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Distributor is King in the Beauty & Wellness Industry

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From gold facials to fruit peels, laser techniques for skin polishing and recliners for an unmatched manicure and pedicure experience, a salon today is equipped with the latest in products and machines to extend a ‘never-before’ experience to a client. All of this would be a challenge in the absence of importers and distributors who do all the leg work to make it available to the salon

The beginning

Being the sole distributor for over nine brands, Delhi-based began its operation in 2002 and in their journey spanning two decades, have managed to increase their footprint across 60 cities in India reaching 5,000 salons and spas. For them the journey into the beauty and salon space isn’t just restricted to being ‘distributors’, but with an array of products that they have in their portfolio, they went ahead to launch an academy and also a brick and mortar and an online store. With a tagline ‘Transforming Beauty and Wellness to the next level’, Subham Virmani, Director Marketing, Esskay Beauty Resorces, stresses that the company’s aim is to improve the horizon of the wellness industry in India. He shares, “Any salon or spa is willing to add a new service or is willing to upgrade any of its services. This is where the company wants to come into the picture.”

With a presence of about four years in the market, Canadian brand has managed to catch quite a few eyeballs and the preferred in the B2B and B2C segment. , Chief Executive Officer, FACES Cosmetics India shares, “Today we have a strong retail and distribution footprint with more than 450 SIS and 28 franchisee-operated exclusive retail stores, in over 86 cities in India. I would attribute the reason for successful acceptance of beauty products and services in India to an increase in income levels of the customers, their exposure to international trends, entry of an ever-larger number of women in the work force and focussed marketing and education related efforts by national and international brands, and social media. There is a heightened focus on personal grooming and fashion leading to the dramatic rise in the demand for beauty products. Colour cosmetic use has moved from being occasion-led to daily wear.”

Catering to salons in India and also to the export market, Harshvardhan Modi’s Vedic Line works on the principle of strong R&D and quality control team that then passes on the innovations and product specification to a third-party manufacturing partner who have state of the art facility in Noida and Parwanoo. Modi shares, “Been in operation since 2000 (though the brand Vedic line was launched in 2007), we have Neoveda, Inveda and Taaj.”

Catering to the need of salons and spas from design to the equipments needed when operational from chairs to shampoo stations, Friends & Co. is a parent company to Friends Ambience Builders and Friends Sparlour Solutions. Arjun Chhabra, Owner, Friends & Co. shares, “We provide a one stop solution to setting up a world-class salon and spa. With brands like Salon Ambience (Italy) and Crystal (Japan) for Furniture, Sparlour (Spain) for Trolleys, Valera (Switzerland) for equipment, Big Brush (UK) for brushes and other pieces of furniture and equipment from all over the world to complete the range across both Furniture and Equipment.”

Completing nine years in the industry, Skin Essentials has been representing Hungary’s Eminence Organics in India since 2005. Starting with basic skin care line, they now have over 200 products and the investment going into the set-up so far has gone up to `2 crore and the company has seen a growth of 35 per cent year-on-year.

One of the ‘completely made-in-India’ brand, Astaberry is known in the salon circuit for its line of products based on the science of Ayurveda. Talking about the inception, , Director, Astaberry Biosciences, shares, “The brand was conceptualised and launched in 2004 with just one product, Facial Gel, based on 99 per cent pure Aloe Vera Juice, followed by an All Purpose Crème in early 2005. Over the next two years the company expanded its product line to over 60 products and 120 SKUs for both professional and retail market. Our product line was based on Ayurveda mixed with modern technologies to give the customers an ideal mix of natural ingredients and perfect crème textures.”

A prominent player in the category of professional and specialised hair and skin machines and equipment, Lumenis India heralded its Indian operations in 2008. The business started with introduction of all three businesses of Lumenis worldwide that is aesthetics, surgical and vision which Lumenis has pioneered globally. The product till date are imported from various countries like US, Germany, Italy and Israel. The operations were started with a clear focus on Sales and Marketing and after-sales service.

Market dynamics

Revealing the strategy in place that helped them reach 5,000 salons, shares, “We have customised packages and designs for the suit the client needs. Our focus has always been to support the clients and establish relations on a long-term basis.” Major clients for them include names like , Unilever, Naturals, Amway, Le Meridian, Shangrila, Taj, Enrich, Trends in Vogue, Green Trends, The Leela, IOSIS, Looks, Affinity, Geetanjali, The Park and The Imperial, to name a few. Virmani adds, “Every client is equally important to us. We feel proud to be associated with all our clients.”

FACES Cosmetics has roped in over 40 distributors and super stockists to take care of the brand availability across the country. They have managed to reach 450 shop-in-shops (with assisted sales) and over 25,000 point-of-sales around the country. The company also has a team of 60 sales personnel across the four regions. Within a span of 4 years, FACES has gained a market-share in excess of 2 per cent in the colour cosmetics space.

With a 20 per cent average growth seen year-on-year, Berina Cosmetics has been operational since 2005 with a range of hair colours, hair spa, shiny wax, hair spray, hair coat and more. from Berina feels that today the customer is more aware about hair and hair fashion. Education plays a vital role in increasing the size of the market and that customers from Tier II, III cities are also contributing a major role in flourishing the market.

To ensure that they truly provide a one-stop solution, Friends & Co. directly import and supply products to the end-user so that with the middleman or distributor channel cost cut, the client can get more out of his money. Sharing detail of one of the recently launched product, Chhabra shares, “We recently introduced a product called Healer, which is a micromist and a clamozome machine that corrects damaged coloring, rebonding and other chemical applications. With its active ozone and temperature control with mist produced at 3microns (far smaller than the gaps in skin and hair) it penetrates deep inside the hair follicles and skin to aid Healing. Not only that, it is a multi-performer and a time-saver, It brings down the waiting time required in colouring, rebonding, perming, hair spa and more. With better results, healing, and complete pH neutralisation.” Some of the clients that Chhabra’s company caters to includes names like the Radisson, Oberoi, VLCC, Naturals, Toni&Guy, Bella Madonna, Serena Spa, Aura Thai Spa, Assotech and Supertech to name a few.

Vandana Sundar, CEO, Skin Essentials, chose to directly work with the clients instead of appointing any distributors and this was to cut the cost of the middleman and pass on the distributor margin to the consumer.

Commenting on the market dynamics of the industry as seen, Sundar shares, “The market has grown exponentially many brands have entered the market. The growth rate has been average of 25 per cent to 30 per cent. Industry still needs to get organised and a lot of education is required. Quality standards need to be maintained in salons and spas. But the new product registration law by CIDSCO will be challenging for all brands.”

Modi adds, “Consumer is becoming very conscience about the quality of the product, both in terms of packaging as well as content. Consumer wants to know all the ingredients that are going in the product. Consumer is also becoming more hygiene conscious when it comes to packing. E-commerce has also picked up a lot in our category.”

Where Arya from Astaberry did face a challenge in setting up a right distribution network, today his worry has been put to rest with a full-fledged set-up of an excellent distribution channel which includes super stockists and distributors in almost all Indian states. He elaborates, “We also have a dedicated sales team in every state which is well motivated too.” The brand has seen a YoY growth of about 40 to 50 per cent since inception. Elaborating on the sales team, he reveals, “We have approximately 100 sales staff at different levels from managers to sales executives which daily touches about 700 to 800 salons. Other than that our distributors who are working at the grassroots are also going to the salons to convince them about the products. Getting a healthy ROI is always a challenge.” Arya regularly organises regular training activities to the sales staff on topics like handling channel network, product training and new updates about company and industry.”

Sharing his views on the evolution of the market, Birender Singh Rana, Director Aesthetics India & South Asia – Lumenis India Pvt Ltd shares, “The beauty market in India has seen a huge change in last five to seven years. A period when people didn’t know about LHR (Laser Hair Removal) or Skin Rejuvenation to a time when every newspaper today is buzzing with advertisements of LHR and all other cosmetic procedures. Today social media and digital media have brought information in the hands of the consumers. They invariably check online about treatment options before reaching out to physicians for any procedure or treatments. The latest innovation in the league is non-ablative treatment which are mere lunch time procedures. Where in the client doesn’t have to stay out of action after such procedures rather they can do the procedure during lunch time and join back work the same day.”

Rana works directly in the market cutting the middleman. He elaborates, “We operate directly in the market. This brings us closer to the customer as a company and also ensures that there is uniformity in serving customers across India and South Asia. As a company we have largely focused on physicians at large, off late we have made in-roads with the beauty chains. We work closely with the large chains in India thus adding value to their offerings through our world-class technology systems. The value delivery is through training of the staff, thus ensuring good treatments.” Lumenis’ presence across geographies is managed by well-crafted regions. Major cities, towns, specially the Tier I, II are covered ably by Sales Managers with good market knowledge and experience. At the same time, the team is supported by a service backup of engineers across. Rana shares, “We follow a good ratio in man to man mapping in the market place. The miles per call are governed by a standard tour plan to extend the market reach. Span of control for each Sales Manager gives them an opportunity to develop not only the person but the market at large.”

To ensure that the products are well visible to the target audience, Rana actively participates in various trade exhibitions.”

Expanding the portfolio

Going through the fact sheets of each company shows that there are no short cuts to success. Each company has gone ahead with gradual launch of products instead of launching a bouquet of brands together. Another aspect that emerges is that the brands they began their journey with have more or less remained consistent with them.

To take an example of Esskay’s journey, Virmani elaborates, “We started off as the importers of Sorisa from Spain and Cellotherm from Germany and supplied to wellness centres across the India. Later, we added Thrive 717W Massagers from Japan which complimented our category. We were catering to a niche market. In 2007, the company ventured into cosmetic with the collaboration with Casmara from Spain. With this brand company started focusing on salons and spas across the country. Casmara was followed by Rica, which completely upgraded the waxing standards of the country. After Rica, we analysed that there are so many trends that requires to be showcased in India. Nails has a lot of potential and is the need of every woman, so with that came the entry of the worldwide best-selling brands in nails from USA- China Glaze for their extensive range of colours, nail lacquers and IBD Nail Extensions.” In 2012, Esskay Beauty added another innovative Volcanic Water concept of the Italian Hair Color and Hair Care Range- Colorica and Naturica from the Rica Group. In 2013, Esskay launched Ardell eyelashes from USA and Macadamia Hair also from USA.”

Overcoming challenges

The business of distribution comes with a set of challenges that are based more on the ‘trust’ factor. The common inhibition that clients have when dealing with distributors is that of reliability of the product quality and then about sustained supply and prompt delivery. Virmani shares, “Initially, we did not have an expert knowledge of the industry or trained people. We were relying majorly on word of mouth. So the turnovers were very low. In India, there was lack of knowledge and education. People were not aware of the various international brands. That time there were no professional exhibitions, no common salon clubs or similar where one could show the products and take advantage of the gatherings. Patience, and hard work are the strengths on which we used to focus.”

Prasad is of the opinion that high import duties on beauty products, dearth of international quality colour cosmetics manufacturers in India, high excise duties and the high cost of operating owing to myriad and complicated tax structures, and logistical challenges as the major roadblocks for companies into distribution. He adds, “Since last year, a product registration requirement has come into place, which in itself is welcome as it will bring-in much needed regulation for the industry, but the process of acquiring the registration itself is very costly and tardy.”

Modi also reiterates the challenge of excise and duty as a major challenge which comes in way of expansion. Being from the manufacturing side, for Modi distribution is poses a challenge. He elaborates, “Challenges include appointing good sales team, distributors, getting payments etc.” to ensure that his salon distribution is well in place, Modi has developed a customised ERP solution for sales and distribution. In six years, the turnover of VedicLine has gone up from zero to about `10 crores. At present we are growing by 40 per cent year-on-year.” Sundar feels, “India is a price sensitive market still. To import a brand is not easy the custom duties are so high, which makes the costing go hay wire. The challenge is to sell the brand and its USP and yet meet the cost of the salon owner. We are a completely organic and our products are handmade. It is tough job to train for the same.”

Mantra for survival

Patience and perseverance are the key to success in the Industry. Secondly, it is very important to create a personal touch with the whole channel including the salons. Understanding the market need and inventing new solutions and products regularly is very important to sustain in this market.
– Sameer Prasad, CEO, Faces Cosmetics

Your aim, as a client or customer, should be to use the best technology, which is the most integral part of the treatment. Unless and until you do not have a good technology there are chances of compromise in the treatment outcome. Second comes closely is the therapist who is hands-on with the machine. Ensuring a company of repute offering the best-in-class technology and getting rid of the mediocre should be a priority.
– Achal Arya, Director, Astaberry Biosciences

There is a lot happening in the beauty segment in India. Since we deal with humans and there beauty it’s important that the focus should be on safety and quality of treatment outcome. People want to see results and they pay for the value that we deliver. All the more reason to have the best technology delivering the world class results.
– Birender Singh Rana, Director, Lumenis India Pvt Ltd