For as long as big U.S. retailers have imported home furnishings from Asia, smaller stores and designers were eager to get in on the action. It hasn’t been easy. National chains have had the buying power, global logistics, and scale to take advantage of these imports in a way independent retailers never could. But now, two new startups are out to change that, making handicrafts and other limited-production home products from India available in smaller quantities and with efficient deliveries that better suit independent shop owners and resellers. They hold the promise of finally allowing specialty operations to compete with chains—at least when it comes to these specialized products.
The two companies have not only similar business models, but also similar names: Bzaar and Expo Bazaar. Both give smaller retailers and designers access to thousands of products from hundreds of artisans, craftspeople and small manufacturers via streamlined online ordering platforms that add a trust factor to the business relationships that might not have been there before. Minimum order sizes are small and deliveries are fast—usually within 10 days—with guarantees on quality and design.
Bzaar came first, launching its B2B platform about a year ago. It now works with more than 120 brands and offers some 40,000 SKUs. The company’s founder and CEO Nishant Verman previously worked at Flipkart, the big Indian direct seller now owned by Walmart; he looked at how Alibaba allowed China to sell into overseas markets and thought there must be a way for India to do the same. While he declined to disclose the company’s revenue, Verman says Bzaar is currently working with about 1,000 registered buyers and has seen 150 percent quarter over quarter growth in gross merchandise value. “We are tracking towards a tenfold increase by the end of 2022,” he says.
Meanwhile, Expo Bazaar officially launches next month with the backing of the India Expo Mart as a wholly owned subsidiary, giving the platform access to a wide swath of Indian resources. It will start off with about 150 vendors and 26,000 SKUs. Its American-facing component is Expo Bazaar USA, a joint venture between IEM and Nextt USA, a Dallas-based home furnishings importer and distributor. Like its competitor, Expo Bazaar answers the need to connect smaller Indian resources with U.S. buyers. “The sellers on Expo Bazaar are supported with buyer-seller databases, marketing guidance, packaging, logistics and other critical processes that create a seamless selling-buying ecosystem,” said Rakesh Kumar, the company’s chairman and co-founder.
The two companies do differ in certain aspects. Expo Bazaar will warehouse products in the U.S., and can aggregate orders from various suppliers into single shipments. Bzaar, meanwhile, ships directly from India, which Verman argues is better for quality control and speed. Bzaar also focuses more on home decor, while Expo Bazaar will have extensive gift offerings.
Both companies expect to have a physical presence at U.S. trade shows and markets, though no plans have been established. They also point to India as an important resource for American buyers. “Larger retailers have had access to a wide selection of products at good prices from around the world, but smaller retailers were always asking what they could do to differentiate their stores,” says Verman. “We felt China was good for larger orders, but there was a need for smaller orders—and that’s good for India.”
In connecting local Indian makers with American buyers, the two companies are likely to have an outsized impact on local communities. “We are dedicated to creating a social, cultural and financial impact on the lives of artisans, small manufacturers and suppliers from India,” said Arun Agarwal, the co-founder of Expo Bazaar and CEO of its U.S. subsidiary. “By building this robust supply chain network, we are empowering independent American retailers to not lose sales due to out-of-stock situations, and buy more frequently with lower risks.”
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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.