MicroD’s CEO & President, Manoj Nigam is featured as the cover story in the recent issue of Silicon India Magazine.
Article reprinted from Silicon India Magazine
March 2013 Issue
By Vignesh Anantharaj
Steven Gomez just landed his dream job in a software firm in lower Manhattan. After finding a new apartment, he decides to browse the Ethan Allen online furniture showroom for creative additions to his new home. After customizing everything from the colour and texture of the fabric to the wood finish, Steven places the order and gets a new sofa delivered within the next few days. Steven’s example highlights just how quickly and completely the furniture shopping process has shifted online in recent years.
With a staggering 85 percent of furniture buyers researching online before making a purchasing decision, having a customer friendly and interactive website is essential in gaining a competitive advantage. Home furnishing is now the second largest expenditure after acquiring a home. Generation Y consumers are quickly replacing baby boomers as the major demographic of furniture buyers. With this change, it becomes essential for furniture retailers and manufacturers to have a strong online presence.
Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, MicroD Inc. has been transforming the online presence of leading furnishing companies such as Ethan Allen, Bassett, La-Z-Boy and Drexel clients for 20 years by providing website designs, furniture visualizations and a host of integrated back end processes. In short, these solutions increase sales and provide online visibility for furniture firms and make the online shopping a pleasurable experience for the end customer.
Led by CEO & President, Manoj Nigam, MicroD provides best of breed solutions for website design, web-based sales, marketing and eCommerce. Today, their customer base includes an exhaustive list of over 500 companies spanning retailers, manufacturers and suppliers in the furniture industry in both the U.S. and Europe.
Meeting Customer Needs to Drive Growth
MicroD started operations in 1993 by developing the first computer-based interactive catalogues for the furniture and home furnishings industry. Exim Technologies, a B2B EDI transactions management provider founded by Nigam, started serving the same client base in 1999. MicroD and Exim Technologies partnered for two years before realizing the common synergies and ultimately joining forces in 2003. Together, the companies now provide a strong platform for building unique web solutions coupled with excellent customer service.
Over the past three years, MicroD has steadily achieved a 30 to 40 percent organizational and revenue growth; a significant accomplishment given that customers pay only a monthly subscription fee for website and product catalogue maintenance.
According to a 2012 Furniture Today report, the U.S. home furnishing industry (including accessories such as lighting and rugs) generates revenues of about $120 billion per year. Approximately seven percent of this amount, or $8.4 billion, is spent on advertising with the majority of the budgets invested in television commercials, radio promotions and direct mail ads. By some estimates, as much as 30 percent of the overall advertising budget may be spent for online advertising.
“We see the $2.5 billion online marketing spend in the home furnishings industry as a significant market opportunity for continued growth,” says Nigam. “Ultimately, all the ads have to end up on websites. With the strategic and financial importance of websites today, our products have become more than just a technology.”
Having started operations with four employees and less than 1,000 square feet of office space, MicroD today has nearly 70 employees located in its Charlotte headquarters and Hickory, North Carolina satellite office where it manages customer support, sales, product development and digital catalogues creation services. The company fields a global staff of about 100 with additional offices in India and the Czech Republic. Through its 20 year history, MicroD has maintained its focus exclusively on the home furnishings industry.
Advancing Software to Create Greater Value
With the advent of new technologies in the early 2000s, Nigam noticed a prominent opportunity in the form of Electronic Data Interchange. EDI is the structured transmission of data between organizations by electronic means, which is used to transfer electronic documents or business data from one trading partner to another trading partner without human intervention. Combining EDI and electronic catalogue creation has proven to be a game-changing achievement for MicroD. This business strategy generated many positive responses from MicroD clients. According to Nigam, “Combining best-in-class fabric, texture and product visualizations with the business process management tools has enabled us to significantly increase our value to the industry and our clients.”
The most obvious benefit from the newly incorporated technologies came when MicroD launched its state-of-the-art online showroom solution ePiphany in 2009. “We do not build websites as a web designer would,” explains Nigam. “What we do, is create proactive websites for traffic generation. That’s what brings clients to the store. And since 2009, we have been active in selling and running close to 500 websites and through our EDI services we have been transacting over 100,000 transactions a day. We are in the unique position of having the backbone of EDI, and the front end solutions for the eCommerce to get the job done.”
One of a Kind Product Portfolio
As the internet gained mainstream popularity in the late 90s, MicroD was the first to bring furniture presentation online with its ePreVue solution. In 2000, MicroD again led the way with internet-based visualization or ‘draping’ of upholstery fabrics on standard frames. These breakthroughs have forever changed the visual merchandising and custom product configuration capabilities in the industry.
ePreVue gives consumers the ultimate tool for product browsing and visualization. This consumer-focused search technology allows shoppers to filter by individual product features and personalize their furniture buying experience. The streamlined search and robust product catalogues so effectively engage consumers that they stay on MicroD client sites 2-3 times longer than the industry standard.
ePreVue achieves this deep customer interaction by empowering consumers to create custom furniture combinations, share furniture selections, save to favourites, create a room plan and contact the nearest store for more information. This not only increases customer interest and education, it also helps the retailer book greater custom order business.
The powerful furniture visualization tools found in ePreVue can also be used as an in-store closing tool for sales associates and designers. Sales professionals can help a client visualize fabric on frame, build a room plan to ensure fit, and view other coordinating items the client may also wish to include with their purchase.
Leveraging the company’s deep industry experience and Nigam’s technical expertise, ePiphany extends the online presentation capabilities into a web platform with complete business intelligence. This helps unify retailers, brands, and consumers in a way that has redefined the furniture buying and selling process. It also provides advanced search engine optimization tools that get a store “found” and ranked at top of relevant website searches. The built-in analytics tools provides ePiphany clients with valuable consumer buying and trend information, such as most viewed items, frames, and fabrics on a real-time basis. Powerful room planning, product customization, and merchandising tools also help clients accelerate sales and convert more shoppers to buyers.
These and other important capabilities in ePiphany more fully enable furniture retailers and manufacturers to leverage the increasingly important role of the internet in today’s furniture shopping experience to drive shopper traffic and increase sales.
Walter E. Smithe Transforms Online Presence
The impact of just how dramatically the MicroD solutions can improve an established furniture showroom website can be seen at Walter E. Smithe Furniture Company, a family owned furniture manufacturing business started in 1945. Today, owners Walter E. Smithe III, Mark Smithe, and Tim Smithe continue a successful tradition with industry leading product advancements that have allowed them to open 11 store locations and launch a new, cutting-edge website at www.smithe.com.
To stand out in a competitive furniture market, Smithe engaged MicroD in 2012 to create a sophisticated, well-designed and consumer-oriented online presentation that more effectively showcases their products and services and inspires consumer confidence to purchase from the site.
The new site displays over 80 manufacturer catalogues; many with capabilities to configure frame and fabric combinations for custom furniture designs. The website now contains over 46,000 pages indexed by the major search engines and boasts of an average of nearly 75,000 unique monthly visits from consumers and an additional 20,000 visits from mobile devices. Prior to partnering with MicroD, the Walter E. Smithe website had less than 3,000 indexed pages and averaged only 20,000 total monthly visits.
Other notable features on the custom website include an online Designer Chat, allowing customers to interact in real-time with a professional designer; and a Designer Matchmaker tool, which asks customers a variety of style questions and desired project scope in order to select the best professional designer for their service needs.
To maximize consumer accessibility, the entire website has been optimized for a variety of smart phones and tablet devices. Walter E. Smithe III comments, “We are proud of the new website and feel that the modern, cutting-edge aesthetic, strong functionality, and user-friendly interface that the MicroD team has created, accurately represents the Walter E. Smithe brand. Additionally, seeing the drastic increase in monthly web traffic and page indexes is astonishing. This online growth has positively translated into an increase of in-store traffic and sales.”
The Walter E. Smithe Company is just one of many organizations who have realized the value of ePiphany’s online photorealistic visualizations and a robust backend process as a tool to increase sales. With eCommerce spending expected to hit $327 billion by the end of 2016, it is apparent that the clear road ahead for furniture retail and manufacturing is online. MicroD is clearly paving the way for the eCommerce revolution in this industry.
The Man Behind MicroD
The growth of MicroD as a provider of comprehensive, integrated online solutions to over 500 websites and clients can be attributed to Manoj Nigam. An entrepreneur at heart, in his initial days he was involved in cars and robotics. Nigam holds a BS degree in engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, a Master of Science Degree in Automation and Robotics and an MBA from Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina (USA). During his Master’s degree work, his team built a biped robot which could serve in hazardous situations. Eventually his passion for robotics, technology, and the desire to simplify complex problems led him to develop the electronic data interchange platform of Exim Technologies.
Nigam is a technology expert with over 20 years of management experience. He has held many senior level positions including CIO, Vice President, and co-owner at Advanced Automation Inc, a 250 employee custom industrial automation products company in Greenville, SC. A man of exceptional product management skills, he was also instrumental in helping Home Point, a “dot-com” company that received $72 million in funding for designing a blueprint for B2B commerce in the furniture industry.
Today Nigam is the CEO and President of MicroD Inc. The company adds value to the home furnishings industry by providing its clients with a single-source solution for a variety of online and in-store technology solutions.
According to Nigam, the core values of customer satisfaction, talented employees, hard work and innovation are responsible for the growth and continued success of the company.