Inspiring Business Story : The couple who built a 400 crore salon empire from scratch in 17 years
This is an inspiring business story of a couple – C.K. Kumaravel and Veena Kumaravel – the founders of Groom India Salon & Spa that owns the brand Naturals.
Before Starting Naturals
In 1993, C.K.Kumaravel launched Raaga Herbal Shikakai powder. Its success prompted him to expand rapidly. “Sometimes, early success has its problems” says Kumaravel during an interview with BusinessLine. A range of products under the Raaga brand like hair oil, soap, and an amla-based chewing product were bought into the market. As none of them did as well as expected in the market, he had to shut down the business and he sold the brand to his brother. Kumaravel started to think what to do next. He was keen on starting something different. He discussed various ideas with his wife including a clothing boutique, pre-school, salon etc. The aim was to earn about â‚¹60,000 a month. He settled on a salon and started Groom India Salon and Spa Pvt. Ltd. The company’s chain of salons was branded ‘Naturals’.
The idea of Naturals
The idea of Naturals was born after a series of annoying experience that Kumaravel had to face at those dingy little barber shops with their unprofessional behaviour, lack of cleanliness and worst service. Kumaravel says, “Anything that irritates you is an opportunity and that led me and my wife to the idea of starting an affordable and quality salon”. In 2000, C.K.Kumaravel and his spouse Veena Kumaravel decides to start their first unisex salon in Chennai’s Nungambakkam with an initial investment of Rs.30 lakh which later went on to become an inspiring business story for millions to study and adopt.
According to the founders, it was a rough ride through the initial 3 years into the business and was very challenging. Despite heavy loses, being optimistic about their business, they decided never to look back. With loads of hard work, optimism, perseverance and focus on customer satisfaction, by 2006, the couple’s venture started to make profits. The couple knew success is not a destination, its only a journey and wanted to make Naturals a big brand in India. In the first six years of business, he opened six outlets. But, it was not that easy. While most banks turned down his request for assistance – 53 bank requests to be precise, 54th banker extended a loan of â‚¹60 lakh that gave the business a foothold.
C.K.Kumaravel, after being impressed with the business model of The Body Shop, founded by British Entrepreneur Anita Roddick, he decides to take Naturals the franchise way. Anyone who were interested to franchise Naturals had to invest 50% of the cost and the rest would be incurred by Naturals along with spending on promotions and man power. Though initially there were no takers for Naturals, they started co-investing with friends and relatives. As the brand started to become popular more enquires to own the franchise started to pour in. Sometimes, Naturals had to incur 75% of the cost which led to a sudden increase in the number of salons across Tamil Nadu.
The best part of the franchise is that, most of them are owned by Naturals’ early customers and employees themselves. Today Naturals boasts of having 656 salons across India with women to men ration being 75:25 making it an inspiring business story.
The Naturals’ couple observed deeply that, the salons run under the leadership of women were making more profits than men which led them to adopt the policy of franchising out only to women entrepreneurs. The couple feels, women are better suited for service industry as they develop a good rapport with the customers, are more focused on handling staff and bring in lot of dedication. That is the reason Naturals vision statement says “Naturals has an ambitious target of empowering 1,000 women entrepreneurs, adding 3000 salons and creating 50,000 jobs”. Every franchisee owner of Naturals will have an inspiring business story to tell.
During my 30 minutes car drive with the founder, C.K.Kumaravel, I had loads to learn from the business point of view. His suggestion to all budding entrepreneurs is “Anything is worth badly doing in the beginning”. He also emphasised on how important it is to give the basics of the service consistently to the customers. The couple makes sure that the service at all 656 outlets of Naturals is maintained at high quality. To ensure uniform quality service across all the outlets of Naturals, all the staff members are trained at their in-house academy.
When I questioned about the operational challenges that Naturals faces, “hiring right set of man power” came the quick reply followed by “sudden change in customer needs and requirements” as the second biggest challenge among others. C.K.Kumaravel also said, there is no business without challenges. Every businesses comes with its own bottleneck. His suggestion was to identify the bottlenecks, solve it only to realise that there is another bottleneck to solve.
He calls entrepreneurs as the new age freedom fighters who should join hands with the middle class and upper middle class to uplift those people who are in sub-human state. Education and employment is the only way to eradicate the country out of poverty.
When I asked him about how to find a business idea, he said, “Find an unorganised sector and organising it is a business opportunity which every budding entrepreneur should leverage upon” and quoted his salon business as an example.
C.K.Kumaravel being a avid reader of books, his suggestions for every budding entrpereneurs are the following:
- Think and Grow Rich
- As a Man Thinketh
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” series
- Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do
Quick Look Into Their Business:
Business Name: Groom India Salon and Spa
Business Owners: C.K. Kumaravel and Veena Kumaravel
Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu ( 656 outlets across India )
Industry Type: Salon and Spa Business
Brand Ambassador: Bollywood Actress – Kareena Kapoor Khan
Services Include: Everything to make you look beautiful with a price range of Rs.600 for men and Rs.900 for women.
Waiting Time For Availing Service: Minimum 15 mins on weekdays and 20-25 mins on Weekends depending on the token system.
Timings: 10:00 am – 9:00 pm( You got to be early ) – 7 days a week
Customer Interaction: Good ( Ratings: 3 / 5 ).
Unique Selling Point: Quality Service. Affordable Price.
- Hiring Right Man Power
- Changes in customer needs and requirements
Customer Type: Most of them are middle class and upper middle class ( Though anyone are free to be their customer)
Customer Relationship After Sale: Nil.
Business Inspiration: Gets inspired by reading and listening to loads of books and audio books on motivation and business.
1. Franchise Model Marketing.
2. Roping in celebrities as brand ambassadors
3. Sponsoring fashion and beauty events
Any Scaling Plans (If No, Why ?): Yes. By 2020, Naturals has an ambition of empowering 1000 women entrepreneurs, adding 3000 salons and creating 50,000 jobs.
Number of Employees: Around 10,000 employees across all 656 outlets
Learnings from this inspiring business story:
- To build something massive and extra-ordinary, it takes time and perseverance. Do not let down yourself with the initial hiccups. Just believe in yourself and your dreams. Make it happen.
- Business is not all about making wealth. It is also about empowering the unemployed. Naturals’ goal of empowering women entrepreneurs is a great example.
- Naturals’ business also clarifies how an unorganised sector can be smartly turned into a business opportunity. The takeaway for every aspiring entrepreneur with this point is that, if you find any unorganised sector in your day to day life, smartly turn that into a business opportunity.
- Apart from self-motivation, every business owner, small or big, has to constantly keep themselves inspired, focused and motivated by reading and listening to books and audio books written by subject experts.