Arun Agarwal heads one of America’s biggest home textile companies from his office in the Dallas Design District. As CEO of Nextt, he’s sold bedding products to everyone from Neiman Marcus to Walmart and Bloomingdale’s to Costco. (“Every two seconds, a sheet set by the company is sold,” Nextt says.) His company also manufactures home décor, garments, and textiles for specialty retailers and top brands across the U.S.
But now the Indian-born entrepreneur is coming full circle—with a new tech platform that helps connect artisans and craftspeople in India to specialty stores and designers in the U.S.
The B2B marketplace—Expo Bazaar USA—will launch next month as a joint venture between Nextt and exporter India Exposition Mart Ltd.
“Main Street is the driving part of U.S. business…and they’re looking for the help,” Agarwal, co-founder of Expo Bazaar and CEO of its U.S. subsidiary, told Dallas Innovates. “We thought if we bring this, this is really going to be providing a lifeline to them. We are providing them focus, learning from all the needs they have, and delivering it in this platform.”
Expo Bazaar is ‘India, curated’
Describing it as “India, curated for the world,” Agarwal said the venture has more than 200 people in India and leaders from large U.S. retailers putting together a selection of hundreds of thousands of products—ranging from handicrafts to home décor. Specialty vendors in the U.S. can use the marketplace to find new products to stock their shelves, with Expo Bazaar offering “zip code protection,” ensuring that sellers in the U.S. have goods unique to their area.
“It’s curated by merchants who know the U.S. market. It’s accumulated by designers who have been part of the retail system here,” Agarwal said. “So for the buyer, really half the job is already done. The team is guiding the small manufacturer in terms of the sustainability factor, and our portal is providing support to them.”
Uplifting artisans and small businesses in India
In addition to being a connection tool, Expo Bazaar aims to uplift the Indian artisan and small business community. While offering their wares on the marketplace, Expo Bazaar is helping Indian sellers with things like product photography, marketing copy, and telling the story behind their goods.
From getting the product from India to store shelves in the U.S., Expo Bazaar also acts as a logistics service, helping with things like packaging and inventory management. To help avoid supply chain issues that have plagued other industries throughout the pandemic, Agarwal said Expo will store inventory on the marketplace in the U.S. He added that being an electronic platform allows Expo to switch products off and on quickly, while creating a sense of urgency among U.S. buyers, who he said can use the platform as an extension of their own inventory.
“One thing I’ve learned in business, no matter what product you sell, if you don’t have your supply chain and logistics in place, you will fail,” Agarwal said. “And it’s never been more important than today.”
The pandemic created an opportunity
Agarwal got his start selling goods with Indian block print designs at North Richland Hills Mall in 1998. He switched to selling bedding with a handshake deal with Mumbai-based manufacturing giant Alok Industries, starting as a U.S. marketing subsidiary before separating from the company in 2014 and striking out as Nextt.
He said the idea for Expo Bazaar came about amid the pandemic. After many trade shows were shut down and international travel was restricted, he found that small artisans and manufacturers were unable to find the global reach they had before. At the same time, he saw small businesses and specialty retailers struggling to manage supply chains and compete with larger retailers on price and inventory.
“Both of them have been suffering in terms of finding proper forces to connect with each other,” Agarwal said. “That’s where the idea of Expo Bazaar came about: How do we connect them together, provide that value addition, and really become the driving force for small- to mid-sized businesses?”
Planning to go global
Though Expo Bazaar has yet to fully launch, Agarwal has big plans for the business. It’s something he knows well after growing Nextt into a nearly 100-person company with around $500 million in annual revenue. First, Expo is looking to connect U.S. designers with Indian producers to develop unique, individual collections. From there, the marketplace will look to go global.
“I’m not doing D2C, but I’m helping my B2Bs do D2C,” Agarwal said. “This will be transformative to help small business in both countries by making this connection.”
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