Surya president Satya Tiwari, whose father Surya Tiwari founded the company in northern India in 1976, began with a limited inventory and a limited staff. Under his leadership, the now-multinational brand has expanded with showrooms in locations as diverse as Atlanta, Dallas, High Point, Mexico City, New Delhi, and Toronto and some 60,000 products in categories including rugs, pillows, wall decor, bedding, accent furniture and lighting. It's part of a a calculated—and impressive—plan of expansion.
Named winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award, for the Southeast region in the family business category, earlier this year, the president, who took on the role in 2006, was selected by a panel of judges for his particular brand of "ingenuity, spirit of innovation and discipline." Today Tiwari discusses with EAL his strategies, Surya's growth, and what this latest honor means to him, both personally and professionally.
Tell us about your earlier days at Surya. How has the company grown and change under your leadership?
One of the first things that comes to mind is how limited our resources were at that time. We had a much smaller team, which allowed us to have greater agility, but limited execution. With only six people in the front office, I had to lead multiple facets of the company from sales to marketing to product development to operations. The team has grown tremendously since that time but some of the key traits that led to our success in the early days, such as our ability to think big and move fast, continue to be engrained in our core values.
When I joined Surya, we offered a very limited selection of 150 rugs. I remember driving the company van across the country trying to sell our rugs to furniture stores. Since 2010, we have incrementally added one or two new product categories each year, branching from rugs to pillows, throws, wall decor, lighting, accent furniture, decorative accents and bedding. Today, we carry 60,000-plus SKUs and ship to more than 20,000 US zip codes and 50 countries.
What have been some of the major hurdles within the company, and within the decor industry at large, since 2006, when you became president of Surya?
The home accessories market is a relatively small segment of the home furnishings industry. Rugs only represent one to two percent of the market, so we have continuously added adjacent categories to capture a larger share of the market and to stay more relevant to our customers as a one-stop shop for accessories. When a project is meeting budget constraints, the typical mindset is to cut out accessories. We want to shift the paradigm by offering a wide selection of products that accommodates every style, budget and timeline.
What’s more, we have simplified the accessories buying process by making it easy for designers to find exactly what their clients need through our catalog, app and website. Internally, we have been looking for ways to grow, efficiently, and sustain that growth. This led to our investment in hiring the right team members, embracing the latest technology, building new infrastructure, and revamping our business model.
We switched from having independent sales reps all over the country to primarily in-house reps and the benefits have been exponential. We are able to unite around our “customer-centric” culture and maintain an enthusiasm around our business through ongoing training and inter-departmental initiatives, all from the comfort of our new one-million-square-foot headquarters and distribution center. This ensures that our sales team is on the same page at all times and allows us to provide the same consistent excellent service to every customer.
We do not want to get lackadaisical about anything. If a business practice becomes harder to execute, but is right for our customer, then we will fight for it. We aspire for continued growth and innovation without losing the essence of what got us started. The reason we are here is our customers and we will continue to push the envelope to exceed their expectations.
What are some of the forthcoming changes at the company?
We are constantly looking for ways to grow closer to our customers and align with their needs. To further this effort, we are looking into opening a west coast distribution center to expedite shipping and delivery on that side of the country. We are also looking to hire a vice president of sales and vice president of merchandising to lead our teams with targeted strategies to best serve our customers across all channels.
Ultimately, we want to be considered a valued partner in our customer’s business’s success, not only because we supply them with the right mix of products, but also because we provide training, tools and services that will help set them apart from their competition.
What does the EY honor mean to you personally? What does it say about Surya as a brand?
Surya has received many awards over the last 12 years, but this is one of the most recognizable for people who may be unfamiliar with the home accessories industry, so it means a lot to be acknowledged on such a large scale and to bring attention to our industry. The award may have my name on it, but I owe our success to the hard-working and dedicated Surya team, as well as our loyal customers who enable us to continue doing what we love to do most.