The business of beauty

Written by Suhel Seth | Updated: Jan 13 2005, 05:30am hrs
Over the past few years, a quiet revolution has been taking place in the branded beauty business and not many of us have sat up and taken notice. Perhaps not much is known about this business or, whats more, there could be a fair chance of the business itself being low-key since no consumer will easily testify that they seek outside help. But one of the critical brands, to my mind, that has helped change the landscape of the beauty business is VLCC. I remember first hearing about the brand several years ago in an expanded nomenclature form, Vandana Luthra Curls and Curves. Now crisply called VLCC, a brand that was focusing on slimming.

Slimming, at that time, was either a pre-marital exercise or, for that matter, a post-pregnancy one. Not many people looked at slimming as an intrinsic part of staying fit, which is why the VLCC of today makes for some interesting observations. Not just about brand VLCC, but also about the shifting consumer-scape in our country.

Take, for instance, the fact that today, with so many branded gymnasiums mushrooming, the slimming aspect is only one (and not the major) component of the entire beauty regimen, and even the concept of beauty is now no longer what it used to be. The business of parlours, as we knew it, is now no longer the only prevalent beauty treatment vehicle: we have seen a mushrooming of spas and nail bars; we are seeing beauty clinics becoming multi-service providers, be it a facial or a slimming treatment that you seek or even the more esoteric dark-circle removing therapy which a new entrant like Kaya offers.

The transition to seeking out consumer concerns and then creating products around them has become the abiding principle of these beauty brands. Which is why, I guess, it makes sense for brands like VLCC to look at the helicopter perspective of beauty and within that look at sub-brands. It is no marketing surprise for VLCC, therefore, to look at extensions into the spa business, into the personal product business and now even into the marketing of honey, that is uniquely named Slimmers.

The fact that VLCC is now getting into the foods business also speaks volumes for the growth of, what I call, the non-traditional elements within the beauty business. With fitness being a paramount consideration; with more and more people looking at keeping fit as a critical ingredient of wellness, my guess is that the beauty business will slowly transform itself into yet another mirror of the changing Indian consumer: whether male or female.

For me, the analysis of the VLCC business in this column is a reflection of how even in the very basic self-indulgences of consumers, there is a quiet revolution taking place: not only in terms of what is on offer but even in terms of the geographical spread that many of these businesses have been able to garner.

Take a look at the reports that you read about brands, such as VLCC. They have looked at expanding vertically across usage types, as also across income groups, in purely socio-economic terms. This will then help brands such as these get the required volume from prising open virgin markets and exposing these to consumer benefits that were either taken for granted or did not exist. In fact, the real-term growth for these businesses is emerging from consumer segments that reside in Class A towns with high disposable incomes, hence it is no surprise to see VLCC expand furiously into markets like Jalandhar and Ludhiana in the north and Kolkata and Jamshedpur in the east.

This growth is, therefore, indicative of a deeper consumer shift that is taking place in the world of beauty. Brands like Lakme will be beauty icons but within a defined domain, which is why I guess even a brand like Lakme is now looking seriously at the salon business, as is a brand like LOreal. This trend that has begun will only augur well. Both in terms of bringing down prices of such value-added offerings a far cry from a haircut and a blow-dry as also help an entire personal products business mushroom. Which, in themselves, will have unique identities. Be they from an ayurveda background such as Kama, Prana and Forest Essentials, or from a more chemical-based formulation such as the lipstick and their ilk, that we now see in such large numbers.

It is this that is the driver of real change in the beauty business, and the fact that brands like VLCC have now looked at the business from a consumer-derived perspective makes this business only more appealing than it was in the past. The debate for the metrosexual is perhaps more relevant to this business than any other in the long run. The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, be assured there are several brands reflecting on what you think and what you should be doing about it. This will be the effective trajectory of the business as we move ahead.

The writer is CEO, Equus Redcell