If there is one thing that has stayed with the 44-year-old Sonali Maniar through her six-year-long career and travels across three countries, it's her love for design, particularly in paper. So, when she got bitten by the entrepreneur bug in 2006, she decided to open a one-stop shop for customised paper products. Today, her venture, Templetree, is delighting scores of customers in Mumbai and Bangalore, while posting a revenue of nearly Rs 15 lakh.
A start-up was not a part of her agenda to begin with. After graduating from Sophia College, Mumbai, in 1990, Maniar moved to the US for a masters degree in graphic design. When the course ended in 1993, she took up work as a designer with Fossil Watches in Dallas, Texas. Her job involved designing company brochures and pamphlets. Two years later, she decided to move to freelance projects for the likes of JC Penny, which allowed her to complete a teaching course at the University of North Texas, her alma mater. This continued till 1999, when she had to move to Hong Kong with her husband and six-month-old son.
For the next six years, she did not work. "While I did nothing at the professional level, I was involved with designing, making cards and other products as a hobby. It kept the designer in me alive," says Maniar. It also helped her fix her future course of action, which was to start her own venture. So when she returned to India (Bangalore) in June 2006, she wasted no time in starting work on Templetree. The idea was to open a store stocking various products designed by Maniar, but the focus was on customised cards. She opened her first outlet in Mumbai since it offered a better client base and because the garage in her in-laws' house in south Mumbai easily doubled as a shop. Despite this jumpstart, she had to bootstrap Rs 5 lakh as seed capital, which went into buying inventory and doing up the garage interiors.
The following months were stressful as it involved frequent travel to Mumbai despite having a salesperson. The effort paid off, with good sales helping Templetree break even within a year of launch. In fact, the turnover was Rs 7-8 lakh. Still, it was not smooth sailing all the way. Due to her absence from the store, she was missingout on bulk orders like customised wedding cards. Adding to her woes, two successive monsoons damaged her store considerably.
So, in March 2011, she decided to shut shop and take up a new route: exhibitions. The logic was simple. Not only were the operational costs lower—renting space for an exhibition is cheaper than running a store—but Maniar could tap a larger client base for bulk orders.
Then, in April 2012, she teamed up with Rachana Palamreddy, with the latter focusing on marketing and leaving her free to focus on design. The duo pumped in Rs 5 lakh and rented a place at Whitefield, Bangalore, in October last year.
The area, with affluent Indians and expats, has had the order books overflowing. While the duo is focusing on the store for now, the long-term plans include launching an online store. Currently, interested customers from other cities have to get in touch with the team on e-mail. Maniar expects her venture to grow at 20% annually and is expecting a turnover of Rs 20-22 lakh by 2014.