L to R: Sahil Baghla, Founder & CEO and Ayush Varshney, Co-founder & CTO of Bluegape

L to R: Sahil Baghla, Bluegape Co-founder and CEO; Ayush Varshney, Bluegape Co-founder and CTO

Are you a fan of Beatles, Batman or Ferrari? How about the idea of ordering posters, t-shirts, laptop skins and mugs of your favourite character from a recent movie, cartoon, sports or even politics online? The fan merchandising market in India is at a nascent stage but it is growing rapidly due to increased product loyalty and growing awareness of merchandised products. The growth in the children’s TV genre with Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and the Japanese brand Doraemon is playing a huge role in the fan merchandising space along with sports, art and brand licensing.

Founded in 2011 by three undergraduates in the dorm room of premier technology school IIT Kanpur, Bluegape enables brands to launch fan merchandise and helps design, manufacture and distribute the goods.

The dorm room that led to Bluegape
The idea germinated when the founders were searching for posters to decorate their room wall. Unable to find any of their choice and realising the extraordinary demand for them in the college, they decided to manufacture posters and sell them online. The name ‘Bluegape‘ comes from ‘blue’ and ‘gape’, where blue is associated with youth, nature and diversity, and gaping, a verb meaning to stare at some object with amazement.

They soon realised that to build a sustainable business only one product category would not be sufficient and hence started researching the market to find out which products have a major demand and could be manufactured with an efficient supply chain.

Sahil Baghla, Co-founder and CEO, Bluegape said, “The market is largely untapped due to manufacturing, lack of a supply chain and distribution issues. Hence, we thought of becoming an enabler for brands to launch fan merchandise by leveraging the fast growing online e-commerce market to reach out to the target audience. Although, there is a lot be extracted out of this industry, our estimate is that market size crosses more than US$2 billion per year but it is yet to grow to its peak.”

According to Baghla, laptop skins, wall clocks and cushion covers have clocked impressive numbers and in terms of genre, music, movies, sports and TV series are always in huge demand. Special events like poll season generate a lot of revenue for Bluegape. He said that the company has more than 10 graphic designers in-house and has pan India network of more than 100 artists, designers, photographers who submit their work through the platform.

Bluegape.com raised INR 1.5 crore (US$2,54,240) from 12 angel investors through LetsVenture, a startup-focussed fund-raising website, in January. Prior to that, it received INR 10 lakh  (US$16,950) from TLabs 1st Cohort, a mentorship-driven accelerator programme operated by Times Internet.

According to sources, the company is in talks to raise a fresh round of funding from a domestic venture capital and also a Singapore-based one to expand its presence in traditional retail formats.

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What’s the operation model?
Bluegape claims it has an online distribution network of more than 20 major marketplaces in India including Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon and eBay. “We keep on adding more than three marketplaces every month to increase our reach to the consumer,” he stated. The model is quiet similar to Disney in the West. However, in India the only successful model is that of a cartoon character called Chhota Bheem.

It works on a complete ‘No Inventory’ model and claims to sell more than 20,000 products across India. According to Bluegape, it has more than 20,000 designs licensed for commercial use contributed by designers, artists, photographers, major brands etc. It takes these designs and applies them across all product categories and then retails the products across all the marketplaces. It accepts online payment through various payment gateways and also provides cash on delivery option to the customers.

“We are building our platform in such a way that any user, be it a brand or a person, with permission of commercial usage of design can come to our platform, upload the design and can visualise real-time images of all product categories that can be manufactured upon. After the agreement is made, specific fanstore for that particular user will be launched which can be marketed extensively to generate sales,” explained Baghla.

The revenue is generated through margins from all the marketplaces and the website. “Currently Flipkart, Snapdeal, Fabfurnish, Amazon are our major contributors. We are doing more than 800 transactions per day. And are targeting a turnover of about INR 20 crore (approx US$3.38 million) for the current fiscal,” Baghla said.

Bluegape has recently launched a gaming merchandise category in tie-up with Snapdeal. It associated with Aam Aadmi Party and the NaMo Store and launched their official fan merchandise during the poll season. It has licensing agreements with a number of major film studios, such as Warner Bros, Yash Raj Films and producer-director Rakesh Roshan’s Filmkraft.

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Competition in the category
There are several players in this category such as Collectabillia, the celebrity-commerce company that offers opportunities to fans to own products personally autographed by their icons. Playgroundonline also offers t-shirts, accessories and many other products of sport stars online. PosterGully is also an online fan merchandising store that offers a range of products. The various sports leagues also sell fan merchandise either through associations with sports brands or multi-brand retail outlets. However, Bluegape feels that it is yet to see a major competition.

It believes in organic growth and word-of-mouth to create awareness. “Bluegape.com also gets its major consumers through referrals by brands that we tie up with and their fan base. Also, we constantly promote our products through various deals and attractive offers across all marketplaces we are present on. We also promote our products through advertisements with an aim to create awareness about their utility,” he said.

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Expansion plans of the duo
Bluegape is in talks with Dharma Productions to increase its movie merchandise portfolio. It is also going international with the launch of the products range on Amazon, Etsy and eBay in the coming month.

“We associated with Crossword Retail Offline Stores for promotion of our political merchandise during the poll season and experienced great demand. We are planning to expand aggressively into offline space by launching more than 20 franchise retail stores across the country by this year end,” concluded Baghla.