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Women Entrepreneur

How the queen of wellness, VLCC Founder Vandana Luthra, built an empire

Tanvi Dubey
18th Mar 2016
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Over the years, she has stood the test of time, criticism and competition, to become an authority on wellness – a concept that was as alien in the 1980s, as starting up was. Vandana Luthra started VLCC as a wellness center in 1989 on a small bank loan, with a focus on health and beauty in New Delhi.

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What started from the locality of Safdarjung in New Delhi is now present in 11 countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the GCC Region and more recently East Africa. The first VLCC Wellness Center overseas was established in Dubai in 2005.

The company also has two manufacturing units, one in Haridwar, India and another in Singapore. The brand has recently received requests to open VLCC in USA too.

Awarded the Padma Shri in 2013 for her contribution in the field of trade and industry, Vandana was also listed in Fortune India in 2015 as the 33rd most powerful woman in business in India. Given her expertise in the field, the current Modi government has appointed her as the Chairperson of the Beauty & Wellness Sector Skill Council. She is also a General Body Member of the New Delhi-based Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga and a member of both the Steering Committee and the Sub-Committee formed by India’s Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship on the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana.

While her list of achievements is long, the success came with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Sheer passion, doggedness and self-belief have kept Vandana going from day one.

Starting up in the 1980s

“When I started, there were hardly any women entrepreneurs. It was a male-dominated environment. I had to face a lot of criticism, a lot of people tried to ensure that I did not succeed and grow. The only thing I believed in was that my concept was unique, unusual and it was being introduced in India for the first time,” she says.

Vandana wanted to start out on her own even though her husband offered to fund her initially. “My husband was very supportive and offered to fund my dream but I was adamant that I would not take money from anyone. I booked the place and took a small loan and got started,” she says.

Since the brand and the concept were unique, people loved it and clients came flocking. So did the celebrities residing nearby. And when they got the desired results, Vandana’s confidence went up a notch. She broke even in the very first month and in the next few months she started getting return on investment too.

“My approach was scientific and I started working with doctors from day one. This worked in our favour too,” Vandana explains. The other thing Vandana feels worked in her favour was the branding of VLCC. “From day one I was clear that the brand would not be a glamorous one. The centre was a clinic and was projected in that very manner,” she adds. The brand still maintains the ethos it started with.

Initial hiccups

In the initial days she faced strong criticism and had a tough time convincing doctors and the medical fraternity about working with nutritionists and cosmetologists. “It took me a good five to six years to convince the medical fraternity to understand that wellness was a larger domain and it required the collaboration of beauty, health and fitness experts; in other words a cosmetologist, a nutritionist and a doctor. Eventually I did manage to convince them,” Vandana says.

The one goal

While, she was born into highly educated middle-class family, her perspective of the world was driven by simplicity.

Her father was a mechanical engineer and brother a topper from St Stephen’s College. But she also saw her parents invite kids from the slum near her house to watch TV with the family when they got their first TV.

Her mother, who was also an Ayurvedic doctor and ran an organisation called Amar Jyoti, inspired Vandana. “I loved the idea of impacting someone’s life and making things better for them. When I saw my mother helping people feel better, I thought why not add beauty to it and focus on a holistic approach.”

Following this dream she went to Europe to study beauty and wellness.

Her upbringing had also changed the way she looked at problems, challenges and people. When she got married in 1980, the initial years with her husband’s family were not easy. A love marriage meant she was not a bride of her in-laws’ choice.

 “I had the chance to live away from my in-laws but I have always held the belief that family is meant to stick together and I took up the challenge to change the family equation upon myself. It took me three years to win over my in-laws but once they opened up I received a lot of love and encouragement from them.,” she says reminiscing about that time.

This focus on the personal is something Vandana exercises even in her everyday dealing with her VLCC family. She tries to remember the name of every employee, walks in unannounced at VLCC centers across India to have candid chats with employees and interact with clients to get feedback.

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Wellness and its evolution

Vandana was flooded with queries from people, since the concept of wellness was new. Today, the industry has blossomed and evolved. “People are more educated, women have started to work and they all want to look good, feel good and feel positive. In fact, I am now working with the government and next year you will see the change. Almost 65 percent of this unorganised sector will be organised. We are creating awareness, employment, training through the government,” Vandana explains.

Creating a successful business model

“I wanted VLCC to be a one-stop shop for everything, from top to toe, so it saves a person time and energy. Every service is provided as per their requirement and their needs. We also started services and then

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launched products. We wanted the clients to try our products and that really worked for us,” she shares. The products were created as per the requirement of the client, and given the different geographies VLCC worked in, it helped the company to cater to different requirements.

“This helped the brand evolve and have global presence as well,” she says.

In step with technology

VLCC keeps up with technology and the latest research. “We have our own R&D centers, I myself travel extensively to all parts of the world to fairs, conferences etc., to keep up with the latest in the health and beauty sector,” Vandana says.

Motivation

A grandmother to three kids, Vandana has ensured that her family too is fit and stays healthy. She says her VLCC family, her clients and the love of her family keeps her motivated and raring to go.

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