Who: Room 2046
Where: Toronto, Canada
Room 2046’s Kumala Nio is one of the lucky ones. She’s managed to take her passion, and translate it into her daily life. Located on Yonge Street in Toronto, Room is the perfect blend of retail haven, café and functional studio space. Along with their beautifully designed items (ranging from apparel to home wares), Room also creates their own short films. Completely in awe of Kumala and all her interdisciplinary successes, we decided to pick her brain about a few things that’d help other retailers to win also…
How did Room 2046 get started and where did you find your inspiration?
Room 2046, at its earliest stage, was conceived during my travels not long after I had quit my job working for the government, where I underwent a kind of existential crisis. Despite the relative stability and great salary, at that point, I felt that my career had steered toward a path that wasn’t remotely interesting to me. I had worked at other jobs in various capacities previously, but I always knew that I would do my own thing eventually, figuring that you spend most of the day working, so why not do something that truly engages you?
I recalled the shops and establishments that I visited in different cities, and the most memorable were the ones where you could hang out and have real conversations with the staff or owners about great products and just about anything really. With the lack of boutique lifestyle concept shops in Toronto, I wanted to bring a neighbourhood-cafe sensibility into a retail environment that places emphasis on design and quality craftsmanship. Having worked in retail during school, sales and marketing upon graduation, then onto events and graphic design, I felt that I could utilize the acquired skills and experience with my eclectic interests to build a multi-disciplinary brand and space that inspire and foster creativity.
You have an incredibly unique body of short films on your website. Is this a marketing strategy, or more a secret passion that you can’t live without?
A bit of both, actually. Creating and collaborating are certainly ingrained in the Room 2046 ethos. What better way to channel those two activities through the one passion and source of inspiration that is film? Whether in the short narrative form or the 6-second Vine video format, film is our visual tool to reveal the design, features or functionality of the different products that we offer in a more dynamic and interesting manner. From the branding and marketing standpoints, the medium allows us to convey the kind of fun, creative, and whimsical elements that shape Room 2046.
I notice you direct and edit (amongst other things) all your videos, how do you combine your love of film with business?
Yes, I aspire to be the James Franco of retail… I suppose that my passion goes beyond appreciating films, to the extent that I actually enjoy making them as well. I find that the skill-set required to producing one (our low-budget version rather than Hollywood’s) from conception to completion is interchangeable to starting and operating a business. There’s a DIY approach to our projects, so we would make do with the available resources and be vigilant with spending on other necessities, allowing more room for creativity.
Just like in business, with every challenge, there will always be more than one solution, and ultimately you only have your wits and whatever is accessible to you. Directing requires a vision and the ability to communicate it clearly to the cast and crew, which is no different than managing staff effectively. There’s also so much detail involved in directing a film and running a store. In a way, the process of editing is similar to marketing and branding a business. There are endless ways to cut different footage and arrange the scenes together, just as there are various approaches to sell and communicate the value of the products and services to your customers.
Our customers generally have enjoyed our videos and they often refer back to them. We’re glad that they’ve managed to resonate and entertain, which is more than what we could hoped for.
What was the inspiration behind the Bollywood Ballet video?
There was a point when this vintage psychedelic Bollywood record was on repeat all the time that we were able to sing along in Hindi without actually knowing what we were saying. Meanwhile, I had been brewing an idea of filming a ballerina while she performed a solo in the shop to capture the essence of the space, since I felt that photography didn’t do the interiors any justice. Amalgamating the two ideas happened organically I suppose, because while deciding on the right tune to go with the ballet, the catchy intro to the track kept coming back after having listened to it so many times.
The project didn’t come to fruition until several months later, however. One day, I discovered that a customer was enrolled in a dance program at a local uni, so I asked him if he knew a ballerina, and it just happened that he knew a few who would be interested in the piece. I figured that the more dancers involved the better. After all, it would be a Bollywood performance.
Do you have any words of wisdom for new retailers struggling to get noticed?
Room 2046 will hit its 2-year mark this coming May and we are still working hard to do the same, although we’re fortunate enough to have received some press coverage from both print and online media. The coverage had been a combined result of word-of-mouth, our own PR initiatives, and luck. Our advice to others would be to differentiate yourself, keep trying, and be persistent.
And lastly, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to find out the hard way?
In the beginning, I underestimated the extent of mental strength, physical endurance, and patience business ownership demands. Gradually, I learned (and am still discovering) that despite all the stress & pressure, highs & lows, successes & failures that you inevitably encounter in entrepreneurship, it really is what you make out of the whole experience at the end of the day.
– Kumala Nio, Founder, Room 2046
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About Grace O'Hara
Grace is a Marketing Assistant at Vend and helps make cool things happen behind the scenes. She enjoys talking to incredible Vend retailers from around the world and making the world a better place with her side projects. You can get in touch with Grace by email or connect with her on Google+.