failure.
Another thing that I remember, of course, was the correction process was simple. You just had to inform, it was more about negotiating and talking to those agencies and setting stricter guidelines. One good thing about digital marketing is no failure can last too long or hurt you too much because you can track results almost in real-time. This is one of the biggest advantages digital has versus traditional in marketing. Another thing was when we planned out the first TV campaign for Voonik, we expected the results, the reach, and awareness that it generates to last long and remain for a significant period after the campaign was done. It took us some time to realize that television does not work that way. If you do an ad you have to appear frequently. You need to remind viewers about you frequently, so it has to be once every 3 months. This I think is the strategic failure that I have learned from. This was a big failure but because there was learning that existed and even though this was something that most people knew, we didn't happen to gather this knowledge from the outside. Challenges that Turms faced were on the advertising base majorly. We once did an ad for our first line of apparels which are steam repellent and anti-odor, so we splashed a lot of water on a model wearing a tee-shirt and of course, it repelled it. People then started thinking that its waterproof and that they can actually wear it out in the rain. So when Mumbai was facing rains, people called us up and complained that it got drenched and we had to then explain what it's actually for. Therefore, overpromising is not good. Though advertising traditionally has been and will continue to be over-promising and one has to be careful about it. Especially when you are introducing something new in the market, you can to be very careful about it because people don't have a knowledge of something alike.
As you said, some of your products are water repellent and you call yourself an intelligent brand. So what makes it intelligent?
Yeah! So basically we call Turms an “intelligent apparel” as of now, we might upgrade and take a shift to our brand positioning soon which we aren't sure about yet. As of now, we like intelligent apparel and we seek (..) also that it is indeed intelligent apparel. As I was telling you that the inspiration behind the brand was “Why should it take efforts to look good and smell fresh?” while that should not take efforts. So what's intelligent about it is that everything we do, every apparel that we make, all our shirts and every piece of garment, even our collection of Jeans that we launched out or our collection of socks that we are going to launch soon, everything will have some or other piece of functionality and technology in it. It could be stream repellent which repels water-based stains. This technology has a nanotech-enabled coating that repels all water-based stains. There is a technology that kills odor-causing bacteria. That is our anti-odor technology. Then there's a technology that wicks away sweat. Now wicking has existed in athlete wear and Nike etc have done it a long time ago. But nobody has given importance to wicking in daily wear. That's where we think we are already making a difference and will start making a big difference in future because everybody sweats, right? Then why should wicking be only restricted to athletes or those who work out, jog, etc? We also have something called cooling which we are about to launch in 7-10 days. These are the apparels which will ensure that you feel cool and comfortable in the hot summer. Even in a place like Bangalore where it might hit up to 40-degree Celcius, thanks to people who are moving to Bangalore for whom trees are being cut down and buildings are being made. Basically, our cooling technology will make you feel cooler and more comfortable.
So, everything we make is going to have some or other technology. Which is why we call it “intelligent apparel” as these are clothes that can take care of you and can take care of themselves. Because it is stain repellent you don't have to wash it often. And because the line of shirt we have is anti-wrinkle so it doesn't need to be ironed as often. This shirt that I am wearing is anti-wrinkle, I don't have to iron it frequently. It's not “wrinkle-free” but “anti-wrinkle” and there's where we again face the problem of overpromising. We’ve had people washing it in a washing machine and then tell us that it has got wrinkles. “Anti-wrinkle” only means that even at the end of the day it will have fewer wrinkles than a normal shirt has and if you have to repeat it after two days, you can repeat it without ironing. So everything that we do is going to have a technology and is going to make your life simpler. It will at least make one part of your simpler, the part where the amount of time in a day you spend on clothing, we want to give that time back to you. Which is why we call it intelligent apparels.
Turms is called “performance intelligent” brand as well.
Yeah! So when we started off, there is, of course, a descriptor for positioning- “India’s first performance wear fashion brand”. We still use it in our communication. It is called “India’s first performance wear” because you are adding performance to daily wear.
What is your marketing approach now? We know that a ship in the harbor is of no use. You might have the best product but unless you go out, and let people know about it, it's of no use.
So a marketing strategy for a product like this can in itself be broken into two parts. One is that it needs a lot of education to really get mainstream and it needs consumer education. We haven't started off that yet but we will soon. Till then, we have been testing the water and are a 1,00,000 customer strong. We think that's not a very strong number for a country like India. The scope is much larger, right? There's a potential to reach out and affect at least 10 crore lives in a short period of time like 2-3 years. Some of our angel investors, whom I cannot name, call it a product for a billion people. This is because with time as the water becomes more scarce and natural resources become more expensive and scarce, it will be technologies like this that will take over the traditional way of living.
So basically the larger part of the marketing efforts will be to educate people about the need for something like this. Educate them about how apparel like these can change and impact their lives and how it has much more value than a normal piece of clothing. Until now it has all been about the product because there is a differentiation of strain efficiency, the differentiation of odor and people are just excited to know about the features of the product. We have made small videos explaining its features and people have been very excited as well. So till date, it has been product resolving and mostly product focussed advertising. Soon we will do a lot of consumer education.
So there is a series of videos that you guys did on social media. So do you think it's working out for you? Is this something people should try out?
You know video content is doing well across social media today and we do everything in advertising. It's just about what works well for you. Just because a video works well for a product like this doesn't mean it would work well for the others and for the people who will be watching this, it's just about experimentation and figuring out what works for you.
So I was going through your site and I observed that most of the products are priced on the higher side when compared to the market price. So has your experience been in selling high-quality expensive products?
I tell you what, the products are actually not priced very high. For example, Jeans are at Rs. 999 while a shirt is at Rs. 1,499, Apolo is at Rs. 999 and Tee-shirts are at Rs. 799. I can agree that the Tee-shirts are at a bit higher price but it is because they are technologically more advanced. They have all 5 technologies that we offer, wicking, cooling, stain repellent, anti-odor, and quick-dry and it's super stretch actually. So for jeans at Rs. 2000, a lot of people see a lot of value in it. If you talk about Levi’s, they don't have anything starting at less than Rs. 2,999 and that is not even the best that the brand makes. The best that the brand makes is priced way higher. But if you speak to people who try out the Turms jeans, they are absolutely delighted by the kind of quality that we make because we follow the best of the standards right from the fabric to stitching to fitting. Its something people compare to all international brands and find better comfort and the kind of experience that we provide really stands out and we are not even talking about technology here. The technology and functionality are over and above it.
Apart from the fact that people think that since the brand is new, why should I pay Rs 2,000 for jeans of a brand I don't know. So that's where it takes some convincing and that's where your advertising comes into the picture. That hasn't been a big barrier till now but as I said we have just started out and its a really big market. It's something that we will figure out with time. We don't even do discounting. A lot of brands online give a high markup then provide discounts which have become a normal practice and the consumers also have understood that if somebody is giving 40-50% discount then it actually is not 40-50% discount on the actual price! People are now used to looking at a non-scratched off price. They are now interested in looking at the amount that they will be finally paying. The 40-60% doesn't really make so much sense because this is something that is considered while creating that line of apparel.
So how do you come up with new products? You started off with jeans first, if I'm not wrong?
Yes, we started off with jeans because Anil, one of our Co-founder had a fantastic experience in making jeans and we were very sure about making jeans. We don't come from an apparel manufacturing background but one of our co-founders did and so he was very sure about jeans. Also, people from the apparel industry have told us that jeans are the easiest to crack. So we thought that if we do it with jeans in the category of apparels, we would crack the biggest hurdle first. This is why we started off with jeans and Tee-shirts and then Shirts simply followed because of consumer feedback. Most of the things have come with deep consumer research and feedback. So when we were selling jeans about 1800 pieces of jeans in a day, a lot of our consumers would come back and say “hey, why don't you have similar sort of shirt and T-shirt?” So all of it came from there.
The other department that opened the gates for what can be done next is our R&D department. We invest a lot of money in our R&D because that's our differentiator. That's why we are Turms. That's why we can compete with somebody else selling apparel at almost the same price while these are brands which have existed for centuries. So we invest a lot of time, money and efforts in R&D and it comes back to us to tell us that our strain repellent can be made stronger or your cooling technology is catching the whirl everywhere. So if there's something that's becoming a trend either in India or in abroad, we try to pick it up. We try to be the first ones to do what we do.
Since you have a unique brand, people might buy from you out of curiosity as well. That can be a possibility! What's your customer retention recipe?
As I said the quality is very good. We have a highly efficient and optimized digital marketing in-chain setup internally and that's also because a couple of us are from the commerce background, I myself have been and am still hands-on with the performance marketing team. So we know when to have a conversation with an existing consumer. We know when to tell them about the new product line or about something similar to what they have bought. But then that’s something because of your marketing efforts while retention simply comes through your experience.
Since the quality of our products is superior and consumers are getting it at a reasonable price, for the quality and the differentiation of technology our pricing is extremely sharp. Consumers end up seeing a lot of value in it. So we don't have to do a lot to bring them back, we just need to remind them once. I think if you have taken care of your product quality and if you’ve taken care of your customer experience, the retention will happen on its own. You can do things to make it incrementally better but if your customer experience had not been good then irrespective of what you do, your retention is not going to be great. You can give them discounts and bring them back but then for how long and till how far?
So what's your view on customer experience? How do you make sure the customers are happy?
So one is that you ensure at a product level, at a quality check level that you do everything right and that you don't too much. You see that's coming from a marketer! Advertising is about over-promising though. So one is, you live up to your promises. If you live up to your promises then the customers won't expect too much and it's actually as simple as that. If someone has a bad experience then we really try our best to go out of the way to ensure that the person is happy.When we were very young, we actually went to the extent of visiting people’s houses if they did not understand the product well or they were not happy with it. We have gone to these extents if it was a genuine case, or it looked like a genuine case.
There are people who can be a little nasty but then also there are people who liked the product and have admired us. We have seen cases where the jeans actually looked like they were cut off by a scissor by the user itself. But of course these are few and far between, right? But if we see a genuine case, we go to the extent of taking the used product back and actually returning and refunding the whole amount back. We don't do that all the time though. People watching this must not get the wrong idea of it! Some people tend to misuse the return and refund policy that e-commerce has. That's why bigger brands like Amazon are turning strict and making it more stringent. So it's about ensuring that you don't do anything to make somebody unhappy but if you find someone is unhappy then you must make sure that you correct that experience. At a high level, it's as simple as that but at a scale that we have right now with 1000 customers coming to us every day, it gets really difficult. Your operation processes, your escalation processes, and your customer issue solvency processes have to be really strong and well set.
You have patented your nanotechnology. What is your advice, should people actually patent?
If you think you have genuinely done something innovative then that’s one. Number two, if there is an acceptance to it in the market. India is such a country where there is a lot of innovation but then it also a country with a lot of plagiarism. So you cannot take a chance. Must never take a chance! My advice is, you must get a patent the moment you know you have cracked something big. Don't hold back and don't be lazy about it. Don't think there's no value to it. There is a lot of value to it.
So the last question that we ask all the marketers, what are your words of caution for all the entrepreneurs out there?
There are a lot of people for whom the word entrepreneurship has become really sexy. To put out as or talk about it in the description on social media but it's not really easy. Don't take the leap for faith but if you are taking it then be very sure that you believe in your cause strongly. Because if you don’t, then in many cases it happens that people tend to give up and that's not really a good situation to be in. But then I don't want to scare anybody but it's just that entrepreneurship can be extremely rewarding in more than one way. Not only from the monetary angle but also when it comes to customer satisfaction and the fact that you are doing something which is actually making an impact on people’s lives is rewarding. Don't do it because you want to be an entrepreneur. Do it because you believe in it.
Pravya: Thanks a lot Sandeep! There's a lot of insights there. Good to have you on the show, bye!
Sandeep: Thank you Pravya, it was amazing.
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