There was a time when CK Kumaravel would perennially end up peeved after a visit to the local hair salon. “Those dingy little barber shops really irritated me with their service, and visiting a salon at a five-star hotel was clearly not an option,” says the 49-year-old who set up Naturals, a unisex salon in 2000. “Whatever irritates you is an opportunity. For me it led to the idea of opening an affordable and quality salon,” adds the managing director of Groom India Salon & Spa that owns Naturals. Catalysing the venture was Kumaravel’s spouse, who chose not to go down the beaten path. “Though I graduated in commerce I was clear that I would never take up an accounting job. Given the limited opportunities, being on my own was the only option,” says Veena Kumaravel, CEO and co-founder.
The chain’s first unisex salon was opened in Nungambakkam, in Chennai with an investment of Rs.30 lakh. The first three years were challenging. “We were going through a rough phase, but we knew that this was our business and there was no looking back,” she recalls. Around the same time Kumaravel was struggling with his business of beauty products. While the initial offering for Raaga Herbal Powder did well, the strategy to extend the brand further and expand into non-south markets proved to be a non-starter. “I was incurring huge losses as I was more focused on marketing and sales without having an eye on the bottomline,” says Kumaravel. He sold the business to his brother, CK Ranganathan of CavinKare and joined his wife in the salon venture.
By 2006 the duo’s start-up had turned into a profit-making venture. It was then that Kumaravel toyed with the idea of introducing global brands to India. He travelled to London to meet Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. Though the British entrepreneur politely refused his offer, her business model left a deep impression on Kumaravel. “I was fascinated by her business style and realised that Naturals had a lot of similarities with The Body Shop’s business model,” he says. That’s when he decided to experiment with the franchise model. After opening the sixth outlet, Naturals changed tack and opted for an equal-stake