Website – Living Stone Stays
Founder – Chirag Bansal
This story will take you to the beautiful mountains of Himachal Pradesh and enjoy an experiential stay. This is the story of Living Stone Stays found by an MBA graduate from NMIMS, Mumbai. Living Stone Stays has been lately managing 25 properties ranging from Tree-Hoses, Farmhouses, Villas and many other unique stays.
Living Stone Stays provides experience-oriented stay to travellers to unwind and rewind at virgin and tranquil locations. The startup has an experienced team to understand travellers’ concerns and work accordingly to enhance their stays.
People travel to beautiful places to experience adventure, give their eyes a beautiful serene, take a break for the normal life and even to spend time with their loved ones. People travel to disconnect themselves from their everyday mundane lives and invest some of their earnings in taking such breaks. Most importantly, each and every one of us wants to make this break look perfect. The Living Stone Stays team understands these concerns and work perfectly to match customer expectations. The venture particularly aims at giving experiences to people that they want to take back after their holidays.
Lately, Living Stone Stays realised the reforms taking place in the agriculture sector. They realised the importance of the creation of One Nation and One Agriculture Market. And contributing to the same, they entered the agriculture supply-chain directly connecting and empowering farmers. They have partnered with people dealing in properties who are actually apple farmers too. Therefore, they managed to get direct access to fresh apples organically grown in Himachal. And they help in the direct supply of apples to the customers. This involves everything right from grading, sorting to packaging apples and supplying the best to the people. In order to standardize its sourcing process, Living Stone Stays has utilized AI and machine learning technology and entered the market!
Why deal in one business when you have the opportunity for more. And what more can be better if you can actually help the society with good work and help them with healthy apples!
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business?
Chirag – Being in the hospitality industry, our business got a severe hit from this pandemic. After march we have seen a minimal business activity happening.
Strategies and measures you have taken to tide over this crisis?
Chirag – We have tried to keep each team member’s motivation high and have ensured that none feels that their future is uncertain with the company. We hold regular team calls to brainstorm new ideas and strategies.
Being a startup we have an advantage of being agile. We are adapting to current market trends and are working on diversifying our business to newer segments. We have introspected over our internal resources and capabilities and have brainstormed over how we can utilize those to the maximum to create a fresh business case for ourselves.
Ground view of tailwinds favoring the travel industry? Demand trends?
Chirag – There are many interesting trends emerging in travel industry. People are finding no-reason to put-up in the big cities as they are able to manage everything related to work and their children education online. Therefore, inquiries for our experiential stays for longer period has increased.
In the long run, we expect international travel for leisure would remain limited, which will give a push in the domestic travel and this domestic demand would push the need for new and unexplored tourist destinations. We see this as a strong upside to our business as one of our core offering is unexplored and off-beat destinations.
Any pivots or new product offerings you have undertaken to adapt to the new normal and/or seize potential opportunities?
Chirag – We have a strong presence of our experiential stays, about 20, in Himachal Pradesh and this gives us a strong network of apple farmers as many of our property partners are apple farmers too. Having direct access to the source coupled with government’s recent reforms in agriculture sector by creation of One Nation One Agriculture Market, is what motivated us to move into Fruit & Vegetable (F&V) segment. Another motivational factor of entering this segment is the amount of inefficiency which exists in the current supply-chain.
We will source the apple from our trusted partner-base of apple farmers/property partners and will facilitate the grading and packaging as per the buyer’s requirement at the farm-gate level. These packed units will be shipped to the buyers direct-from-the-farm. We will use technology to digitise the quality at the sourcing level, which will help us align the packed quality with buyer’s requirement.
The above supply-chain channel gives us several advantages as compared to the conventional trade channel-
- Number of middle-men are bypassed as we are supplying directly from the farm-gate level to the near-end of the value chain. In conventional trade channel, farmer sells his produce in the local mandi, from where it is transported to the bigger mandi like Chandigarh or Delhi, and then further it is transported to the rest of the India. Due to a very big supply-chain lot of inefficiencies are present in the trade channel in terms of wastage and cost
- By shortening the supply chain we are solving one of the major problem of the apple farmers which is timely payments. In majority of the cases apple farmers either not get paid timely or do not get their payments at-all
- We are able to give a reliable and quality-assured supply to our buyers. Conventionally, majority of the fruits is packed by the farmer, therefore no trader or supplier is able to assure the quality. As we are facilitating the grading and packing we are able to match up with the buyer’s standards of quality
- Fruit which will reach to the end-consumer would be more fresh, as lot of time and handling will be saved
Outlook for funding in the space in H2 and in the long term?
Chirag – This segment of fruit &vegetable is a cash-intensive business. As we need to make instant payments to the growers and it will take time to transport the produce to the buyer, we have to pump in our money to facilitate the trade. We are looking forward to bridge this funding gap through debt funding from a bank under Credit Guarantee Fund Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) scheme of the government. CGTMSE CEO Mr. Venu Rao is showing a great support and helping us to facilitate this loan.
Chirag – We will start with the apples and plan is to expand to other fruits like pears, cherries, dry-fruits and vegetables like cauliflower, tomatoes, etc, which are grown in Himachal Pradesh.
Once some activity starts in tourism sector, we will bundle fruit-picking experience with our experiential stays. Apple-picking experience is highly popular in developed countries like USA and Europe but has a little-awareness in India. We will offer a complete farm-stay package to our customers with a stay in a wooden-chalet in apple farm and apple-picking as an leisure activity.
Learning’s during this time?
Chirag – Biggest business learning of this time is that its utmost important to keep the business agile and diversified.
Customers and competition?
Chirag – Our customers in F&V segment are wholesale value buyers, which are both in B2B and B2C segment.
Competition: There are a few big companies like Adani Fresh, which is the largest organized supplier of Himachal apples; but we are not a direct competitor to them as our apple supplying periods are different. We are aggregating and supplying apple during the harvesting season and they are not supplying during that season, but rest of the year.