Unforgotten Brands – Naturals Salon

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The success story of Naturals is a testament to Kumaravel and Veena’s resilience, innovation, and commitment to quality

C.K. Kumaravel was born and raised in Cuddalore, a small town near Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. He graduated with a degree in nutrition from PSG Arts, Coimbatore. Coming from a business family, Kumaravel was involved in the family enterprise that launched Velvette, India’s first sachet shampoo, in the late 1970s.

He worked closely with his elder brothers, CK Rajkumar, who managed the family business after their father’s death, and CK Ranganathan, who launched his shampoo brand in 1991. However, Kumaravel began questioning his own identity and skills, wondering if he was merely living in the shadows of his brothers.

At the time, Kumaravel was working with Ranganathan at CavinKare, handling marketing for Chik Shampoo and Meera Herbal Powder. The brothers had different business approaches: Ranganathan aimed to build a structured company, while Kumaravel’s methods were more intuitive.

In 1993, Kumaravel decided to strike out on his own, founding Nature Care Products. He initially found success with Raaga Herbal Products, achieving a turnover of Rs 6 crore by the third year. However, subsequent ventures, including Raaga Hibiscus Oil and attempts to expand into North India, failed. A mouth freshener product also did not succeed, leading to the collapse of Nature Care Products. Kumaravel lost all his assets and savings, accumulating a debt of Rs 5 crore. Faced with creditors, court cases, and arrest warrants, he eventually sold the company to his brother Ranganathan.

Amid these challenges, Kumaravel decided to start a new venture with his wife, Veena. Married in 1991, Veena came from a business family and had always wanted to pursue something of her own. With their children in school, Kumaravel felt it was a good time to involve her in a new business.

They considered several options, including a preschool, a boutique, and a salon. They chose to open a beauty salon, aiming to fill a gap in the market for affordable, high-quality salons that Veena could manage independently.

Veena, a commerce graduate from Ethiraj College in Chennai, had a natural inclination towards beauty and hygiene. Despite not conducting market research, the couple decided to proceed based on their intuition and personal experiences. They were frustrated by the lack of good quality, affordable salons. High-end salons in five-star hotels were intimidating and expensive, while local barbers and beauty parlours often had poor hygiene and quality standards.

The name “Naturals” was inspired by Kumaravel’s fondness for Natural ice creams in Bombay, which was frequented by film stars, and Veena’s advocacy for using natural ingredients from fruits and vegetables.

They opened their first salon on Khader Nawaz Khan Road in Chennai, investing Rs 30 lakh, largely from friends and family. Despite initial modest expectations, the first three years were tough, with the business incurring losses of Rs 10 lakh, Rs 5 lakh, and Rs 2 lakh consecutively.

During these challenging times, many advised Kumaravel to close the business. His mother even approached Ranganathan, who offered to clear the debt and give Kumaravel a job with a good salary. However, the fact that losses were declining each year gave Kumaravel and Veena encouragement to carry on. They focused on promotions and marketing, placing ads in neighbourhood newspapers and distributing gift vouchers to attract customers.

In the fourth year, the business turned profitable. They opened a second salon in Chennai that year, and by the sixth year, they were making a monthly profit of Rs 2 lakh. To accelerate expansion, they introduced a 50:50 partnership model, where investors covered 50% of the cost of new projects, with Naturals covering the rest and assisting with promotions and manpower. Profits were shared equally.

This model attracted many partners, and by 2009, Naturals had 54 shops. At this point, they shifted to a franchise model, which spurred rapid growth. Within a year, the number of outlets doubled to 108. The expansion continued, and the brand diversified to include Naturals Lounge, Naturals W (women-only salons), and the luxury brand Page 3 salons. They also established four academies to train beauticians in Chennai, Coimbatore, Bangalore, and Hyderabad.

Naturals has grown to operate over 650 beauty salons across India. This success story is a testament to Kumaravel and Veena’s resilience, innovation, and commitment to quality. Despite initial setbacks and financial struggles, their determination and strategic adaptations have made Naturals a leading name in the Indian beauty industry.

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