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Swapna Wagh of Desi Toys is reviving childhood memories, combining them with Indian arts and mythology, which makes every Indian parent feel nostalgic!
Of late, I really find it difficult to find a right gift for any kids’ birthdays. The reason being that toys shops look so monotonous with similar toys everywhere, and loaded with plastic and only plastic! It is especially tiring looking at those polished Barbie dolls at exorbitant prices, which I feel serve hardly any purpose. Well I have almost come to a conclusion that kids do not need toys if these are going to be the options!
On the other hand, when I found out about Desi Toys, it felt like a breath of fresh air to me. Swapna Wagh, an inspiring woman entrepreneur is the founder of Desi Toys. She says, “I started Desi Toys in October 2012. We are a specialty retailer offering traditional Indian toys and games, all made in India under one roof.” Now that sounds like a simple description, but she did have nothing short of a roller coaster ride in setting up the same.
Here is an insight into her interesting journey.
Swapna worked in corporate retail space for 8 long years before she started her own venture.
She recalls, “I always wanted to do something on my own rather than working for someone else. I realized that work was getting too monotonous and less exciting. Fortunately, during this period, I was exploring the possibilities of starting something with toys as this product line excited me a lot, and I was passionate about playing with toys and games since childhood.”
It is a reality that every other kid is glued to tablets, phones, TV or some form of screen space, and play is slowly losing importance and so are the pleasures of childhood days!
Swapna adds, “While I was still thinking about venturing into educational toys or toy libraries, a casual talk with my husband lead us to the idea of Desi Toys. We were discussing how difficult it is today to get a good engaging toy for kids which will make them happy. This discussion took us to our childhood days when we played Lagori, Lattu, Gulel, Gili Danda, Sagar Gote, Hopscotch and some really awesome board games like Pachisi, Phuli Gola,etc. The toys and games used to be either self-made with simple chalk or stones and of very inferior quality but it hardly mattered to us during those days.”
That was the moment she took the leap for Desi Toys and from then on, there was no turning back!
With a post graduate MBA degree and a good experience in Organised Retail, she decided to become an entrepreneur, making space for childhood toys in a digital world. For which, she did research for almost 2 years getting together her team of artisans.
Though the idea of Desi Toys sounded wonderful, setting it up was not a straight forward thing for Swapna. She spent almost 3 long years looking out for a team of artisans based in some interior parts of villages where communicating with them was also a challenge.
She adds, “The toy industry is majorly an unorganized industry with lot of skilled but uneducated people working with age old methods of making toys and games. Venturing out alone for this kind of talent hunt in unconventional places is oh-not-so-woman friendly. So thanks to my husband who always accompanied me to such places.”
Their USP? Stories + ancient tradition + top quality material.
Swapna takes pride in high quality of toys that they offer. She says, “So what makes ‘Desi Toys’ special? These Toys have stood the test of time making them so popular even today. Traditional toys and games were not just games but they were designed in such a way that one could develop skills like logical thinking, strategy, concentration, mathematics, develop sensory skills and lot more. These games acted as great learning aids. Hence the need for ‘Desi Toys’ which are also ageless toys as they are not just meant for children but also for parents and grand parents who would want to relive their childhood days playing these awesome toys and games.”
She has revived not just the olden days toys but also board games are made using Indian arts like Warli, Madhubani, Patchitra, Kutch embroidery, Kalmakari, etc., making them truly authentic Indian, unique and trendy.
Talking about uniqueness, she adds, “If one is not into a ‘me-too’ product like ours, then the offering has to have some special features which no single player is currently offering to be ahead of competition. Like in our case it is the Indian-ness which makes our offering very unique. For example, we have a simple Snakes and Ladders game on cloth with a Dashavatar theme which talks about all the 10 Avatars of Vishnu. So our game has an instant connect with stories of Indian mythology which makes it unique. So find a way which makes your offering unique.”
So what does being trendy with old tradition mean anyway? Swapna says, “We really don’t have to follow the latest trends in market as far as traditional Indian toys are concerned. But we do give them a trendy touch when it comes to their quality. We have spent a great deal of time and resources ensuring they are not just fun toys but also durable, safe & skill enhancing.
For example there was a craze for Beyblade which is a plastic spinning top, here we highlighted our very Indian make wooden spinning top which is even better because of its beautiful lacquer colours. Also we ensure we use all contemporary safety measures like use of organic colours, safe corners, non skid bottoms etc in which we follow the latest trends.” Tradition with trend is a fantastic combo, isn’t it?
Talking about competition, Swapna says, “We are glad our products are not ‘me-too’ ones, hence we stand out immediately. We also realized that parents wanted their children to play with these kind of toys but didn’t know where to buy it from or were skeptical about the quality as they were mostly available in remote villages. So if we continue to stick to our core theme and offering without compromising on quality, we are not just head on with our competition but can go slightly ahead of them.”
Swapna reveals, “We faced a very challenging price sensitive Indian toy market. So right from revising the pricing strategy with revised cost working to working on professional packaging, we have learnt it the hard way. Our customer understanding only got better with time which resulted in servicing them better, resulting in higher sales. We learnt that we need to stick to our core concept of traditional toys which was our USP.”
She finds excitement in doing everything, including the nitty-gritties! She adds, “Every single bit is exciting, right from getting the product theme idea, to getting it designed by designers, to finding vendors/artisans to do it to getting stickers and labels done to displaying and selling it on all platforms and finally to hear a ‘wow’ from customers. It is a roller coaster ride but who doesn’t enjoy being in one?”
Swapna’s team tries to get in at least one new product every 2 months. She explains, “Because of our core theme of having traditional Indian game with Indian art/mythology, designing a new game on these lines becomes easy. With some more inputs from our designers and artisans, we make an awesome new Desi toy!”
Although it has been more than 3 years that Desi Toys started being functional, they were bootstrapped until recently. Swapna adds, “My savings from 8 years of service solved the initial funding problem but did face a need for more funds in the last 6 months, when I decided to look out for external funds. I was not ready to dilute any equity to any investor yet I was confident about my venture. So I was only left with the option of getting funded from banks. I had to submit a presentation about my company giving details of financials and future projections and I managed to get 5 lakhs loan under the Mudra Yojana. I was the first to get Rs 5 lakh loan from that centre who had provided only Rs 1 lakh loan to people till date.”
Swapna says that entering e-commerce was one of the timely decision that boosted the company’s sales. She adds, “Almost 2 years back, we realized e-commerce was making waves and one needs to be a part of it to reap benefits and grow. When our customers moved online, we also made ourselves available on all popular online marketplaces like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm, amazon, ebay, Firstcry,etc. We have our own e-store at www.desitoys.in.”
Swapna feels that she owes her success to every single person out there who have been a part of Desi Toys. Be it her employees, vendors, artisans, etc because she believes that every single contribution has lead them to the path of success. She also adds, “My husband needs a special mention as he has stood by me throughout my journey so far, being my inspiration, motivation and support. My family also has hugely encouraged me to take this leap.”
She also motivates artisans to deliver high quality toys. Every Desi Toys product is a mixture of inputs from Swapna, designers and artisans. She adds, “So the moment we involve them in the product making process, they feel important. Rest as long as we are giving them more business, they are happy. Continuous quality checks at every step ensures they adhere to all the guidelines set.”
A routine day at work in her own words – “My day at work starts at 9am everyday except Sunday. I plan my day in advance to ensure I don’t miss out on anything important. One would see me working on my office table till noon post which I am usually in the store/market to either attend customers, train staff or get new products developed and get new business in the market.”
Swapna takes a weekly off on Sunday to be with her family and gives time especially to her 4 year old daughter. When asked about her schedule, she says, “I follow fixed timings for work as much as possible as this way I get to balance both. I leave for work at 9am and I am back by 7pm. As much as one would want to completely detach from work while at home, being an entrepreneur doesn’t let you do that as business is always on mind. We dine out, go out for movies, play areas or simply play or read out stories at home.”
Swapan says, “Except for the speed, I don’t think I regret for any of the decisions made for Desi Toys. My initial approach towards Desi toys was cautious and less risky which was also to some extent wise during those initial days.” Few things could always be done better, but as they say, all is well that ends well!
Swapna shares, “My independent way of working, thinking and getting things done. Seeing my hardwork being appreciated by my customers gives me the greatest joy. How many times do we enter a shop and ask who owns this wonderful company? I have seen many customers asking this when they enter my store and buy Desi Toys. This give me a big high!”
She makes it a point to interact and attend customers every week in the store. That is when she gets a feeling that she doesn’t sell toys to them but revive their childhood memories, emotions and simple pleasures of playing with toys.
Sharing one of the memorable moments, she adds, “I remember this family of 4 who visited my store recently and I attended them. They just casually walked into the store wondering what kind of products I sell as the window display looked very appealing to them. Looking at the toys they went crazy, they started talking about their childhood days playing with these awesome toys. They spent at least 30 minutes in my 300 sq ft store. Every toy they remembered playing, we had them and they just bought them without even a second thought. I thanked them after a huge bill but they insisted that I should not thank them instead they thanked me for a beautiful evening bringing back some awesome childhood memories. Where does one get to experience this? It feels awesome!”
Desi Toys was featured in CNBC Awaaz Entrepreneur in the very first year. Swapna says that this definitely gave her a boost to work harder and better.
Swapna adds, “Hereon we plan to enter global markets by making ourselves available at global marketplaces. We also plan to have more tie ups with schools/playschools/fun centres and in shops which will increase our brand presence.”
A time out for Swapna is as simple as enjoying a comedy movie or having a cup of coffee with her most favourite company – her husband.
Swapna concludes, “Don’t try to be a super women – being the best at work and at home playing different roles of wife, mom, daughter and daughter in law. Just set your priorities right and be the best in whatever you are really passionate.”
Here is the link to their website – Desi Toys
Desi Toys’ writings – blog
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Image source: Swapna Wagh.