Tucked away in a lane adjacent to 12th Main, Indiranagar, just opposite the oft-frequented Humming Tree, an arch of artsy sticks in myriad forms and shapes welcomes visitors into its inspired fold.
Bheem Styx, owned by Bheemaiah, is a world unto itself.
As a concept, it has taken residence in a small outlet, reminiscent of a workshop overlooked by the maddening scramble for space and deafening din of vehicles. The vibrant designs, wide palette of colours, and earthy aroma of the wood inspire a charming tale of what transpired when a journalism graduate took to collecting wild twigs, branches, and sticks and decided to breathe life into them.
“I was organizing stand-up comedy at the end of 2011. It was going on fine but suddenly one day, I got bored with that. I realized every artist was performing the same content and hence there was not much demand. I took a break from all of that (work) and traveled back to Coorg. There, in my hometown, somebody gave me a rattan vine stick”, says Bheem reminiscing the days when it all began.
While most people do not think twice before throwing away the ostensibly insignificant piece of wood, Bheem decided not to follow suit. “When it came to sticks, there were very few things in mind like only the old and the injured used them. I saw the natural branches and thought something could be done out of them,” says Bheem, holding one of his latest creations in one hand while pointing at the wide assortment of sticks around us.
Think of wood, and vast expanse of green stretches of river bed embedded with pieces of wood instantly come to mind. The spectacular sight can evoke awe and appreciation but to imagine that it could spawn a profession, as resourceful and as satisfying as this, is quite surprising.
“I just started picking up stuff (wood), started scavenging from plantations, landslides etc. I usually go out in summers looking for sticks because that is the right time. Then I start grating and cleaning them and give them around three to 18 months to dry, to see how the wood reacts,” he says.
” One of my friends took me to a flea market and that was when I realized that there was a market for sticks. So, I bought the paints and gave the sticks to a friend of mine who is an artist. I met him ten days later and was surprised at the way the sticks had turned out,” says a beaming Bheem.
He adds: “I started carving on the sticks to give them a little bit of shape while keeping their natural beauty intact. But it is important to remember that nature makes each piece one of its kind.”
These woods, Bheem uses for his artwork, come from as far as you can imagine. “Jungle hardwood is the best. Most of them you get from the rainforest in and around the Western Ghats– that is the right place for the right kind of wood,” says Bheem pointing at a stack of wood lying inside the workshop.
It is safe to say that trees are universally appreciated but this has not prevented the epidemic of deforestation. At a time when more people are becoming environmentally conscious, is he finding enough buyers who are wood-struck by his product?
“I have made a category of my prospective customers– the old, the injured, trekkers, social-walkers, walkathon participants, and collectors. Any person at one or the other time, for some reason, needs to hold a stick. Currently, there is a social walker walking around the Ganges with my stick in hand,” says Bheem.
According to him “collecting sticks is a sweaty, dirty job. Sometimes you get bitten by insects, leeches, and you hardly come back without a scratch or rash.”
He is helped by an expanding friends circle. “We pick sticks and keep them for seasoning. Once dried, they are cleaned and sandpapered. We tie the edge of the stick so that it doesn’t crack. Then for the painting, we have various numbers of artists doing the work. Some are students, entrepreneurs or just art enthusiasts. There are people who work either part-time or full-time.”
Although his produce is for a niche audience at the moment, Bheem intends to expand his customer base very soon. “The sticks can be used for morning walks, for protection, home décor, gardens, hangers etc. With such a wide gamut of options, I am planning to target small cities with a franchisee kind of model,” he says.
The word ‘brand’ is ingrained in the business lexicon. And since it can do much more than just selling a product, it is important to have a sound brand strategy in place.
Bheem concurs: “I had something in mind. I was using junk to create products. It was a necessity, and it is not like nobody used it. Maybe men and women, 50 and above, are bored of using the same, old cane. Keeping all that in mind, I came out with sticks and each stick has a story of its own– creating a story and telling it to people worked wonders because it was a fairly new concept in the market,” he signs off.
The group of sticks are priced anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 12,000, with customized ones selling for not less than Rs 6,000. The premium price-band may have emerged as a sweet-spot for the manufacturer but there are customers who take a jibe at him– “Paise kya pedh pe ugte hain (Does money go on trees)?” they ask.
But for Bheemaiah, “money does grow on trees.”