Not ready was the finding in 2002. Raring to go is the forecast in 2005. A combination of factors ranging from real-estate boom to a spurt in the number of double-income families and a sea change in mindset to skyrocketing disposable income has set the branded furniture and home d'cor market in the city abustle.
Leading furniture brand Furniturewalla shelved its Calcutta plans after conducting a survey in 2002. Things changed enough in less than two years for the 'first furniture brand of the country' to lay store by 6, Hungerford Street in September 2004.
According to Farhan Furniturewalla, who commissioned the survey to check wallet power and preference for trendy lifestyle furniture among Calcuttans, spending prowess was very much there in 2002, but the house-proud threshold was low ' few were willing to spend a packet on doing up their places.
Cut to 2005. 'The taste of the consumers in Calcutta has transformed from common to classy. It seems that people have woken up to the fact that comfortable beds and swanky kitchen accessories are now available in their city as well,' observes Farhan.
Most major players in the furniture, home d'cor and accessories markets have got wind of the cabinet reshuffle ' the Calcuttans' new-found fondness for filling home space with things classy and costly.
The furniture facts and figures speak for themselves, with 15 premium stores and a host of accessories and home d'cor stops springing up in the past 12 to 18 months.
The flagship store of the Attitude chain, owned by Universal Specialities Ltd, opened its doors at 7/1A, Loudon Street on Friday. The Attitude basket comprises latest international trends and designs in home improvement products from Tvilum-Scanbirk A/S of Denmark, the 'world's largest manufacturer of domestic furniture', which supplies to big global brands like IKEA, Home Depot and B&Q.
From bedroom sets and wardrobes to kitchen solutions and accessories, the Attitude outlet imports all products from Tvilum-Scanbirk's five fully automated furniture factories in Denmark in knockdown, ready-to-assemble condition. A design centre-cum-room planner is also housed in the store to provide critical inputs to the customer.
'I personally believe that Calcutta has huge spending potential, but it lacked options in lifestyle furniture. You need to give them the right product at the right price,' says Gaurav Goenka, CEO & customer companion, Universal Specialities Ltd, owners of the Attitude brand.
This bullish statement reflects the mood in the branded lifestyle furniture segment in the city, which has seen entry of new brands like Furniturewalla, Espania, Style Spa and Cocoon in the past one-and-a-half years. A measure of success: Style Spa's Camac Street store is the highest-grossing single outlet in the country.
Demand drivers have contributed greatly to the growth of this segment. From the buyers' point of view, the bigger brand names attract attention and inspire trust. 'These days, people are far more well travelled, aware and house proud. They know of the brands that are trustworthy,' says Vikram Arora of Espania, explaining the trigger behind the sudden spurt in demand for branded furniture.
From designer beds to dining tables, Calcuttans are buying branded items priced anywhere between Rs 25,000 and Rs 1,50,000.
Though no one is ready to hazard a guess about the volume of the market, industry insiders say the market is growing fast and there is little to suggest that the growth run will slow down.
The maturity of the customers is reflected in the buying patterns, with planned purchase ruling over impulse buys. If how to buy involves deliberation and careful decision-making, what to buy is dictated by worldview. 'The purchases here are in sync with global trends as the contemporary range is doing very well. People are going in for lighter and sleeker varieties rather than the heavier pieces,' adds Farhan.
Ajay Rawla of Cocoon, on Theatre Road, explains the marketing strategy that has helped the sprawling, premium, cool and branded lifestyle zones elbow out the dingy, sawdust-infested and dirt-cheap shops on BB Ganguly Street.
'The ambience in a lifestyle furniture store makes people aspire for the same comfort level and d'cor in their houses,' feels Rawla, adding that clever positioning has helped reduce the industry's dependence on the marriage season for sales.
Though the marketplace has grown suddenly, there is space for more. 'The rise in competition will create awareness and deepen the market,' feels Farhan.
Flipping for fine furniture is just half the story, as the city learns to deck up with a host of home d'cor items. From spending the extra thousands to getting fresh flower arrangements to buying the latest crystal collection from Swarovski is the name of the good life game ' all to make it a dream house.
The annual growth rate in the d'cor market has been more than 25 per cent in the past two years and industry insiders expect it to soon cross the 30-35 per cent mark.
A case in point is the performance of Swarovski. The two-year-old outlet in Forum is now the highest selling Swarovski outlet in India. 'Earlier, only people from the business class were buying such high-end home d'cor items, but now the client base has broadened,' says Shree Ballabh Daga, franchisee owner of the Forum outlet.
Tani Lall of Avishkar, the popular point on Park Street, gives credit to the young Calcuttan, who doesn't mind 'spending a few thousands extra' on home 'beautility'.
For Krishna Belani, owner of Mahal lamp store, the emergence of 'double-income professionals' as home-builders has been the most significant development in this segment.
As the expenditure graph soars, basic buying for the home is travelling along exclusive lines. Drapes, for example, sell swift at Rs 1,500 a metre.
From furniture to flowers, doing up homes is the way to live. When Ferns and Petals, a national flower boutique chain, set up store in Calcutta last December ' after opening at least 30 other shops across the country ' the reason for reluctance was apparent.
'Initially, the company didn't think Calcutta had the right market,' says Indira Agarwal, franchisee of Ferns and Petals in Calcutta.
But in the past six months, the average bill on flowers and accessories from regular customers has been vaulting Rs 500 per week.
'We charge anything between Rs 800 and Rs 1,000 per arrangement of artificial flowers and there are people here who have 15 of these in their homes,' reveals Indira.
Today, a bed of roses is what the Calcuttan wants to go back home to.
Himika Chaudhuri and Zeeshan Jawed
Picture by Pabitra Das