While we’ve created an industry revolving around Instagram and the many things you can do and make with the innovative app, it’s only just seeing this sort of obsessing adoption globally. Other “legacy” photo-sharing apps like Facebook and Picasa are still the go-to choices – but a young digital PR professional-turned-entrepreneur is taking a risk and bringing a Western-proven Instagram-based service to his home country of India.
The Smile Store founder and CEO, Vipul Arora, named his company after recognizing the value and excitement in printed photos – something this digitally connected society has taken for granted to the point of extinction. Why the name? “Everytime you open an envelope, I guarantee a smile. That’s what I want.”
Though Instagram doesn’t have nearly the pull that Facebook does, the 22-year-old entrepreneur is taking a leap of faith. “Instagram will take off,” Arora says confidently.
Since Arora is getting his company off the ground, it’s important to note that he doesn’t actually print sheets of Instagram photos himself. For the time being, he’s employed the help of a third-party printing company that has experience with printing images on greeting cards, stickers, posters, photo albums, coasters, and even something he calls a memory box – ribbon included. So while the printing itself isn’t actually up to him, he’s overlooking the process, including guaranteeing the quality and packaging.
But he’s constantly looking forward. It’s safe to say that he’s already looking to add more ways to print your favorite Instagram photos – in fact up next on the agenda are iPhone cases. More importantly he says he’s shoring up cash to purchase his own printing machine.
Since launching just fourth months ago, orders have started filing in and picking up for the one-man operation. The Smile Store, while very much like the many stateside services we’re so familiar with, adds a more intimate, personal, and rather unique element to printing your Instagrams – it’s like taking your next-gen made photos to a retro printer; a mix of the old and the new. Arora’s modus operandi is the special personal touch to the products that he adds to what he’s having printed for his customers. So what The Smile Store is actually selling isn’t just the photos, he explains. It’s also about the experience.
For better or worse, The Smile Store websites doesn’t even take online orders, like the e-commerce obsessed among us are so used to. And in a tech-centric world, it’s a peculiar – perhaps foolish – strategy. But when questioned about this, Arora is adamant about relying on orders exclusively through phone calls or email. Yes, his method is old-fashioned, which admittedly might be an issue should he need to scale up, but that’s because the store’s website isn’t a sales destination – it’s purely a showcase, according to the founder.
“Thank you for sharing your memories with us, and we loved printing them for you.”
But how is this enough? Arora explains. People in India aren’t all credit card-toting Internet users. In fact many transactions in India are conducted offline he explains, meaning that he’s sending out a courier with the product, and conducting cash-only transactions – a practice that is quite similar in China as well.
It’s an interesting payment-and-delivery method, especially considering the digital roots of the product – but it’s yet another way to infuse a little old-school interaction with all the newness of the Instagram industry.
This also means Arora has an upper hand should anyone try to compete. He’s retaining loyal customers, who know that they’re dealing directly with a human being, and it gives them an opportunity to submit special requests, which Arora sees to completion. Try doing that with an automatic, fill-in-the-blank request form on other sites. Good luck …
The Smile Store has actually made a name for itself when it comes to personalized, special orders – many customers want to include handwritten notes and custom packaging. Another popular request is next-day shipping (all shipping, in fact, is free).
The shop’s customers often get creative. One asked for Polariod-style Instagram photos with handwritten notes etched into the white space – a sort of meta, hilarious commentary on the fact that Instagram has eclipsed the Polaroid as its digital descendant.
Perhaps the most unique service The Smile Store offers is to manually “Instagram” (yes, that’s Instagram used as a verb) photos that weren’t originally taken with the app. Free of charge, the shop will run any photo’s through an Instagram filter to give it the desired look before printing and packaging. Sure, the concept of essentially paying someone to use an app for you seems a little unnecessary, but the app doesn’t quite have the mainstream popularity it does here yet, and Arora doesn’t mind doing it for his clients.
With more orders coming in and just four months into the company, customers “love” Arora’s full service. If you take a look at The Smile Store’s Facebook page, the complements apparently revolve not only on the prints themselves, but also the entire presentation.
Arora recently was able to make The Smile Store his full time job, and wants to grow the company – especially consider that in the country, he has no competitors yet. Since the printing is done by a third-party printing company at the moment, he’s looking to take on an in-house printing machine and shopping around for potential investors.
But the market control, free shipping, customization, special orders – these aren’t what Arora is most proud of his business for. What he prides The Smile Store on is that regardless of the order, he takes great care in the quality of the printed photos, (his background as a photography translates to a personal investment in aesthetics), and all of the packaging is handmade. In a country a bit slow on the Instagram uptake though increasingly digitally inclined, The Smile Store is combining the growing interest in this new technology with a craftsman-like care for presentation.
Really, the final touch Arora puts on each order says it all: Everything comes with a note that says: “Thank you for sharing your memories with us, and we loved printing them for you.”