With movies, TV and cartoon series like Avengers, Iron Man, Superman, Johnny Bravo, Garfield, Spongebob, Simpsons getting popular day by day in India, the characters from the series have managed to create a strong fan following among the Indian consumers. And with fans in picture, it creates an opportunity for merchandisers to leverage from this passion; well, Planet Superheroes, an e-commerce website has been doing that well over the past 3 years. The company was co-founded by Jaineel Aga, Sumit Shah and Karan Rai. They offer a wide range of products for not just comic lovers but for everyone; be it kids or adults. Their products range from T-shirts to caps and even headphones. AnimationXpress.com’s Prerna Kothari got in touch with Jaineel to know more about the store. Excerpts:- What was the thought behind starting Planet Superheroes? Planet Superheroes started in 2013 as India’s answer to the character merchandising business in India. Globally, the licensed character merchandising business is pegged to be approximately US $50 billion and India hardly has a pie of this share in spite of having very favorable demographics and a voracious appetite for entertainment. Indians imported this kind of fan based merchandise from abroad and we thought of solving the supply need gap for this growing demand. To test out this hypothesis, we ran a promotion of ‘Captain America’ T-Shirts which got sold out in 3 days. We then bootstrapped and started running more experiments and curating more and more merchandise to eventually become an identifiable brand in this space. How many people are handling this successful venture? Our core team includes about 20 people and is expanding at a good pace. We have a dedicated team that looks after customer support, warehousing and dispatch, finance and accounting, as well as the design, merchandising and production. In addition, we use a number of analytic tools to streamline our work and be on top of understanding our customer behavior. Where have you acquired the licenses for the various characters that you have in your catalogue? We only sell licensed merchandise; we buy from licensed manufacturers and distribute their products or procure our own licenses and develop the product from scratch. Both models works well with us, it all depends on where we think there is a gap in the supply and where the commercials make sense. Some exciting licenses that we would like to underscore that are expected on shelf soon are Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Lab, Simpsons and Family Guy among popular cartoons. In addition, we are bringing various other unknown brands from America, Europe and Japan to India and talks continue in that direction. Anyone that is in the animation and graphics industry and wants a 360 degree solution to merchandising finds us as natural partners to bring their creativity to real life products. We have almost 10,000+ SKUs (stock keeping units) across 50 categories. While browsing through our website, you will notice that we are the only company that offers such a rich breadth of characters and depth across categories; from T-Shirts to Socks, Pen Drives to Pendants, Key Chains to Mobile Cases, if there is any category out there related to this merchandise (and is officially licensed), we will have it. …And who are your partners? Naturally we have all the biggies like Warner Bros, Cartoon Network, Fox Studios, Disney, Marvel and of course licensing agents. In addition, our distribution partners include everyone from retail outlets to independent distributors. Currently, we have only been selling online but will be aggressively venturing into the offline space via our own omni channel strategy. How do you go about your pricing and have you faced any reluctance by customers? The fact that we have a high 35 per cent repeat rate is a testimony of the value the customers see in our products. Given, these are official products which incur royalties, international level quality checks for colour fastening and shrinkage, we believe our products are very fairly priced for the value offering. There will always be fakes in the market including mom and pop vendors that believe in printing a “logo” without understanding the brand and selling in the grey market but that merchandise hardly lasts for 3 washes and customers realise that only after they have already fallen for the price bait. For example, we can also manufacture a T-Shirt for Rs 70 and sell at Rs 100, but then what happens to quality parameters? We do not want to compete in that space. We want to target the quality conscious customers and will not compromise on our quality standards. After all, we are here to play the long game and create a brand. We do not believe in giving discounts frequently as we believe that if a brand is constantly under “discounts” then either their repeat rates are poor, a function of poor quality or their MRP is so inflated that even deep discounting leaves enough room for them to make money. We will price our products fairly as an industry standard multiplier of our cost and let our brand grow organically. How do you go about the promotional activities for your store? Our social media pages are very active. We have almost 200K fans on Facebook, run several contests on Twitter and are present on Instagram as well. In addition we use Google Adwords and work on our SEO optimisation and email marketing to reach out to more customers. We are also very active at Comic Cons and make sure fans know about us by offering several promotions. We are also featured sponsors of several festivals and events. We choose to spend marketing money very carefully, we would like to grow our business by first principles, where marketing monies need to have tangible ROI. Piracy is a major cause of concern for many merchandisers, how are you dealing with it? Yes piracy is a major issue and requires everyone in the ecosystem to address it. Companies selling unlicensed merchandise must realise that they will not be able to scale with these shortcuts. Neither do organised retailers entertain fakes and recently the big marketplaces have started heavily penalising fake merchandise. The fake merchandise that is sold on the roads for example are surely not a threat to us because that is a completely different price point and there is no overlap of customers. It is the slightly sophisticated sellers who sell fake merchandise on online portals that are somewhat of a threat but are being heavily penalised by the licensors themselves. We got at least 10 companies to stop selling fake merchandise that we hold rights to; the irony is that 1 of them was a venture funded company and was still unabashedly following such practices. Who are your target audience and what new do you have in store for your customers? The best part of our business is that it connects across age groups and geographies. Each age group connects with a different character or graphic. The ability for a merchandiser to understand the buyer persona and create products around it is exactly the kind of expertise that Planet Superheroes brings to the table. Our selection of characters, brand communication strategy and product development all talk one consistent story. For example: Johnny Bravo is a cartoon but would it appeal to a 6 year old? The answer is No! The character is flirtatious, vainglorious and still has a lovable persona that caters to teenagers and young adults who have a nostalgic appeal. Other example is the Simpsons and Family Guy licenses that we have picked up. Both properties are very focused on mature adults that have a western oriented sense of humor that is peppered with sarcasm and satire on current events. We are soon to launch a Planet Superheroes Junior which would be focused on the kid’s category and will have some big announcements too in some time. With international content being at the fore for you, will we get to see Indian content anytime soon? We are equally open to merchandising international as well as Indian comic or graphic characters. In fact we are in touch with several upcoming Indian comics, games and content owners to be their merchandising partners in India. We want to cater not just to kids but also to adults as well. India is blessed with amazing history and we see huge potential both in terms of content and execution to have great characters born out of India.