The economic reforms of 1991 opened the Indian economy to the global business for the first time. The year was also tumultuous as it saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that caused great economic stress to the Russian business ecosystem.
Around the same time, in 1993, Hardesh Chawla was in Russia running a financial services business in Moscow. As the economic unrest grew due to the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, people started selling their assets in Russia. Hardesh saw that some real estate structures, though in dilapidated conditions, were being sold for lesser price. He started buying those buildings and renting them out.
Hardesh’s wife Monica Chawla had a bent towards interior design and would add her inputs before renting out the house. When they started receiving positive feedback from their tenants about the design, they decided to translate this into a business opportunity.
Hardesh and Monica started Essentia Environments, a luxury interior design firm, in the year 1999. The company is an end-to-end solutions provider for building luxury properties offering services such as architecture, interior designing, manufacturing furniture, setting up the decor, etc. The husband-wife duo returned to India in 2003 and set up their office in Gurugram.
The company claims to have completed over 1000 projects in India, Russia, and the UAE in the past two decades, and counts DLF, Dasnac, Magnum, Porsche, and others as its clients. The company is looking to cross a turnover of Rs 100 crore this year.
Hardesh says there was no tipping point in their journey. One thing kept leading to another and before they knew, the design firm was ready. He says that his wife’s strength was in design whereas he found his strength in identifying the business opportunity and then capitalising on it.
As the years before founding the company were so turbulent in Russia, everything became easier for them to handle after returning to India.
“Nothing surprises us anymore,” he says.
Talking about the difference between the Russian and the Indian business ecosystem, Hardesh points that India has evolved enormously over the years and the ease of doing business is greater. “Russia, unfortunately, hasn’t seen that kind of evolution,” he adds.
Additionally, a survey done by PwC Russia revealed that more than 50 percent of Russia’s corporate community believes that doing business in the country is more complicated today than it was during the 1990s.
When it comes to designing houses, the Essentia team does a thorough research, taking inputs from all family members. When they have everyone’s expectations, choices, and tastes in place, the team starts working together to create designs, architecture, fabrics, and furniture.
A lot of items like precious stones, leather, and some fabrics are imported, but the furniture is manufactured in India in their Manesar unit. The company also creates picture quality 3D renders before the actual work starts so that any discrepancy in the design can be addressed beforehand. The company employs over 300 people at present.
Essentia Environments is also making use of technology, but it doesn’t position itself as a design tech company. At present it is competing with design tech companies like Design Cafe and Livspace.
“The DNA is design and technology is used according to customer demand.” For instance, smart homes have become quite a phenomenon these days. Weather proof houses, retro fittings, smart lighting, and much more has become a part of residential properties.
But within this, there are individual choices with respect to how much automation the clients want. Hardesh explains that millennials prefer higher levels of automation in their homes whereas the older lot is not very comfortable.
Essentia Environments takes different time periods to complete different projects. The time period ranges from 75 days to 18 months based on the type of the project.
Hardesh also says that being a luxury brand, most of their clients are extremely busy individuals who have large businesses and other commitments. Such people look for convenience the most. To make everything streamlined and easier for clients, Essentia has taken certain steps.
First, it has a dedicated team for each division like project management and architecture, among others. And second, having their own manufacturing unit has given them a larger amount of flexibility to play with ideas.
The business is looking for a larger manufacturing unit where “everything can come under one roof.”
The coronavirus pandemic brought the entire world to a standstill. Hardesh says that while most businesses saw this situation as a “crisis that needed to be dealt with”, Essentia Environments saw it as an opportunity.
“We knew that demand would be low, so instead of focusing on the demand side, we focussed
on the supply side,” he says, adding, “We increased our product offering.” The company diversified into wardrobes, outdoor furniture, internals doors, and panelling in the last few months.
The company also finished a project of designing and furnishing 175 homes for real estate giant Elan Group and claims to have grown 30 percent over the last few months. The challenge now is to keep this growth consistent and ensure that revenues continue to grow. Another challenge is to complete the projects on time despite the disruption on the supply side.
In the coming times, Essentia Environments plans to expand its geographies in the form of standalone stores across 20 main cities in India. These stores will offer furniture designed and made by the company.
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