How these brother pairs are building India's largest wellness challenger brand, Wow!
Arvind and Ashwin Sokke, Manish and Karan Chowdhary are two pairs of brothers who went on to do what many in the Bangalore of yester-years did: graduate, work hard and make a living. The pubs and the city's night life were just a passing phase that were at the periphery of their growing years. All four of them, in their early thirties, have run retail and affiliate marketing businesses for over a decade before jumping into building Fit&Glow in 2013. F&G is a wellness and personal care company that focuses on organic ingredients.
Although the brothers are well on their way to making F&G a $10-million business in three years, their beginnings were not that easy.
"We came from a business family. But had lost everything when we were in school. So, we had to rebuild and as soon as we graduated all we had to think was ways to make money," explains Manish, adding that there were times when the four of them also faced troubles because of debt. "When the retail business collapsed we owed money and we had to reinvent ourselves for the digital age," he says.
The early years
In college the four of them were not into sports; instead, they focussed on businesses that they could build rapidly to support their families. Manish and Karan went on to becoming retailers and wholesalers for a computer brand between 2002 and 2010. Around the same time, Arvind and Ashwin set up a Reliance Communications Internet centre in Tumkur. Both businesses suffered the fate of the e-commerce and smartphone boom. The computer business collapsed because of low margins thanks to the rise of deals offered on e-commerce sites. The Sokkes saw no value in running an Internet centre. Around the same time Ashwin travelled to the US and set up an affiliate marketing company in 2009. In three years he had driven value for several e-commerce companies and brands in the USA and delivered business worth millions to these brands.
While helping a wellness product in the US, Ashwin, who was also in touch with Karan, working with him on affiliate marketing from time to time, decided to pay him a visit and discuss an idea. In late 2012 the brother pairs got together to discuss a proposition of starting an organic wellness and personal care product line. "It was a compelling proposition. There are no new brands in India in the wellness category and in a large nation, such as ours, there is an opportunity to create a business," says Manish. He says the idea was to export the product to the US, where this sector was hotting up, too.
So they decided to experiment with a dietary and nutritional supplement and risked it all in manufacturing the product by roping in a formulation partner from the US to provide the ingredients. They quickly invested about Rs 50 lakh in the business and started to market the product on social media channels. "We staked everything to make this work. This was it, we were convinced about the idea and we would do anything to make it work," says Arvind.
In March 2013, they ordered 5,000 numbers from a wellness products manufacturer in Kolar, Karnataka, and it was made available on the F&G website. With clever digital marketing about the product's weight reduction and nutrition-providing capabilities these 5,000 units were sold out in 10 days.
Then, they increased their numbers over the next few months only to sell 1,00,000 units over the next six months. The brand was called 'Wow'. The team was wowed by the success of the same and decided to launch additional products.
They launched essential oils and oil blends, Ayurvedic plant-based products, organic skin care, beauty, and men’s grooming products. The company says it uses natural beneficial ingredients and no harmful additives. The three brands under the company now are Wow, Body Cupid and Shaving Station. In 2014 and 2015 the company saw additional growth as they had tied up with Amazon India. Since volumes increased after tying up with the global e-commerce player they signed on three more manufacturing plants to increase their capacity.
A challenger brand
In 2016, Wow became a top-five brand in the health segment on Amazon India. The company is well on its way to becoming a $10-million company. They are a challenger brand, meaning they are not a leader in the category but are taking on the dominant player in the market.
"There is an opportunity for young Indian companies to build brands. One can recollect just a few brands here," says Anjana Reddy, founder of Universal Sports Biz Limited, adding that to build a brand here one must focus on the experience and the value.
"We are a completely digital brand and our current revenues are not built through offline revenues. However, we are preparing an offline strategy across India," says Manish.
According to Ernst & Young the Indian retail market is worth $600 billion. Health and personal care products are worth at least $30 billion in size by 2025. The current market size is around $15 billion and is growing at 30 percent year-on-year.
"We are fully geared to become a large company and we are scaling up fast," says Arvind.
Their competition include HealthAid, Ava, Ustara, NutroActive. There are bigger brands, like Patanjali, which is now becoming a billion-dollar empire. If the yoga to nutrition brand has inspired millions to wellness, surely this young brand can aspire to win the minds of young women and men. The next target by 2018 is Rs 100 crore for F&G. The brother pairs hold all the aces to succeed.