When you walk into the Jindal mansion on Peddar Road in Mumbai, it’s an oasis of calm and pristine beauty. Rather like the pieces of art being produced by Forma, a range of steel furniture.
Furniture, as a category, is literally coming out of the woodworks in India. Design and aesthetics, are of increasing value to consumers in India, across categories. Redefining a category is an interesting journey. And, for an industrial steel conglomerate to pursue a consumer business is a different journey altogether.
Bedraj, is nattily dressed and jovial. He’s worked with furniture before, and as he picks up a new steel chair prototype, gliding his hand along the edges and checking the lines, one begins to think of steel furniture differently. It's apparent that they are genuinely obsessed with understanding consumers and their lifestyles, as the entire team engages with consumers on a regular basis. Design is at the heart of everything that they do.
In conversation with him, there is much to be learnt for innovators and market makers, of taking an idea to market and shaping it. Especially, in their segmentation approach.
How was Forma conceived? What was that moment of inspiration?
JSW Group is a $13 bn
conglomerate in the B2B space with interests in steel, energy, infrastructure
and cement. Forma was born out of the group’s plan for diversification, and
vertical integration with the Steel business. This brand is actually the
Ms. Tarini Jindal Handa, the eldest daughter of Mr. Sajjan Jindal.
By Definition – Forma: The act of making, is the act of creating meaning. Our name celebrates the idea of purposeful making—giving form to delightful and meaningful living experiences through furniture and accessories.
Forma inherits the JSW group’s integrity and proven legacy of delivering quality products nationwide, and takes it forward into a new enterprise that seeks to inspire urban living with accessible design, backed by quality manufacturing and delivery.
Moments of inspirations are actually rare. On a serious note, the fact that 70% of the organized market is actually import traded started staring at us for a long time. What this meant was, that there are very few furniture designs that are meant for mid-market India and the users’ way of living. For example, sofas in India have lost their pouch on the side that was meant for newspapers. This actually happened when print consumption in Europe declined. In India, on the contrary, print consumption has increased and we have taken the pouch away. In reality, furniture design in India has been aping the west.
This spelt a need for starting a design driven brand for the Indian audience. Hence, came Forma.
Moving towards steel furniture may appear counter intuitive to many. So, why steel?
Frankly, when you
ask any young (at heart) Indian, about steel furniture, they would all agree,
that, it is strong, long lasting, durable and use many more synonyms. “However,
it is not for our homes.” Now, steel as a material, has not been explored for
applications till date in India. And that’s the reason for this direction. We
are used to seeing age old designs with steel for homes.
Steel furniture (read as design) is cold to the eye, bulky, heavy and unattractive. This is the reason; you will find people having steel wardrobes behind wooden shutters.
Forma’s promise is to make steel contemporary, light to the eye, intelligent and warm for homes to showcase them with pride. This we believe is completely possible. If you get to see any of our products, you will see a stark difference between what we design and what other brands sell in the market.
Forma is new to the industry. It is an uphill challenge for us. We are confident to get tailwinds in this new direction.
What’s the vision with Forma?
Forma’s vision is to make good furniture an integral part of living in India, thus being the fastest success story in India in 5 years. (This success will be driven by effective user listening and designing good products at pocket friendly prices.)
How are consumer’s lifestyles and attitudes changing towards furniture and living spaces?
Consumer (or should I say user?) lifestyles are themselves changing. Their aims, aspirations and dreams are larger than ever before. With increased exposure and abundance of options, they are ready to experiment provided, the experience is good. Same is the case with living spaces and hence, furniture.
Living spaces are ever diminishing in size. A combination of pressure on space and users’ active lifestyles, are driving the industries that are catering to them. Interestingly these active lifestyles are a combination of imbibed modern outlook and the embedded traditional fabric of India. They do want their furniture to look contemporary and accommodate more activities than they do today. Both of these aspects actually drive towards, “positive and delightful living experiences”. This is what we strive do – by design!
How did you go about the design process? Would be great if could share some stories and experiences in the design journey
Design is possibly
the most critical process for Forma as a brand, apart from user experience. We
have drawn up a detailed design philosophy. This gets married to user insights
in all cases to ensure that we can offer delightful user experiences, every
Our design intent is to make the material look light, feel warm and intelligent enough to help users lead their daily lives a little better. These aspects are what you see in each of our products.
Interestingly, when you look at anecdotal stories, most of what comes to my mind are in the research stages. I am sure the readers will also relate to these. As a team, we used to spend time with families from early in the morning to the time they crash for the night. Our objective was only to observe them and not direct them. Firstly, we were not sure if Indian middle class users will allow a team of two to sit in their homes with them doing their own things. We were wrong. If you want to learn, the world is really open. I think as brands we are scared of learning. What came out of the observation studies was actually eye openers. In spite of being in the furniture industry for over 7 years, some of the insights were priceless. (We can discuss the details of the research and its findings at a later point in time.)
Which is your core target audience with Forma?
The market according
to us is divided into three categories: i) Compulsive Customizers (CC), ii)
Need Negotiators (NN), and iii) Social Show-casers (SS). We are focusing on
the NNs and flanking the SSs. Being a mass produced brand, we will not be able
to address CC as a segment. The biggest market anyway is the NN segment. This
is where our focus is. Interestingly, none of these segments are either
restricted to specific demographic profiles as they cut across a larger
population, nor are these limited to specific geographical or cultural
segments. These psychographic profiles are available across the country and in
all walks of life.
Forma as a brand is focusing on a mind-set rather a demographic set of users.
Can you share some things you would have done differently in the journey to launching Forma?
Frankly not much. Of
course, everyone looks for higher resources in a start-up, but in a bootstrap
model, it is not practical to look for additional resources. I think we are
going good. The way we are going, Forma will be able to achieve the target of
being EBITDA positive in our first year into the market.
What trends and innovations inspire you?
When we stick to an industry and expect inspiration to come, that’s what I call copying. However, look at other industries. Furniture is about lifestyles. If we look at brands and products beyond furniture that cater to lifestyles, they seem to render inspirations that regular inward looking does not provide. For me, I look at three things for inspiration, with nature being at the top of the list. I think we have not even experienced nature to the fullest. Forget adapting them to our lives. From brands and products, I prefer watching the automobile industry and the fashion industry.
Tips for innovators who are trying to shape a new market or category?
I am in the process of picking up tips. Not sure if I can give out tips. I strongly believe that we need to look out of our comfort zone. If we keep looking at our industry and believe we are doing better than others, then we are actually looking at climbing up in steps. If we look around and see the value being created by other industries, we will be in a better position to innovate. Secondly, moving away from customers or buyers to ‘users’ and observing how they lead their lives makes things more realistic for the segment you are targeting. Yes, you can’t please all. You can only create, “positive and delightful experiences” for a few. Just staying focused helps.