SupportBiz presents an exclusive conversation with Singh about the idea behind Tokree, expansion plans, entrepreneurship and more.
How long has Tokree been in operation?
Tokree opened in Ranthambore in October 2011.
Do you have any other retail outlet other than the one at Ranthambore?
Not yet, but we plan to open one in Jaipur by the winter of 2012.
Do you also sell through a website?
Not yet. We are a very new enterprise, and an online sales portal is in the offing. For now, we post about our products on our Facebook page, and customers write in to us for sales.
What were you doing prior to starting Tokree? What is your background?
I did my schooling from Mayo, Ajmer, and my graduation in fashion from NIFT, Delhi. I have since worked as a freelance stylist. My last job before Tokree was with designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
How did you come up with the idea of starting Tokree?
I had always been toying with the idea of starting something of my own. I love handicrafts, and India is a storehouse of different kinds of crafts. I believe that a lot of people today are looking for more than handicrafts. I thought it would be great to pick up exclusive handicrafts and make them into products that are viable to today’s customer. I travel extensively across India, and manage to pick up interesting antiques and other knick-knacks along the way , which also I retail at Tokree.
What are the major kinds of products that you offer?
Block printed curtains, patchwork quilts, scarves, antique boxes, block-printed products, semi-precious jewellery, jigsaw puzzles with Indian paintings, Shekhawati paintings on trays, antique brass utensils, boxes, beautiful antique brass footscrubbers, glassware, pottery, old keys, and locks which open with 3 keys!
Our foray this year is going to be into Benarasi fabrics.
What are your most popular products?
The scarves, antique boxes, and the block-printed products are most popular.
How did you come up with the unique and lovely name of Tokree?
When I was thinking of starting a venture of my own, I knew I would have a vast array of things on offer, like a basket full of vintage things you chance upon in your grandma’s old store. It would be a mixed bag. A random brainstorming session led me to the name Tokree, and it seemed to fit my store perfectly.
Why did you choose Ranthambore as your base of operations?
I am married into a family of hoteliers, who run heritage hotels in and around Rajasthan. Nahargarh, Ranthambore, is one of our family’s properties, where I chose to start, as it compliments the ethos of what I had in mind for Tokree.
How big is your team, presently?
All the artisans I work with are all on commission basis currently. Apart from that, I only have one permanent employee.
What are your expansion plans in the near future?
I plan to expand to Jaipur this year, and build a website for customers to be in touch with us at all times.
How do you get most of your clients?
Tokree is situated in the most beautiful palace property, Hotel Nahargarh at Ranthambore. Most of our clients are guests visiting the hotel.
Do you advertise?
No, I do not indulge in advertising of any sort. I haven't felt the need to so far.
How do you deal with competition from other similar stores?
My products speak for themselves. Most of Tokree’s products have either been curated by me, or have been designed for me. There aren’t many other stores which stock products similar to those at Tokree, as most of them have been custom-made for the shop or are very rare. Hence, I do not really have to worry about competition at this stage.
What are the major challenges that you face?
Craft in India is a largely disorganized sector. To get artisans to make new products has been my biggest challenge so far. There are too many middlemen between me and the artist, and to get the artist to make samples is quite a mindboggling task.
What have been your proudest moments as an entrepreneur?
I would say the launch of the store was my proudest moment so far. It was quite something to see my dream turning into reality.
What would be your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Be very sure about the look and flavor of your business. Do not stock anything that I you would not use in your own home. Do not keep anything you personally don't like, just to increase my sales. This has worked for me, so far.