Vijayalakshmi Swaminathan shares her journey of how she developed the brand Woodpecker Furniture

Notwithstanding the pressure of a male-dominated industry, Vijayalakshmi Swaminathan wrote her success story with Woodpecker Furniture

author_img Sahana Iyer Published :  18th May 2022 12:04 AM   |   Published :   |  18th May 2022 12:04 AM
Woodpecker Furniture

Woodpecker Furniture

In the year 2000, having just returned from eight years of residence in Indonesia, Vijayalakshmi Swaminathan began a small business in the garage of her home in Besant Nagar. She got the idea when her purchase of an expensive PC table was delivered with a few scratches. She realised there was a gap in the furniture market that could be fulfilled.

Twenty-two years later, her brand Woodpecker Furniture has upscaled from humble origins to three large showrooms in Besant Nagar, ECR and most recently, Nelson Manickam road. “We were the ones to introduce knock-down furniture — that you assemble in the house — in the city.

Acceptance was tough because many locals then found it difficult to accept furniture made with engineered wood. It took me and my husband 10 years to drill in the fact that as long as it is made and used properly, one can use engineered wood,” she shares. And while, over the years, she has taken a bit of a backseat (leaving her husband with the steering wheel), her journey of developing a brand is one that does not go unnoticed.

Excerpts follow:

With a business and two children at home, what was it like juggling between home and work life?

One major aspect was that we had to attend to the needs of our school-going children. The other was that we are a traditional Brahmin family for whom lunchtime is very important. Food has to be cooked and served hot immediately. So, it was a little difficult since I was taking care of my children’s education, taking them to the beach, playtime, and dance classes. But since Woodpecker was very small initially, I would only open the store when the customers came.

Do you find many female entrepreneurs in this line of business? What was it like navigating business in that regard?

There are not many women in the furniture business. I did find some trouble along the way; some people were bothered by the concept of a woman handling a business. For instance, when I once visited a vendor — to whom I would supply furniture then — for payment, I was abused. “Pomble thaane business panra” was the attitude with which he was treating me. But it was good to face that challenge. This was in 2001, but now, there are a lot of female entrepreneurs.

After a long day, how do you like to unwind? What are your hobbies?

I have many! I am a Bharatanatyam dancer. Since returning from Indonesia, I have done a few performances with my daughters and contributed the revenue to paediatric cancer research at the Cancer Institute. I am also a marathon runner. I have a running group with 30 people; anyone who likes to run can join. It’s called UNIS (Unleash Your Inner Strength). Any money we make here goes towards operations for children with cerebral palsy. I also love photography, gardening, and cooking.

I see that work-life balance is important to you…

Very much so. If, as a mom, I had not given my kids time back when I was working, today I would be cribbing about it. When my husband was ill, I took out time. When my mom needed me, I was there. When my father-in-law broke his hip, I worked from home for two years. I think you need to prioritise, so that when a person needs you, you’re there 
for them.

What life lessons would you say running Woodpecker has taught you?

Once, a customer wearing simple cotton clothes, veshti, and bathroom chappals visited the store and the staff was not sure if he would buy anything. But he ordered a huge amount. So, you should never judge a person by their appearance. I also always tell my staff that a customer only walks in for the first time once. If you are unable to serve them properly, you have lost a customer for life. And every person in the team plays an important role. If a salesperson is the face of Woodpecker while selling, the person delivering is the face at that time. These are the life lessons I have learned. I shared my life experiences in a documentary called ‘Limitless’.

What was that experience like for you?

The filmmaker had sent word asking for women runners to write their stories. After much resistance, I sent mine when others persuaded me. I got selected and we spent two days shooting. It feels good. I didn’t know it would be such a big hit until it was picked up by Netflix. I get at least a couple of messages per month from people telling me that I have inspired them.

If you were not running Woodpecker, what would you be doing?

When I was at my mother’s house, I wanted to be a housewife and have children and lots of grandchildren. Woodpecker came up and I am enjoying this journey but back then, I had no idea how to start a business. So, if I weren’t an entrepreneur, I’d be a housewife because I love maintaining my home.