Amid a growing culture of internet-based start-ups, signs of women competing with their male counterparts are emerging. Home and Office interior Decoration (HOiD) – a female-run online portal – has had a commendable start and looks to benefit fully from Pakistan’s digital economy as it picks up.
The Karachi-based online furniture store grossed over Rs6 million in revenues in its first year and managed 500 orders across the country, according to CEO Faeza Amin.
Eighteen months into the business, the start-up is receiving orders from various cities in Pakistan including Tando Adam, Larkana, Lahore, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Though Karachi remains its largest market, a bulk of HOiD’s orders come from Lahore and Islamabad. What is even more interesting is that the business is serving people from Sialkot and Gujranwala – cities well known for their own furniture markets.
“If you visit these furniture markets, you will find the same old designs,” the 27-year-old entrepreneur told The Express Tribune in a recent interview. “I think people want new designs at reasonable prices. This is where we come in.”
Citing what they believe are high prices, some of their visitors said HOiD caters to a high-end market but Amin thinks otherwise.
“The furniture people buy from conventional markets is more expensive, while we provide better quality one with less hassle in ordering and delivering processes,” she said. “Most of the shops do not offer after-sale services if their items have any faults, but we even offer replacements.”
An alumna of Iqra University, Amin is satisfied with HOiD’s initial progress. “The response has exceeded my expectations so far,” she said. “The rate of customers coming back for more products is increasing.”
According to the CEO, almost half her customers return for a second purchase; one customer even purchased seven items worth Rs60,000. “The results are good considering I only use Facebook as a marketing tool,” she added.
Despite the good start, Amin is currently not thinking about profits but is reinvesting in her business. “I am more concerned about building my brand and expanding the size of the online furniture market.”
A roller-coaster ride
Amin endured a few bumps along the way. As opposed to many tech-based start-ups, the furniture business is a bit more challenging. She operates HOiD from a small office she shares with Dealtoday.pk – an online portal that sells daily deals in food, apparel, home and sports accessories etc. – and operates a factory in Qayumabad, which she visits twice a day.
“One has to pick up the phone even after work hours to address customer complaints,” said Amin. “Delivering furniture is also a major challenge in the business.”
The CEO added that they have recently contracted with a new logistics company as their former partner would frequently damage furniture during shipment.
Another major challenge, according to Amin, is the lack of trust shown by customers while shopping online — which is already a huge challenge faced by the e-commerce market. “We need advance payments to deliver furniture, but people don’t want to pay without receiving their order,” she said.
Lower broadband penetration rate is also a challenge, she added. “People don’t buy furniture every day. If the number of internet users grows, our outreach will also flourish.”
Despite all the challenges, Amin strongly believes that women have a role to play in the country’s economic growth.
THE WRITER IS A STAFF CORRESPONDENT.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2014.