Carkhana, an eCommerce Portal for the Automotive Industry

Ecommerce is ubiquitous in India now. Books, electronics, movies, music, apparel, accessories, footwear, handicrafts, and even groceries and veggies are being sold online by myriad e-commerce stores. It is time to develop niche markets for niche products.carkhana

Carkhana.com is one such startup answering the potent need faced by most automobile enthusiasts and consumers. Be it a change of tires or a new set of seat covers, a new car perfume or a steering cover, a sexy biker jacket or an anti-pollution mask, this is one-stop shop for all your automotive needs, solving problems faced by customers in identifying and purchasing desired automotive products in an easy, informative and efficient setup on a simple and clean interface, with a free delivery across major cities in India.

Commerce is not the only business of Carkhana.com; they are also building a community of a auto-enthusiasts on their blog and facebook page, which also covers F1 and other motorsports. As a platform Carkhana attempts to remove the inefficiency that exists in traditional S&D network of the automotive after-market and components industry of India, and creating a demand for latest/technologically advanced/ highly functional products by Indian and International brands which otherwise fail to capture mass awareness.

Here is a short conversation with Harmeet Singh, founder Carkhana.com:

PI: What was your reasoning behind launching such a product?

HS: As enthusiasts ourselves, we faced this challenge to find a lot of latest, technologically advanced products by Indian and international automotive aftermarket brands in traditional sales & distribution setup. When we validated such concerns with fellow enthusiasts during our year long quest across key auto hubs, we zoomed in this market gap and thought of creating something exclusive for it.

PI: Do you maintain your own inventory or pick up stuff from dealers on an order basis?

HS: As a fast-growing start-up, we engage actively with our vendor companies/ their nominated exclusive distributors regularly to plan sales projections and other variables. However, for most brands we maintain just-in-time setup using hub and spoke model (based on geographical proximity to our central collection and shipping point). This is kind of a win-win situation for our partner brands (they get immediate payment with no inventory holdups) and our own cash flows.

Although, for some fast moving products like bike and car interior accessories, we do stock up for a week or two in advance in order to fulfill our customer commitment of fast deliveries.

PI: For the apparel and accessories, do you manufacture/print them yourselves or use a third party vendor?

HS: The designs for our apparel and accessories were crowd-sourced from our select group of enthusiasts across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and then manufactured through third-party vendors based in Chennai and Delhi.

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PI: How has the journey been so far? What is the traction?

HS: We did not want Carkhana.com to just be a “nice-to-have” e-commerce portal which offers products which do not really add functional value to its customers. We wanted our products to service strong functional needs of our enthusiasts and therefore undertook a massive validation exercise (from Jan 2011 to Sep 2011) across 4 key auto hubs -Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune to meet professional bikers and riders, auto enthusiasts, motor sports lovers and others in the clan to draw up a list of products and services that will serve their needs in the long run.

Our facebook page and online blog page served as the necessary build-up efforts to the launch of portals and have received an encouraging note from the community. Over the last 8 months or so, our facebook posts have had close to 6 lakh views and 10,000 comments (feedback). Our website (including blog) has had over 5,000 unique visits and 23,000 page views.

The traction is encouraging and expected to rise exponentially given our planned aggressive online and offline marketing endeavors for the first financial quarter of 2012.

PI: Future plans?

HS: Our plans include setting up a comprehensive portal which offers maximum depth in after-sales, performance products, accessories, branded merchandise as well as offering services like ticketing (Auto events, F1 etc), auto magazine subscriptions, financing, group buying etc.

On the short term radar, tying up with OEs, Auto Brands, more International moto gear companies is the priority. Constantly improving delivery services, user interface and customer support setup is something we put our heart and money on to.

PI: Any other details/info you would like to add.

HS: As a youth-driven startup, we work hard to create the next-level of engagement with our audience. This is reflected in our endeavors to have activities like online auto quizzes in partnership with top-tier quizzing blog Quizzing.in in Jan 2012 (which got the highest online auto quiz participation of over 1000+), content sourced through budding writers and enthusiasts etc. In fact, just to mention, we intend to take our engagement to another level this year using mega offline events (Pan-India Auto Quiz, Racing competitions, stunt manias and much more).

What do you think? Do we have space for niche companies like Carkhana? Will you buy stuff for your car/bike online or do you prefer the brick and mortar store?