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Waving The Wellness Flag Luthra shares her endeavors towards placing the fitness and beauty industry at par with those of the most advanced countries internationally.

By Joyshree Saha

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On graduating from Delhi University, Vandana Luthra pursued further education in Nutrition and Cosmetology from Germany. Subsequently, she took a series of specialized courses and modules in beauty care, fitness, food & nutrition and skin care from London, Munich and Paris. Having attained professional expertise, she made her entrepreneurial debut in 1989 by opening India's first Transformation Center, in New Delhi, which married scientific weight management programs with cuttingedge skin and hair treatments. Luthra shares her endeavors towards placing the fitness and beauty industry at par with those of the most advanced countries internationally.

Share about your entrepreneurial journey.

I started VLCC (in 1989) with a simple dream. I wanted to create an environment where people felt supported and nurtured. Where they would be encouraged to achieve their full potential. I envisioned
a place that inspired people to be the best versions of themselves, for themselves. Being an entrepreneur, that too in the late-eighties, was an uphill journey for me. Not only was the beauty and wellness services industry in its infancy, people were unwilling to take my work seriously as I was a woman. While people were familiar with the ubiquitous "beauty parlour', the idea of a holistic wellness solutions provider which combined scientific weight management programs with advanced skin and hair treatments was new.

Being in what was largely an unorganised momand - pop shop kind of sector, I struggled to raise capital - private equity was a relatively alien concept, and banks were wary of something that was hardly deemed as scalable and sustainable. We worked on developing a unique business model for the company, one which is widely used today (especially in the hospitality industry), called infrastructure facility management. That was the turning point in the business.

Tell us what barriers you have faced and how did you overcome them?

Back in the late 80s when I started, women would find it hard to be taken seriously. Funding was definitely hard to come by, especially for first-gen entrepreneurs. For professionals, the biggest challenge was sexism in the workplace and the glass ceiling.

Women would drop out mid-career, many of account of "the guilt" from family, in-laws and motherhood. While things have improved over the years, much needs to be done still. Gender biases and stereotypes for women, particularly mothers, still exist. Women are still considerably under-represented in the senior management and boardrooms of companies and are still less likely to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications. Having said that, progressive companies are increasingly providing facilities to retain their female staff. So far we are seeing these initiatives in the metros, but I am confident that they will percolate down to smaller cities too.

Please explain us traits of trade that you use to expand your business and how do you deploy franchising in it?

At VLCC, we have very aggressive growth plans. The move into franchising was driven by the realisation that there was a latent demand for quality beauty & wellness services in tier II and tier III cities, but growth has been limited owing to a limited presence of established and organized brands. With the digital and print media boom, the awareness levels today are high in these cities which want the not just the best service, but also product and service offerings which are at par with larger cities. We have franchise partners for our wellness centres, salons and vocational training institutes.

This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (August 2016 Issue).

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