When they launched their first beauty parlour Naturals in 2000, founders Veena and Kumaravel did not foresee that their brand would grow by leap and bounds, with close to 650 salons in India and overseas. “When we ventured into this business, it was considered a taboo industry. Honestly, we did not expect such exponential growth in this segment, and I had no plans to go beyond eight or 10 branches within Chennai. The market grew, thanks to the IT industry that was booming. Grooming gained prominence among IT and corporate employees. From occasional visits to parlours, we had youngsters who visited regularly,” says Veena Kumaravel, founder of Naturals, which celebrated its 20th anniversary recently.
The salon chain adopted the franchise model in 2006, and now has about 650 outlets in India. They plan to make it 700 by the end of the year and then aggressively expand to 3,000 by the time they are ready to celebrate their silver jubilee. “We have expanded our operations overseas as well, beginning in Sri Lanka and later in Malaysia and Dubai. We are now entering into a joint venture with Kerala Ayurveda and launching Naturals Ayur (Ayurvedic beauty and grooming) on the occasion of our 20th year,” she says. Such a collaboration enables the launch of Naturals Ayur in Europe, the UK and the US, as the element of Ayurvedic beauty and wellness has a lot of appeal in the West, says Veena.
The strong point and core value of the brand, says Kumaravel, is their unrelenting focus on empowering women. “Transforming homemakers into successful entrepreneurs and job providers has been our mission over these years,” he says. “And our franchise model was a tremendous success because of our centralised training facility that we had established on the outskirts of Chennai, where we train new recruits and upgrade our staff,” Veena says.
The salon chain, that started off as a women-only parlour, transformed into a unisex parlour in 2005. “We realised families preferred to come and spend time together in the parlours and we were quick to track this trend,” says Veena.
To mark their 20th year, the founders have launched a beauty and wellness college. Courses will be in accordance with the curriculum of the Beauty and Wellness Sector Skill Council (BWSSC) under the Government of India. “In our country, training in beauty and wellness was possible only by way of apprenticeship. By streamlining the curriculum and training, we are aiming at training beauty professionals from all walks of life. Such qualifications in beauty and wellness will soon be seen as being as valuable as any professional degree. Training centres will be established across the country in order to create career avenues for the youth,” Kumaravel says.
Veena says her company has taken quality and professionally-run beauty parlours to second and third-tier towns in India, and creating employment opportunities for women and youth from small towns. “Empowerment through employment has always been one of our core values. We now add education to the picture, and are excited about equipping people from all over India with the skills and experience of an international standard,” she says.
Adds Kumaravel, “In 20 years, we have seen a huge transformation. We have evolved into a lifestyle industry.”