Rags-to-riches: This agarbathi brand was started at home, now sells 12 billion agarbathies globally
Losing a parent at a small age can be a life-altering experience. When faced with such a situation, some sink in the tragedy, while some emerge stronger.
N. Ranga Rao was only eight years old when he lost his father. Coming from a family of teachers and purohits (priests), Ranga Rao was burdened with responsibilities at a very young age. He started doing small jobs, switching from one to the other, to make his ends meet. Years passed by, and in his teenages, he moved to Coonoor to work as a store supervisor.
“My grandfather (Ranga Rao) always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When he moved to Coonoor and worked for a while, he hit upon the idea to move to Mysuru and start agarbathi (incense sticks) business keeping intact the family’s traditional values and doing something to serve the religion, says Arjun Ranga, the third-generation entrepreneur and Managing Director, NR Group.
In 1940s, Ranga Rao started the agarbathi business from his home and named the company Mysuru Products and General Trading Company and later changed it to NR Group.
How the journey began
Ranga Rao started making agarbathies at home with the help of his grandmother. He used to visit the market every day to get the raw materials, make the product the next day, sell it, and get money for the following day’s production. He used to feed his family with the remaining money.
“My grandfather made great sacrifices and he took bold steps in his business journey. He soon realised that to have a successful business in India, one needs to create a brand. Hence, he launched ‘Cycle Agarbathies’ with an aim to take the business to a new level.”
In 1948, fighting against all odds, Ranga Rao set up a factory in Mysuru and since then there has been no looking back.
NR Group’s expansion and growth started when Arjun’s father RN Murthy Ranga and his uncles Guru Ranga and Vasu Ranga entered the business.
“My grandfather knew that to stay strong in the market, one has to keep innovating. He learned perfumery himself at a time when there was no internet. He had very little money in his pocket. He however used his skills to manufacture agarbathies,” Arjun tells SMBStory.
NR Group’s primary business is driven by Cycle Pure Agarbathies and pooja products’ segment in the country. The group diversified by entering into manufacturing and marketing of functional and aircare lifestyle products by launching Ripple Fragrances Private Limited.
Under Ripple Fragrances, the company boasts of brands like Lia and IRIS Home Fragrances. While Lia offers a wide range of room fresheners, car fresheners, and scented agarbathies, IRIS Home Fragrances caters to consumer gifting and home décor needs, through its vast network of IRIS aroma boutiques.
Diversifying the business
Innovation has been a significant part of NR Group’s business. The group was one of the first agarbathi manufacturers to shift from tin packaging to cardboard packaging, which brought about a drastic reduction in the cost of production, waste, and ultimately even in the cost of the final product, Arjun says.
In 2011, NR Group also made a presence in defence solutions with Rangasons Defence Solutions following which began the company’s diversification into IO, and solar powered irrigation with the launch of Senzopt and Vyoda respectively.
Today, NR Group clocks a turnover of Rs 1,700 crore with a strong presence in 75 countries and sold 12 billion agarbathies last year worth Rs 1,000 crore.
Cycle Pure Agarbathies recently launched an IoT-powered sales Diary App to streamline and keep a tab on its production process. The company also launched Pure Prayer App that helps consumers book pilgrimages, stream live footage from temples across the country, and even book a priest to visit their homes to perform rituals.
It also recently launched PFIS (Pure Fragrance Infusion System), a patented technology, which is able to infuse the fragrance of two agarbathies into one.
“When I entered the business 20 years ago, the roots were already established. I had the responsibility of carrying forward the legacy,” says Arjun.
Arjun says that competition has been there from day one. “When my grandfather started manufacturing at home, there were already big brands in the market. However, he never got bogged down by the competition. Rather, with his grit and determination, he nurtured the brand which stands tall in the market.”
Arjun says expansion has never been a challenge. However, the challenge is in tackling local unorganised players in various regions.
The agarbathi market is huge and Cycle Pure Agarbathies hold a 16 percent share in the market. The fragrances and products are tested for quality in their state-of-the-art lab in Mysuru.
“We are one of the few companies with an in-house fragrance research lab. Others get their fragrances from the same place you get fragrances for scented products. This, I believe, is what differentiates us from other players in the sector.”
The company lays stress on following ethical and eco-friendly practices and is one of the first agarbathi companies to be certified as Carbon Neutral agarbathi manufacturer in the world.
Arjun says the company ensures sourcing of raw materials from a re-grown forest and not from virgin forests. The packaging material of all Cycle Pure Products are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) board. The organisation has also achieved ISO 45001:2018 and 14001:2015 certification for its operations and scope in India.
“We are one of the first Indian organisations in the world to get the ISO 45001:2018 certification in our industry,” Arjun says.
Giving back to the community
As part of its efforts towards the upliftment of society and its consumers, Cycle Pure Agarbathies has begun collecting flowers offered at temples in Mysuru to recycle them into agarbathies. These flowers would normally clog drainages, and ultimately become a breeding ground for vectors and vector-borne diseases.
The company also impacts the lives of over 150 visually impaired girls at its ‘Ranga Rao Memorial School for Differently-Abled’ in Mysuru. The NR Foundation also works with families from slums in Mysuru, providing children with stationary supplies and women with self-sustenance seminars, like tailoring.
Cycle Pure Agarbathies also works with rural women to create agarbathi clusters. It provides these women with raw materials and machinery required to make agarbathies, which are in turn, bought back by the company itself. This creates sustenance and an added income for these women.
NR group has been conferred with Par Excellence Awards (2009 and 2010) at the National Convention on Quality Concepts. The group has also received nine Chemexcil awards, six Visvesvaraya Industrial Trade Centre awards for excellence in exports, three Niryat awards from the Federation of Indian Export Organisations and five Merit awards from the Handicrafts Council at the State and National levels.
The road ahead
The company has quite a few initiatives lined up for future. It has launched a new Pooja Samagari line under the ‘Om Shanthi’ brand. The company also aims to strengthen its presence in the functional air-care segment with Lia room freshener and a car freshener.
NR Group also entered the bathroom freshener category recently, with an array of products under STOP-O. On the other side, it also aims to create a strong presence through its Pure Puja app that disseminates shlokas and the authentic procedure of offering poojas or rituals at home.
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)