Spearheading the 'Essentials' of Ayurveda
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Having grown up surrounded by the beauty of organic plants and herbs, Mira Kulkarni was intrigued by the applications of Ayurveda since childhood. As she grew up, her curiosity turned into a passion which she realized by establishing Mountain Valley Springs (now publically listed), a brand that host one of India’s leading cosmetics and skincare company - Forest Essentials.
It has taken years of research with Ayurvedic vaidyas (traditional practitioners) and modern bio-chemists to develop a philosophy that deeply imbibes the spirit and identity of Indian Ayurveda, a 6000-year-old science. Launched in 2000, the brand is doing wonders in India and internationally. The path sure was full of hurdles for Kulkarni but supporting her through the journey was Samrath Bedi, her son.
An Economics major from the University of Rochester, Bedi had a short stint in Corporate Banking with Standard Chartered Bank before returning to India upon seeing a massive opportunity in the evolving natural and organic skincare market. “It was an exciting time helping build a completely new category in the natural beauty space,” he insists.
The Ray of Light
In the early 2000s, India was a very nascent retail market. Not many players were risking it but looking at the vision his mother had, Bedi was inspired to join her in the unique experience of building a brand un-similar to anything that was done before. “Initially, there were challenging times but it helped to have a clear focus on what we wanted to achieve and that ultimately was what brought us here,” he enthused.
Under his leadership as the Executive Director, Forest Essentials has grown to become the largest player in the luxury hotel amenities and spa business catering to over 230 hotels and resorts, exporting products to over 120 countries worldwide. Starting from zero, the brand now retails from 62 stores across India.
While starting out, the brand made multiple bold moves to distinguish themselves from other players in the market, which later became their USP. “We were probably the only Indian brand in those days to look at creating our own distribution to make sure that the Brand experience was the same wherever we were located,” Bedi stressed.
He acknowledges that creating their distribution with the right stores in a country as complex and diverse as India was extremely challenging. In the trying times as such, his mother’s words, “There is no substitute for hard work,” worked the path to victory for him. He learnt along the way that “every single city in this country has a different consumer and market,” and he catered to them all with the right product and space.
The Ying Yang Approach
Describing his and Kulkarni’s operating style as a “Yin and a Yang way” of working, Bedi shares that his mother is very impulsive and operates from the gut whereas he has a process-driven approach and put a lot of thought and logic into making decisions. “In a business like ours there is room for both,” he mused.
Evolution is the key to succeed in the world of business and ability to adapt the environmental changes has what kept the mother-son duo going. While their obsession with quality and branding has been the core principles, they understand that “As you grow, there are some fundamental changes that need to take place,” and it takes time and patience to introduce them to a family business.
Forest Essentials has been coming up with innovative products. Answering what helps him in the idea generation, Bedi answered, “Ideas and inspiration from various triggers. It can be new products, design, Branding etc and this is something we all keep an eye out for at any given time.” Being open to learn and grow has always been an inspiration for him.
The world is changing very quickly and as a Brand, it is important for Forest Essentials to keep them relevant. Constantly evolving the brand to keep pace with today’s consumers is a tall task and is something that we work on every day, Bedi provided, adding, “Technology is key going forward and will form a core principle of taking this forward.”
Addressing that the ‘Made in India’ aspect was important to them since the beginning, Bedi shares that all the company-owned stores through which the brand operates are profitable. Forest Essentials is also poised to be the first Luxury Indian Skincare Brand to go global with their policy of Company-owned Standalone Stores.
(This article was first published in the July 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)