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Hit by pandemic 19 days after launch, how Baro Market survived COVID-19

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For Mumbai's Baro Market, the switch to online retail has been like a decision to start afresh because it had only been 19 days since its launch when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country. But, Srila Chatterjee, co-founder of Baro India, knew it was going to work.

Hit by pandemic 19 days after launch, how Baro Market survived COVID-19
What are the chances of survival of a business that has been hit by a pandemic soon after its launch? 100 percent, as Srila Chatterjee, co-founder of Baro India, would say. Their newly launched 'bazaar' Baro Market is an example of how a small venture yet to establish itself survived an unprecedented crisis that killed several businesses and damaged many that had existed for decades.
Nineteen days into Baro Market​'s launch, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country. But Chatterjee knew it was going work. "Well, sure the duration wasn't long enough to establish what Baro Market was doing. But it was long enough to know people really liked what we did because we exceeded the targets we set for a month in our first weekend,” Chatterjee told CNBC-TV18.com.
Srila Chatterjee and her partner Siddharth Sirohi founded Baro India, a popular handmade craft, furniture, and decor store in Mumbai, in 2017. It wasn’t long before the store became a hub of events that promoted arts and culture in various forms like fashion, films, music, paintings, handicraft bazaars, and more.
Soon, they launched Baro Market, a small 'bazaar-like section within Baro India, in May 2019, with only six brands. Baro Market retailed only locally sourced products from artisans in smaller villages and small business owners who were seeking a platform to showcase their works.
This led to them launching a full-fledged market with over 60 brands on March 1, 2020. However, little did they know that their business would be soon thrown into the biggest challenge - the COVID-19 pandemic. The store was forced to shut.
That is when Chatterjee, who had in 2017 taken the retail route of design after 25 years in advertising, set foot into the digital retail space with Baro Market.
The transition was more like a decision to start again because the brand hadn't yet established its name in the market. “It wasn't even a brand, we were 19 days old," says Chatterjee.
Walking this road wasn’t all that easy. “It's a completely different world, a world I don't know very well,” she says. But, Chatterjee says she’s lucky to have a team that knows a lot more than her.
Emphasis on 'touch and feel'
The Baro co-founder says one has to learn how to interact with people differently. “Because Baro, which was where Baro Market was incubated, is from where we grew up. Our whole emphasis was on touch and feel, it was all about telling stories, with people then coming in and actually experiencing something that was unique and didn't exist anywhere else,” she says.
However, for now, they work on two aspects, one is to design their communication for products being sold online themselves. “So it's much more real, and it tells the story we want to.”
Second, pop-up shows. Between December last year and the latest lockdown, they organised four pop-ups, where people got an opportunity to come in and touch, feel and hear the related stories.
'People buying more handicrafts during the pandemic'
Commenting on the change in demand, Chatterjee says people are buying with more conscience than before. They are far less interested in fashion and are going for home decor given the work-from-home scenario. “People are discovering how beautiful the traditional, tribal or the contemporary art is and how it’s an investment,” she says.
Baro Market acknowledges that young people are much more interested in e-commerce than the older generation. However, they are witnessing that a lot of older, more mature clients prefer to talk to somebody, and then look at an image on WhatsApp or in an email. Even as the number of social media users in India is growing at a rapid pace, Chatterjee says it's important to know that there is a whole world that doesn't respond to social media.
“We're not a typical e-commerce site. You can't Google us generically. You come to Baro Market because you really like what you heard about it or you like the kind of things it has,” she says.
'Digital space here to stay'
Chatterjee may be new to the digital space but she knows this form of retail is here to stay. For now, she looks at keeping at the hybrid model. She, however, is actively contemplating whether or not there is a need for a permanent store given the high rentals in most big cities. And not to forget, moving around where people want to see their work is definitely more exciting.
Baro Market has given itself three years to grow organically and establish itself online.
“At the time, when we were right in the thick of the pandemic, we knew it would take well over a year or two to get out of it. And then another year for some kind of normalcy. Of course, we want to make money, but more importantly, do it the right way and not concentrate on the profit part. Because when you've got a lot of money invested, you take shortcuts and don't do things right,” Chatterjee said.