Chennai-based Naturals hair and beauty salon has 365 outlets as of today. Its co-founder CK Kumaravel has big plans of going pan-India and hopes to increase the number of salons to 650 this year. To get brand recognition and make an impact beyond south India, Kareena Kapoor has been roped in as the brand ambassador of Naturals. It is already the largest chain in India in the beauty business.
The first Naturals salon was set up in the year 2000. Kumaravel’s wife Veena wanted to do something on her own as their children were in school. Her husband helped her set up Naturals. In 2000, Chennai did not have many good salons. People ran beauty parlours at homes or one had to go to a five-star hotel and spend a fortune. Naturals was launched with the idea to give five-star quality with three-star pricing when people visited a parlour. The initial idea was to use only natural products—hence the name Naturals—but they soon shot down the idea. “Because it was not a feasible option if we wanted scalability.”
Kumaravel was struggling with the Raaga range of products he had launched in 1993. He had introduced Raaga Herbal Shikakai powder. It did very well and he wanted to expand. He extended the range under the Raaga brand to hair oil, soap and amla-based chewing products. None of them did well. He says that he was clueless about going to new markets. He was also facing technical problems when he wanted to scale up production. He finally shut down the business and sold the brand to his brother, CK Ranganathan of CavinKare.
The salon business picked up. Naturals was turning out to be a natural fit to a rapidly changing city. Kumaravel says the job explosion in the IT sector brought in an ever-expanding clientele. “We are really the product of the IT revolution. Every small town in Tamil Nadu wants a beauty parlour. The potential of this business hasn’t been fully realised yet.”
The first salon was unisex and Kumaravel had his doubts about this concept working in conservative Chennai. To his surprise, Chennai did not bat an eyelid. By 2003, Kumaravel had wound up his business and was fully involved in Naturals. Expansion became a problem. Banks were not willing to fund beauty business. “They thought a loan of R60 lakh was excessive to start a beauty parlour. They could not think beyond R3