Lightin’ Up products commonly include hand-painted recycled bottles, upcycled cookie jars, candle holders, souvenir shot glasses, and lanterns.
SupportBiz had an exclusive conversation with Smita Ramani, the founder of Lightin’ Up. Edited excerpts from the interview:
What is your background?
I am basically a Bachelor in Psychology. As a professional, I have dabbled in a variety of fields, starting from media to my current day job as a product manager at a telecom company.
How did you come up with the idea of starting Lightin' Up?
The idea of Lightin’ Up started as a hobby. I always liked personalizing gifts for my friends and family, because a personalized gift is unforgettable and no store-bought gift can compete with it. Also, I always had an affinity towards hand-made décor for my house. The passion and creativity that goes into making a hand-made product adds a touch of humanity to our surroundings.
That is how the philosophy of Lightin’Up came into being, and through word-of-mouth and social media, I slowly I started receiving custom orders and requests for my designs.
How do you balance your day job and Lightin' Up? Please elaborate.
Balancing two jobs at a time is definitely not easy, but as I have just started, it was a necessity. I wanted to take some time to understand the response to my creations before I decide to solely focus on Lightin’ Up.
Luckily for me, my day job timings are more or less fixed. So, during the day, I am a manager at a firm, and when I come back home, I dedicate my time to Lightin’ Up. Also, since it is something I truly enjoy, even though a time crunch is always there, my passion pushes me over all these hurdles.
How did you arrange for the initial investment needed to start Lightin' Up?
As I started my business out of my home and used recycled material, the initial investment was manageable. The only considerable costs I incurred initially were for art and material supplies. I had some savings from my day job, which I used to start Lightin’ Up.
What are the major drivers of growth for you?
So far, Lightin’ Up is a small business, and I approach it with the intention of reaching out to one customer at a time. A lot of thought has gone into how to position Lightin’ Up products, right from marketing to pricing.
Social media, on-ground events, media exposure and word-of-mouth has really helped build awareness towards the Lightin’ Up brand.
How do you market your business? How do you get most of your customers?
I regularly receive orders through my Facebook page and on-ground flea markets. Social media has increased the visibility of brands largely. At flea markets, too, you come in direct contact with your target customers, as these are people who are interested in unique creations.
What are the major challenges that you face? How do you overcome them?
Managing my time between two jobs is a challenge that I have to cope with on a daily basis. That said, it helps to have a plan in place. A work tracker for both my jobs helps me divide my work. Multi-tasking is a skill which is critical for me.
As I am currently just a one-member team, initially, I had to put in a lot of time and effort in research, right from what paints to use to the best way to light up to marketing. I had to learn a lot of different aspects at one time. Luckily, my family and friends have played a very important role in helping me perfect this process.
The biggest challenge, but also the most enjoyable one, is the process of deciding unique designs. Also, in case of customization, it is quite challenging to create designs that reflect the personality of the customer. However, at the end of it all, a happy customer is all the motivation you need to overcome these challenges.
Tell us about the competition in your field. What sets you apart?
One great thing about being in the creative field is that no two artists can be the same, hence we each enjoy our own space. I bring my own personal vision and sensibility to my designs. So far, I have not come across any artist who does the same work as I do.
Each creation of Lightin’ Up is hand-made with a lot of care and passion. Each design is created with a thirst to be unique and personalized. I use eco-friendly options such as recycled bottles, LED lighting, and upcycled bottle lids to make lamps. I also ensure that a Lightin’ Up customer is involved at every stage of the creation, right from the conceptualization to the delivery. So, in the end, the customer gets exactly what he/she wants.
Lightin' Up produces products that are highly personalised and need individual attention. How do you propose to deal with this when you scale up and have to indulge in large-scale production?
Adding a few members to my team, as we expand, will help meet the increase in demand. For really large bulk orders, I am also looking at digitizing my designs.
What are your thoughts about the concept of personalised and upcycled products and gifts in India? What are the major trends you are noticing currently?
With every city in India developing at break-neck speed, with malls at every corner and everything being mass-produced, finding a truly unique product is a rarity. Hence, the need for more personal products is also increasing. Customers are going out of the way to find these little gems they can add to their space, which will reflect their personality. Small artists like me are noticing more interest developing for our products, and it is a wonderful time to be in this space.
When it comes to upcycling , we as a nation are growing more environmentally aware. People are slowly moving towards eco-friendly options in all aspects. Hence, upcycled products are also invoking a lot of interest.
What do you think is the scope of acceptance of such products in the next couple of years?
I think the reach of and interest in hand-made and unique creations will only continue to grow. With the social media boom and the increasing number of flea markets in every big city, artists will get more opportunities to showcase their work.
What are your expansion plans?
• Reaching out to a wider customer base by showcasing at different events around the city
• Retailing at some kitsch stores, soon.
• Venturing into custom designs for establishments like restaurants, salons, small enterprises, corporate gifts, etc.
• Expanding our product line.
What have been your major learnings from business?
- A satisfied customer is the best form of publicity. Many of my orders are repeat customers or from word-of-month publicity. So, the quality of my product /service is the most critical for business.
- Time is the most important factor in a small business such as mine. If I am able to manage my time effectively, it, in turn, has a cascading effort on effort, cost and, eventually, sales.
- Social media is a boon. I was not an avid social media user before, but once I set up Lightin’ Up , the kind of exposure and reach I could give to my brand just through social media is phenomenal. Most importantly, all this exposure is free. It is a wonderful tool, which, if used well, can work wonders for your business.
- Lastly, in starting any business, the first step is the hardest - “the idea”. It helps to realize that if you have an idea or a skill you believe in, there will always be someone who is interested in utilizing that.