How this family business pivoted from running salons to a D2C all-natural skincare startup
In 2012, Ashima Anand and her mother Anju Anand ran a chain of four salons across Gurugram, where they had replaced branded salon products with their very own homemade protein hair pack.
“When people would come in for a hair spa, instead of using regular salon products, they opted for their egg-and-curd mixture. That was the unique selling point (USP) of the salons,” says Aakash Anand, Ashima’s brother, who quickly realised that the mother-daughter duo was brewing a magic formula in their home kitchen.
In an effort to cater to growing demand from their salon clients, Ashima and Anju found a manufacturer in Hyderabad for bulk production. The success of other direct-to-consumer (D2C) skincare brands, includingand , on online marketplaces in India, had given Aakash and Ashima the confidence and push to grow their homemade brand.
Without a second thought, Aakash left his corporate job in marketing and joined the family business full time. Finally, in 2018, they launchedas an online direct-to-consumer brand. It was time to take their products out of the salons and give them to consumers across the country.
Bella Vita Organic was launched with four products in the face care range, including under-eye cream and eyebrow growth oil. The brand has now gone on to launch products in skincare, haircare, body care and also a line of perfumes.
Currently, the skincare brand sells 62 products in total. The brand claims all its products are non-toxic, paraben-free, and made using all-natural, Ayurvedic ingredients.
With prices ranging anywhere between Rs 199 and Rs 499, the products are largely in demand for affordability. A major chunk of sales come in from Tier II and Tier III cities like Lucknow, Kanpur, Pune, Thane and parts of West Bengal.
Aakash Anand-- founder of direct-to-consumer startup Bella Vita Organic
The D2C business took off so well that the family decided to close down three of their salons, retaining only one in Gurgaon. Pre-covid, the salon saw at least 100-150 customers in a day, who would give regular feedback on their products, and even happily agreed to try out new products. “Our online business took off so quickly that it was becoming very difficult to focus on our salons,” says Aakash.
He adds that the family wanted to retain at least one outlet because the physical salon, besides being a very good client base, was also a source of network and feedback, and a trial ground for new products.
According to Aakash, product suggestions from customers visiting the salon is always solicited.
“One product we worked on for a product line was a nail and cuticle serum. It was suggested by our in-house manicurist," says Aakash. He adds,
"You don’t need to have a degree in chemistry to understand the ingredients used in our products. We do not use many complex ingredients and because our customers can understand what they are using and it also works, they come back and buy more."
The brand also makes many cold calls for customer feedback, randomly selecting at least 1,000 customers whenever a new product is launched, and sends free samples for review.
Growth and revenue
Bella Vita Organic’s revenue in FY2019-20 was close to Rs 6.4 crore. In its second financial year, FY2020-21, the startup claims its revenue grew almost five times to reach Rs 32 crore.
Aakash says a major reason for the growth in sales is affordability, considering a majority of their customers are based in Tier II and Tier III cities. A very strong online community that organically promotes their brand, and selling on ecommerce marketplaces including Amazon and Health Mug, has also worked in their favour.
In 2020, the startup set up its own manufacturing facility, which has helped them reduce manufacturing cost and increase revenue margins. The plant, located in Gurugram, was launched with the startup’s own funds as they are a bootstrapped organisation for now.
“We have always run our business like a business and not like a startup. Being cash flow positive, generating revenue and being profitable were always our strategy,” says Aakash.
The brand is also in talks to raise investor-led funding “very soon”. Aakash says the money will be used to grow the team and hire professionals in marketing and brand building. The startup also aims to increase its workforce to at least 200 employees by 2022, from the current 100, in multiple departments.
In the last one year, many D2C brands across India have seen tremendous growth. The pandemic-led lockdowns have pushed people to stay at home, and order products from online marketplaces, opening up a wider range of selection.
Consumers are also not afraid of experimenting with newer brands, even as the competition has increased. Younger D2C brands are not only competing with other online-first brands but also with FMCG giants who are increasing their online footprint.
Bella Vita Organic has tough competition in similar D2C brands like MCaffeine, MamaEarth, and many others that have flooded the space in the last couple of years.
With that in mind, as part of future plans, the brand wants to keep its price points low, increase delivery to more Tier II and Tier III towns, launch a baby care range, and also dip into lifestyle products such as aromatic scented candles.