Sunil Chawla with the The Ambassador of India, H.E. Mr. Ajai Malhotra and his wife Mrs. Ira Malhotra at VASTU grand opening party
It all started four years ago. Sunil Chawla, an Indian entrepreneur who had a business in Russia in the 1990s, met Elena Starkova when he was holidaying in Goa. Sparks of romance flew in the sea breeze, leading first to marriage and then to the birth of VASTU. Well, VASTU is not the name of their child, but the name of the new Indian shop that has opened in the heart of Moscow and is creating quite a buzz among well-heeled Russians as well as the expat community.
|Elena Starkova, the owner of VASTU|
Be it authentic Indian cashmere, jewellery, cosmetics or home accessories, VASTU has it all. All accessories are designed by Elena Starkova, the store’s owner and inspiration. Though they are traditionally Indian-style, earrings and pendants exude modern-style outlook. And what is more, they are very reasonably priced – earrings can cost you 1,500-2,000 RUB (2,000 – 3,000 INR).
Jewellery is not the only product that bears the owner’s personal touch. “Actually, all members of our team love India and know it very well from the inside,” says Elena Chukardina, manager of VASTU. “Rest assured, you will not find anything we offer in tourist places in India. For example, we are really meticulous when it comes to home accessories”. She says that Elena Starkova goes to Delhi, Kashmir and Rajasthan herself to pick just one single item. The five years she spent in India and her husband’s Sunil Chawla well-established business network helps her to find rare uncommon stuff.
|Sunil Chawla and Elena Starkova|
Whether it’s the high-end fashion accessories they store, or the ambience of the shop, VASTU exudes class, refinement and a rare attention to details. It’s clearly not what an average Indian shop in Moscow has become known for. For a Russian, an Indian shop is Ali Baba trousers, wooden and metal jewellery, aroma sticks and cheap cotton bedspreads, says Elena, the manager of VASTU. We are aiming for a niche in this city, offering a whole range of high-quality Indian goods that satisfy international standards. From cashmere to Indian jewellery and carpets, these products are even better than their European counterparts. Take cashmere, for instance. “What they do is they put a ‘Made in Italy’ tag on Indian cashmere and sell it as Italian at double the price. We sell authentic “Made in India” Indian cashmere and are proud of it,” says Elena. Goods are supplied from big-time manufacturers such as Ezma and also minor companies from all over India.
A few words should be said about VASTU’s signature product, Kama cosmetics. These are premium ayurveda beauty products that are well known in Europe and Asia but not in Russia. One of Kama products was voted Product of the Year at the International Cosmetic Trade Fair in NYC in 2007. And now it’s exclusively represented in Russia. Some of their customers were really happy to discover Kama cosmetics in VASTU store since they had to buy it abroad before, says Elena.
Sunil Chawla with the Ambassador of India, H.E. Mr. Ajai Malhotra and his wife
Mrs. Ira Malhotra at VASTU grand opening party
What kind of clientele VASTU caters to? Our target audience is an upper middle class cosmopolitan person who travels a lot and has been to India, says Elena. Or, they are enamoured of India, its culture and traditions, but have yet to visit this beautiful country that blends tradition and modernity with ease.
“Certain customers tell us things about our goods that we don’t know ourselves, but there are others who just go for the colours and the atmosphere. We view Russia as a very lucrative market because we bring something colorful and bright to this grey everyday life (especially in autumn and winter) and people here will definitely appreciate it,” says a beaming Elena.
So far the business has been good enough. “We are located on Patriarshy Ponds, an exclusive district in the very heart of Moscow. Its residents, both Russian and expat, are our main customers,” she says. “They are usually very surprised with what they see in our store since they cannot associate it with stereotypical Indian goods that you have to throw away after the first laundering. We already have a lot of regular customers.”
Elena Starkova and Elena Chukardina,
manager of VASTU
To attract customers, the VASTU team relies a lot on cost-effective, social media tools. “We are going to promote the store via Internet, presentations, fairs, exhibitions and word of mouth. We had an opening party for friends and in a week we are planning another small party for customers to celebrate the issue of discount cards,” says Elena.
“Word of mouth is very important for us. Many customers bring their friends who then bring their friends etc. You are also welcome to visit our Facebook page.”
Above all, the launch of the store took barely weeks after the business idea was fleshed out shows that if you have a strong will to do something, even the Russian bureaucracy can’t stand in the way. “You wouldn’t believe it, but it took us only a month from the start of negotiations to the actual launch. Bureaucracy is a typical thing for India and Russia,” says Elena.
“For a Russian, doing business with Indians can be harsh sometimes. So we are very lucky to have both Indians and Russians on board. It helps to avoid misunderstanding.”
If business does well, the VASTU team has ambitious future plans. “We may open some new shops in Moscow and other Russian cities. Or we might supply cashmere to Moscow retailers ourselves. The key here is our vast experience and a thorough knowledge of India,” says Elena.
“What we can offer is a wide range of high-end exclusive products on very good terms,” she says confidently.
"Actually, all members of our team love India and know it very well from the inside”
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