Shreyas Kulkarni

“A lot of people don’t understand (that) interiors can be done by e-commerce or branded players like us”: HomeLane’s Rajeev GN

We spoke to HomeLane's VP, marketing about advertising on OTTs, market building, and the TG.

“November, December, January is the peak season for us…,” says Rajeev G N, VP, marketing, HomeLane, a tech-based home interior service.

The latest stint, as VP, marketing (from February 2020), is Rajeev’s second with HomeLane. He was earlier its AVP, marketing. In a career spanning slightly over a decade, he’s worked with the likes of The Times of India, Stayzilla, Treebo Hotels, among others.

Founded in 2014 by Srikanth Iyer, Vivek Parasuram and Rama Harinath, Bengaluru-based HomeLane offers a host of interior design solutions. These include modular kitchens, study units, wardrobes, home office and space-saving furniture, through “technological interventions, tech-empowered expert designers and project managers…”

All you have to do is simply log onto the platform (website), decide on the model you want, engage with the designers to customise your needs, and then see it delivered to your doorstep within 45 days.

“A lot of people don’t understand (that) interiors can be done by e-commerce or branded players like us”: HomeLane’s Rajeev GN

In September 2020, HomeLane unveiled a new brand identity “aimed at creating greater reliability with its home-buying customers.” It uses the gem-shaped mnemonic as a metaphor for a consumer’s home interiors journey and its myriad phases.

The industry (home interiors and renovation), as per Mordor Intelligence, a consulting major, is estimated to be (worth) between $20 billion and $30 billion. And, a good percentage of it falls in the unorganised segment.

The interior services segment is ruled by (local) unorganised players such as the carpenters. So much so that many people don’t even know about the existence of (modern) online interior services brands.

Think about it. How many times have you seen or heard a family member or friend call a local carpenter to figure out a wall unit or kitchen shelf, instead of contacting a brand, especially an online one?

Rajeev reiterated this during our chat, “… a lot of people don’t understand (that) interiors can be done online by e-commerce or branded players like us.”

HomeLane has released three ads created by Cinimage Studios. Each one is aimed at a key issue or annoyance that stands out when you call someone in the unorganised market.

It joins the list of brands such as a Livspace, ACE Interior Solutions and Pepperfry, who use technology to deliver a superior experience to their customers.

HomeLane's entire campaign is built to bring in some part of the unorganised segment to the branded segment, says Rajeev. He remarked that 'timeline' is a major focus, as the unorganised sector doesn’t deliver. “It’s a clear USP for us, across unorganised and organised players.”

HomeLane has made a promise of a strict 45-day delivery of all customer projects. In case of any delays, it promises to pay its customers rent for each day of the delay till the handover. In addition, there is safety, quality and best price promises.

A niche audience?

A press note caught our eye recently. “According to the company’s research, consumer preferences have evolved following the increasing influence of international video content and wider access to information through the Internet and frequent travelling.”

Rajeev’s response, "Our communication target audience (TG) is somebody who’s between 35 and 40 years of age… in their mid-career stage, like a senior manager or an EVP...”

He went on to describe the TG: those who’ve got their work sorted, don’t have time for operational work (delegate a lot) and can mostly be found in Bengaluru’s IT sector, Mumbai’s FMCG majors or Fortune 500 companies. “Metros are our main focus,” remarked Rajeev.

For him and HomeLane, the people (couple) who make up their TG have both the partners working. They have a child and (they) want that whole design experience to come through because they are used to it.

What we found interesting was the targeting route HomeLane has opted for. For starters, it won’t advertise on television because, as Rajeev says, “We are still a niche category so it doesn’t make sense.” Also, it has chosen to advertise solely on SonyLIV, an OTT major.

Explained Rajeev, “SonyLIV was a media bet for cricket for us. Australia versus India series is the last cricket series to happen in 2020. That was the bigger sell because we wanted to kick it off with cricket, get our learnings, and scale it up across platforms…”

He added that it (HomeLane) had seen the kind of content put on the platform (SonyLIV). They’d seen “numbers and the audience grow on this platform in particular. We wanted to bank on that growth before it goes to the next level. We wanted to go with something that’s scaling up, than something like Hotstar and IPL, which is completely set.”

But, this isn’t it. As per Rajeev, HomeLane’s brand was built on YouTube. He told us that the platform has an always-on digital video approach and focus a lot of their marketing on YouTube. “Even through the COVID pandemic post-July… YouTube has given us a good ROI.”

Building the market

HomeLane isn’t just competing with the unorganised market. It also competes with the likes of Livspace, Pepperfry and Acme, and even a newcomer like Asian Paints’ Beautiful Homes (an interior design service which was launched in September 2020).

Talking about the competition, Rajeev says, “Having more players builds the market for you. But, market building exercise is expensive… at the end of the day, the best product, the best price, and the best quality will win.”

We wondered if people will invest in home interiors, considering that the tax season is here and also the weak economic atmosphere. “When it comes to January and February, everybody is planning their taxes, but home buying or servicing is planned way before. You’ve already invested Rs 60 lakh to Rs 70 lakh, another Rs 6 lakh to Rs 7 lakh won’t be a problem… The more you delay, the more you will lose…,” says Rajeev.

We spoke to Lloyd Mathias, a business strategist and former marketing head of PepsiCo, Motorola and HP India, on how the segment which, for the longest time, was dominated by unorganised players (carpenters), is coming into its own with online brands like HomeLane.

Mathias’ view

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

I think HomeLane is a great proposition targeting young households, who want custom-made furniture with proper guarantees. It fulfils a real need between those who either rent furniture or prefer to buy furniture off the shelf and those who depend on carpenters to make furniture for them.

The proposition is solid and relatable. Each of the three ads in the series addresses a specific issue that homeowners face: hidden costs and escalations; unreliability and poor finish of local carpenters; and (the bother of) making furniture at home. Also, the overall concern about delayed timelines.

The promise of paying the customer a day's rent for every delayed day helps sharpen the proposition of 'no delays'. It is like what Domino’s Pizza did when it offered its customers a free pizza if there was a delay beyond 30 minutes to lock in its on-time delivery promise.

I think these ads will prompt customers to rethink their current furniture sourcing and seriously consider switching to online home interior service providers (like HomeLane).