Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How Vivek Sahni is taking Kama Ayurveda local and global at the same time

The founder and chairman of the beauty and personal care brand talks about staying relevant for over 20 years, its acquisition by Spanish conglomerate Puig, and more

Naini Thaker
Published: Jul 17, 2023 02:29:32 PM IST
Updated: Jul 17, 2023 02:34:07 PM IST

How Vivek Sahni is taking Kama Ayurveda local and global at the same timeVivek Sahni, founder and chairman of Kama Ayurveda

Back in 2002, Kama Ayurveda started selling its products at various shops. Back then there was no marketing budget, only word of mouth that worked wonders for them. Founder Vivek Sahni would go around handing out samples to friends and family, who would eventually turn into paying customers. Back then, they were selling only two products: Bringadi hair oil and Kumkumadi for the skin.

The brand opened its first physical store in Khan Market, New Delhi, in 2012. That was Kama Ayurveda’s inflection point. Sahni says, “When you enter a Kama [Ayurveda] store, from the staff to the way the store smells, the customer feels as though they have entered another universe. This is what worked for us."

Twenty years later, Sahni, founder and chairman of Kama Ayurveda, is hoping to repeat this same strategy with its first international market: United Kingdom. "When we started, the vision was to take something Indian, authentic and something with proven efficacy out to the world,” he says. Last month, the Kama Ayurveda launched its D2C website, and by the end of this year, it hopes to launch its first physical store in the UK as well. “I'm hoping that in the next five-seven years, we are the go-to Ayurvedic brand across multiple geographies,” he adds.

As there is a flurry of Indian brands coming up in the beauty and personal care space, Sahni speaks about focussing on quality and effectiveness. For instance, the Bringadi hair oil and Kumkumadi continue to be their hero products with a 70 percent repeat customer rate, even now. In conversation with Forbes India, Sahni speaks about staying relevant and expansion plans in the UK and India. Edited excerpts:

Q. What was the trigger for Kama Ayurveda to expand to the UK?

The UK is a very advance personal care and well-being market. We've been looking at the UK market since 2017. But given how diverse and multi-cultural it is, we wanted to set up a website for the UK, so it doesn't take over a week or ten days to deliver products.

Right now, we have launched the website, but by the end of this year, we will be launching a physical store as well. Since it's a new market, education is necessary, particularly since there is Ayurveda involved. We have roped in Ayurveda experts who will be in the store, and we have tied up with doctors as well for people to have an authentic Ayurvedic experience when they visit the store. Brick and mortar is very important to us, especially to bring in new customers. Walking into a store and trying the product makes a big difference.

We want to test how the UK market does, particularly the receptivity of the products, only then will we look at other global markets.

Also read: Reinventing Ayurveda for Gen-Z

Q. How did the partnership with Puig come about?

Puig invested in Kama Ayurveda in 2019. The reason we partnered with them was because we share the same core values. Last year, when our earlier investors exited, Puig bought a majority stake in the company. The reason we got them on board was to grow Kama Ayurveda globally. Puig also has a strong footing in R&D, which helps us immensely.

The strategy for expansion in the UK also comes from them. In the UK, Puig owns Charlotte Tilbury, Penhaligon's, L'Artisan Parfumeur, and many more. They are well aware of the market, and understand it well and they are guiding us with strategies for the UK launch.

Q. What are some factors that have helped Kama Ayurveda stay relevant, 20 years later as well?

The quality and effectiveness of the product. That's the reason people come back, and why we have a 70 percent repeat buying rate. For us it’s not as much about the number of products, it is about having good quality and effective products.

Q. Since the time you launched Kama Ayurveda, how has the beauty market in India evolved?

The beauty industry has grown exponentially. The major jump though, happened during the pandemic. There's a high level of education among consumers thanks to the rise of the internet and social media. This has inadvertently led to users having faster access to products and there is also increased willingness for them to try out newer products. Increasingly users are becoming a lot more aware about sustainable products and slow beauty.

Also read: Weavers of wellness: Wearing ayurveda

Q. Does this mean the pace of launching new products has also increased?

Yes. Though, we are pretty slow. Normally, we take 2-3 years to develop a new product, just because it is plant-based and there are clinical trials that need to be done... it’s a slower process. But we have definitely speeded this up.

Q. How do you come up with new products?

The marketing and sales team comes to us over a period of time with a wish list—what they are seeing is a gap in the market, gaps in our portfolio, current trends etc. We look at this list and decide what is possible in Ayurveda, and what isn't. Post that, the R&D teams start working on various formulations and decide the delivery form: Oil, cream, powder, serum etc. Once the product is developed, it goes into clinical trials.

Q. There are enough and more beauty brands in India already. Where do you see the scope for growth going forward?

Firstly, India is a large market and I believe that's why the whole world is coming here. But I think the real growth now, will be from Tier-II and Tier-III markets. For instance, we have recently opened in Calicut, Siliguri, Gwalior, Jodhpur, Trivandrum, Aligarh, and more. Most of our products are family products, and go into the family bathroom. That's why we believe, the earlier we hit these markets, and are in their consideration baskets of this population, the growth will be that much faster for us.