This Couple has been Giving Indians 'Spa At Home' Since 2000
Being bootstrapped, the home-grown brand depended on word-of-mouth promotion
The personal and beauty care industry in India has just started picking up, but Amit Sarda and his wife and business partner Natasha Tuli have stayed put since early 2000.
About 17 years later, their patience and perseverance are reaping profits with Soulflower becoming one of the preferred homegrown brands in India.
In a conversation with Entrepreneur India, the couple shared their experience and vision for Soulflower and explained how e-commerce changed the game.
Sarda’s first stint as an entrepreneur was when he was 14 years old, where he helped his family set-up a Maruti car service station, which was later converted to a dealership store.
The business was later sold off, but Sarda’s entrepreneurship dream was just taking off. Even as an engineering student, he was more inclined towards starting something on his own then pursuing a professional career.
That happened when he turned 17. With Arvind Mills, he started a brand called Ruf-n-Tuf. Between 1999 and 2000, the company hit a rough patch and Amit was forced to move out of it to start Soulflower his wife.
During the early 2000s, spa and massage parlours had a taboo attached to them and the cost factor also played a role in the low growth of the sector.
“That’s when we decide to start something to give people a ‘spa at your home’,” he said.
When Sarda started out, Indian families mostly followed ‘one-soap-for- all’ concept. Though Soulflower had the first mover advantage, it was a risky business to venture into. What kept the duo steadfast in their business? Tuli almost instantly replied, “Our guts!!!”
There are tons of brands in personal care segment, some on the Ayurveda vertical while some in the luxury vertical. But this husband-wife does not want to focus on competition. Tuli said, “We focus on our customers and consumers.”
For them, customers mean ShopperStop, Lifestyle, Amazon, Flipkart, Nykaa, or any other retail space. It can be an online or offline platform, where they display their products.
The Undereducated Market
These days we have blogs and vlogs reviewing products and helping us make a choice, especially in the beauty and personal care segment. When Soulflower started off, people were mostly unaware.
Sarda said, “We had to explain to people what bath salts or bath bombs are and what products can be used for oily or dry skin. People didn’t know soaps can look beautiful. They would mistake soaps for candles. So we had to educate them.”
Additionally, Sarda was bootstrapping the company and advertisement was a big no-no. So the home-grown brand had to depend a lot on word-of-mouth and create ‘wow’ experiences.
Turn-around with E-commerce
Even though the homegrown brands started making profits, but it was too less.
So, the duo started thinking about raising funds to increase their reach, only to realize that the move will dilute the company and this is exactly when e-commerce happened to India.
In the retail business, the companies’ working capital is mostly stuck in the market, for weeks and even months. So, how can one sustain? But with e-commerce, Sarda added, this started changing and we started growing.
However, the best thing e-commerce did to Soulflower was - it brought the brand closer to its consumers. “The thought might remain the same, but the granularity or the transparency of the understanding the consumer has become much better,” he stressed.
Giving the example of how Soulflower used data from Flipkart, Sarda said, “Earlier, people would look for without specifying the purpose and usage. Naturally, they couldn’t spot the product of their choice and so never bought anything. After decoding the data, the personal care brand realized people were mostly looking for oil for facial hair. And that’s when Soulflower started manufacturing oil for beard and mustache.”
Sarda never reconsidered raising funds for their venture. “The concept was not easy for everybody to understand and the idea was to make sure that the business grows to a level where it could sustain on its own,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Soulflower has captured 35% market of hair oil segment and delivers to more than 1000 plus towns every month. The company is presently planning to enter two new markets – UAE, United Kingdom, and Japan.
I am a Mumbai-based journalist and have worked with media companies like The Dollar Business Magazine, Business Standard, etc.While on the other side, I am an avid reader who is a travel freak and has accepted foodism as my religion.