Vedang Patell, the co-founder of The Souled Store, spoke with Alavi.ai about how the brand sets itself apart, tackles challenges, and remains agile to see sustainable growth.
What Inspired The Souled Store?
India is home to many pop culture fans. However, fan merchandise options are extremely expensive and not very relatable or likable. No one wants to walk around feeling like they are an advertisement for Scooby Doo, Harry Potter or Marvel. Being huge pop culture fans themselves, the Founders of the Souled Store wanted to change this situation, and this led to them founding The Souled Store in 2013.
Over the last few years, The Souled Store has grown tremendously and is India’s most popular one-stop-shop for high quality and well designed quirky pop culture merchandise. The brand sells more than 40,000 products per month, featuring more than 150 characters, from superheroes to pop culture figures, and it has a growing customer base of around 300,000 customers.
Moreover, the brand implemented an element of surprise in all their designs by going beyond the regular logo designs featured on fan merchandise. They do not simply copy and paste logos on their merchandise but they make their designs witty and quirky. And this strategy has been an integral part of their success and contributed to making them a popular choice among modern consumers.
How Does The Souled Store Innovate and Grow Online?
The Souled Store has an incredible track record when it comes to innovation and growth. Here are three factors that have enabled them to become the company and brand they are today:
- From the beginning, the Founders set up the right processes needed to build a successful e-commerce company without taking any shortcuts like deep discounting.
- They built a loyal and unique team and customer base that helps the brand navigate crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, crises do not have detrimental effects on the brand.
- They use data and technology to make every decision.
Set Up the Right Processes Without Taking Any Shortcuts
Ecommerce is a fast-changing space and it’s important to make sure that you are there at the right time, with the right products, and marketing them in the right way. Getting these processes set up for your business takes a lot of time and hard work. As a result, many brands offer deep discounts to get customers quickly. This practice is unsustainable because it may lead to customers only buying from you when there is a sale. Customers may not be interested in paying full price for your products in the future (when you can no longer give deep discounts).
From its inception, The Souled Store implemented the right processes without any shortcuts all the way from product to customer service. By producing high-quality merchandise with well thought out designs, the brand was able to (1) charge above-average prices for fan merchandise, (2) successfully avoid the discount strategy and (3) set customer expectations in terms of prices.
The Souled Store’ manufacturing processes or lead time is another great example. The brand’s lead time from design to manufacturing is as short as 7 days. In comparison, an average e-commerce brand can have a lead time of up to 80 days. By not taking shortcuts and implementing the right processes Vedang and his team can ensure that their customer base is getting the right products at the right time.
Build A Unique Company Culture and Loyal Customer Base
A key factor that helped The Souled Store through the devastating effects of the pandemic was the culture the team had built internally and their loyal customer base.
“Last year was devastating for most founders. Suddenly, cash flow paused, and you felt like you might have to shut down your business. But to bounce back, the first thing you should be able to leverage in such a situation is your company’s culture, and that is what we did. We had built our culture in such a way that even though we had to work from home, we knew our team would be aligned.”
- Vedang Patel, Co-founder at The Souled Store
In addition to being able to depend on their team members, the brand was also able to depend on their customers. The Souled Store has a cult-like following/customer base because they had the right design, spoke the right language, and were relatable and likeable to their customers.
When they started selling online again during the pandemic, their loyal customer base knew they were a reliable brand they could purchase merchandise from. The faith customers had in the brand was further strengthened because The Souled Store was able to very quickly use its company culture, work ethic, and processes to prioritize products based on emerging needs. For example, when Vedang and his team noticed that marketplaces like Myntra were running out of shorts because demand had increased with many customers staying at home, the brand quickly conceptualized, designed, manufactured, and sold these high demand products within a few days, thereby capturing an opportunity that competitors couldn't.
During the pandemic, the brand also changed its marketing language to match the current mood. For example, during pre-pandemic days, The Souled Store prioritized how their products looked but during the pandemic, they prioritized how customers would feel when wearing or using their products at home.
Use Data and Technology to Make Every Important Decision
The Souled Store tracks every aspect of their brand and they even forecast their conversions, when products will be stock out, and how products should be prioritized in terms of manufacturing. Such granular level data is also shared with their manufacturers for greater visibility and better communication. These efforts ensure that they have the right products in stock at the right time - when their customers require it.
By using data to determine their every move, the brand has been able to overcome a common challenge faced by many brands - dead inventory. The Souled Store doesn’t have dead inventory and as a result they don’t have to depend on tactics like “Sales” to get rid of products that don’t move.
“That’s what keeps our branding intact and that’s what keeps our unit economics intact because then we can fund better marketing, better products, and better quality since we don’t have to sell at a cheaper price. So I think using data for growth and innovation is key. You have built a brand that focuses on that because that’s the only way to ensure your brand doesn’t plateau.”
- Vedang Patel, co-founder at The Souled Store
Using the right technology is also critical to maintaining basic hygiene for your e-commerce, from your UI/UX to your customer experience. By not paying attention to these, e-commerce brands can lose out on customers and revenue. The Souled Store uses different technologies to segment customers and improve the experience they deliver online and offline to these customer segments. Additionally, using technology-driven segmentation in marketing is crucial. Every consumer is unique and you can’t use one strategy for all. Technology allows you to figure out how to be the brand consumers want based on their behavior and their buying patterns without having to create different stores for each segment.
“You can’t keep acquiring customers— it’s tiresome and unsustainable.”
- Vedang Patel, Co-founder at The Souled Store
Being able to listen to data and use technology to take action is what sets The Souled Store apart from other brands and enables them to continue to innovate and grow online.