Two-and-a-half years ago, when beautician Hema Balkrishna Baramate first came to work for Belita, she knew that the company was a new concept in beauty treatment and that customers wouldn’t come to her; instead, she would have to go visit them. What caught her off-guard, though, was that the 200-sq ft office at Chandivali, Mumbai, turned out to be much smaller than the Saki Naka branch of one of Baramate’s previous employers, VLCC. Amid the other storefronts in the area, Belita’s striking pink board stood out to Baramate. “I was shocked when I first walked in. It didn’t look anything like a beauty salon,” she says.
Far from any corporate trappings or even the cheery feel of a salon, Belita’s ‘office’ looked more like a warehouse. It was, in fact, the company’s logistics centre, with only the bare essentials — storage for beauty kits, a bench to sit on and a personal computer and a desk for the telephone operator who booked customer appointments.
What the now 26-year-old Baramate couldn’t have guessed then was the pace at which her career would take off. Joining Belita as a junior therapist with barely four years of experience, she was soon promoted to be a senior therapist and now manages a team of 15 therapists as the assistant branch manager for Belita’s Chandivali branch. More than the pay hike, it was the added responsibilities and training that motivated her to join the company. “Once I become a branch manager, there’ll be more people under me,” she beams.
A pretty neat idea
Started in September 2010, Belita provides beauty and spa services to women at the location of their choice. “It need not be someone’s home, it could be their workplace as well,” CEO Garima Jain points out. Belita, which means ‘little beauty’ in Spanish, came to life, thanks to a prod by her husband Akshay, a first-generation entrepreneur and founder of Vedam Designs, a marine design and consultancy firm.
“One evening in 2009, we ordered pizza from a chain restaurant and, given how frustrated I was about not being able to find time to get waxing done, I exclaimed, ‘Why can’t we have home delivery for beauty services, where beauticians can come to your home even late at night?’. My husband simply said, ‘Why don’t you start one?’,” narrates Jain, 29, an MBA in international business from IPS Academy, Indore, who was then working long hours as an area manager with a financial services advisory company.
The next morning, she had made up her mind. With support from her husband, ₹6 lakh of her savings and some market research, Jain launched Belita six months later from the Mumbai suburb where she lives. She signed up a senior therapist to train some junior beauticians and freshers and started operations 15 days later.
Belita’s first port of call was a posh residential complex in Powai, close to Jain’s residence. During the next month, some 2,000 leaflets were distributed and Belita was able to reach around 100 customers from the 4,000-odd families residing in the upmarket central Mumbai suburb. “Women loved the fact that our services were as hygienic and professional as any other good salon, plus they didn’t have to venture out of their homes,” says Jain, who visited all the customers personally. In November 2011, she bagged her first corporate client. Deloitte had organised a fashion show for its employees and Belita was made in charge of beauty services.
The biggest hurdle during that period was finding the right people to do the job. Jain initially tried hiring people from existing salons, but it was difficult to convince them to visit customers’ homes. She then started seeking out freelance beauticians and freshers and training them. Jain says freshers pick up skills better as they’re more adaptable to the idea of going to a customer’s place, compared with those used to working at salons.
Today, Belita works out of three logistics centres in Chandivali, Hiranandani and the JVLR-Goregaon area in Mumbai. A customer within a 4-5 km radius of its centres can call and book its services, which include group services, pre-bridal and bridal beauty services and pamper parties, where women gather to enjoy beauty services. Jain usually caters to eight to 10 pamper parties every month, which can cost anywhere between ₹5,000 and ₹50,000.
Instead of smaller individual services, Belita offers combinations or packages that ensure a healthy minimum ticket value per customer and margins of 20-25%. “Providing individual services to customers isn’t profitable,” points out Jain. Most of the company’s current revenue of ₹12 lakh a month comes from pamper parties — over 60 of them having been organised so far — with a good chunk coming in from individual customers as well.
Belita has served over 7,500 customers, some even at 6.30 in the morning and some at midnight. At such times, the therapists go out in a group in the company’s vans, whose drivers have undergone police verification.
Minus the rentals and initial expenses of putting up a salon, Belita is able to serve 75 customers a day — the same as any standalone salon, Jain adds. The only investment has been the ₹8-9 lakh needed to start each branch or centre, rentals for the two vans that ferry its therapists, and the Tata Nano that the firm owns. Apart from that, consumables, including the beauty kits, make up less than 20% of Belita’s operating expenses. With 400-450 customer visits in a month, a centre usually breaks even in six months. And with FY13 revenues at ₹80 lakh, Jain is aiming for around ₹1.4 crore this year. “If I compare myself with other big salon chains, I think I am doing better.”
The service is still promoted through leaflets, social media, word-of-mouth, or simply ‘walk-in’ customers who are curious about Belita’s offerings. Among them was Disha Sharan, an area business manager at Tanishq. “It occurred to me that we could host their services in our stores on special occasions such as festivals and when there are long billing queues,” says Sharan. Since then, Tanishq’s large-format store at Turner Road in Mumbai has called upon Belita to pamper its customers on its first anniversary and on Teachers’ Day.
One such customer on the store’s first anniversary was 29-year-old physiotherapist Poorvi Shah, who hails from Nandurbar and has been living in Mumbai for the past seven years. Weekends for Shah are busier than weekdays, which involve a two-hour commute and a long queue of patients, beginning at 9 am and ending not before 9 pm. Meeting her relatives in the city takes up her weekends, and Shah says it often takes her days to plan a trip to the beauty parlour for even basic services.
One Sunday when Shah had gone to the same Tanishq store for some gold shopping, she was pleasantly surprised. “There were big dark pink banners everywhere and there were seven girls wearing pink Belita t-shirts. Customers were getting manicures, pedicures, face clean-up and different procedures done from these girls,” recalls Shah, who got herself a free pedicure and nail art done after she completed her shopping.
Making it work
Therapists, as Jain calls her beauticians, are key to Belita’s growth, with 40 of them currently on its rolls. They undergo 15 days of training upon joining, and there are regular workshops and refresher courses through institutes such as the VLCC Training Institute, the Butic Institute of Beauty Therapy and the Christine Valmy International Academy of Beauty. “Belita usually opts for product-centric services, which is a three-day course,” explains Nalini Kalra, general manager, Christine Valmy International Academy of Beauty, which has been associated with the company for a year now and has been conducting training and refresher courses for its employees. There’s also a full-time in-house trainer now.
The company now has a team of some 60 people, with six to seven junior therapists, five to six senior therapists, one assistant branch manager and one branch manager for each branch. “These assistant branch managers and branch managers are from among the therapist pool,” explains Jain. A therapist attends to a maximum of three customers a day, with an average spend per customer of ₹1,000-1,500. Belita keeps a check on the quality of its services at clients’ homes and offices through an extensive feedback channel, which ensures that close to 70% of its clients are repeat customers.
The idea clearly appeals to not just customers, but investors as well. In January 2012, Belita raised ₹2 crore from angel investor Anand Lunia of India Quotient. Of this, ₹75 lakh has come in, while the rest will be invested in the coming years. “My first impression was that this model is going to be profitable very soon,” says Lunia. “I do not expect every woman to be Belita’s customer, given that it attracts a very niche consumer category. But negligible real estate cost is the business’ biggest strength,” he adds further.
The business became even more well-organised after Jain got a chance to attend a three month-long Goldman Sachs-sponsored ISB Entrepreneurship programme for Asian women in end-2010. “It helped me think like an entrepreneur. I used to focus on volumes earlier, but the course helped me realise that value works better,” Jain points out, adding that aggressive expansion plans do not work if the quality of work is not being maintained.
Jain is looking for more external funding now. She plans to open Belita’s own training centre, add 10 new logistics hubs in Mumbai over the next two years and extend its services to other areas in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, and later to Pune and Nashik. For the firm, this would be a good way to ensure its services are just a call away for women on the run.