Manish Chowdhary always had the entrepreneurial touch. After completing his Bachelors in Business Management from the Bangalore University, he and his younger brother, Karan, started retailing for a well-known computer brand in 1998. This was an opportune period since India was in the throes of technology adoption, and soon the duo scaled the business and become the brand’s distributor.
However, a decade later, certain shifts took place in the retail landscape and customer buying patterns. Modern retail eclipsed traditional businesses. Large format retailers, like Croma and Future Retail, as well as ecommerce players like Flipkart started making strong inroads into the trade.
“We saw a huge shift in consumer buying preference, which effected our business and we decided to move out of it,” Manish recalled. While feeling let-down, this episode also taught him a crucial lesson – to succeed in any business, it is important to be agile and move with trends quickly.
In 2012, Manish and Karan met their friend Arvind and his brother, Ashwin, for a friendly chat. Ashwin had moved to the US and Philippines after completing his education in India. In Philippines, he was handling customer care and backend process for some leading US-based health and beauty online brands, which piqued his interest in these categories. On moving to the USA in 2009, he started his own company for selling health and beauty products.
During 2012-13, while Manish and Karan had scaled down their computer retailing business, and were evaluating their next venture, Ashwin suggested they start handling some of the backend processes for his company, which was still operating out of the US. The brothers agreed and this stint went off successfully.
Coincidentally, this was also the time when ecommerce took off in a big way in India, and global etailer, Amazon, took started its Indian operations. Seeing the huge potential for selling online, the four friends started Fit and Glow to sell and health and beauty products under the ‘Wow’ brand name.
“Initially, we decided to capitalise on one of the most searched for keyword online – weight loss – as we felt this would be a huge opportunity. Our first launches, Wow Green Coffee and Wow Garcinia, sold stupendously on our own website and other marketplaces,” Manish recalled.
TECH TO THE RESCUE
But the belief that tremendous month-on-month sales growth was within their reach was soon belied. The foursome realised that while the internet had democratised business opportunities, it had also given customers a platform to air their opinions, even if these were misplaced.
“Most of our customers did not understand how to use our products or lacked the willpower to follow a controlled diet to ensure that our products are effective. We did not get promising reviews though our products, if appropriately followed, were effective,” Manish honestly inferred.
Wanting to create a strong and trustworthy brand, it was time to make changes to the product portfolio. The promoters returned to the drawing board, but this time they decided to use technology to better understand the nuances of what people were searching online and then also map it with emerging trends.
Deliberating about their next opportunity, they decided that beauty was the next category to be in. They used data analytics to research on ingredients that consumers prefer to use in their daily life and came up with the ‘WOW Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo’. This formulation is made out of organic apple cider vinegar without sulphates or parabens.
“For 30 months in a row, it was amongst the best-selling shampoo on one of the India’s largest marketplaces and it is currently the #1 selling shampoo in USA on a leading marketplace. The success of this product gave us the confidence to build similar products,” Manish exulted. “Since we are a new age beauty brand, we need to have a clear definition about our offerings. Hence, we rely on data and analytics to fulfil consumer needs, understand consumer patterns and demand for products.”
FILLING THE GAPS
According to a report by FICCI and Ernst & Young, the Indian wellness industry is expected to grow at a 12% CAGR from 2015 to 2020 to touch INR 1.5 trillion by FY2020. Of this wellness and preventive health care sectors are expected to double during this time frame, while segments like beauty care and nutritional care are expected to significantly increase their market share.
Manish concurred with this report, and believed that Indian consumers are willing to pay a slight premium for better quality products. “We rely on a lot of data to launch products in matured markets, which can then we introduced under our brand label in India at an affordable price,” he added.
Currently, 95% of Fit and Glow’s revenue comes through online cannels. However, given their Indian roots, the four founders know that ignoring the offline route has its perils, since most customers still prefer to buy from stores. It has started engaging with retailers in select regions and hopes to open its flagship store by 2019-end.
Though this business stuffers from limited regulation, Manish believed that the early mover advantage that Fit and Glow has achieve will have it etch a prominent slot in the fragmented health and beauty industry. Given the digital nature of their business, he is confident that they will be quicker to respond to any shifts their marketplace to offer more value-oriented solutions rather than mass manufactured products. This, he maintained, is the real key to succeed with the new generation. And he should know, being one amongst them!