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Listen to the Entrepreneurial Journey of Mr Sunil Agarwal, Chairman, RSH Global
Moderator: Mr Chandradeep Mitra, Founder & CEO, Pipalmajik and Advisor and Mentor, IIM Calcutta Innovation Park
Date: 15th January 2020 via Zoom
Speaker Profile : Mr. Sunil Agarwal took his first step on the road to success in 1988. Hailing from a humble middle-class background, little did he know then that he was embarking on a journey that would see him set up what is today one of India’s most-loved personal care brands.
Belonging to a traditional Marwadi family, Mr. Agarwal was expected to join the family business. Reluctant to do so, he borrowed Rs. 15 lakh as start-up capital from his brother to set up his own venture. But this foray into entrepreneurship ended almost before it had a chance to take off when the entire start-up amount that he had invested with dealers was lost due to them not paying him back.
Following this setback, he faced renewed calls from his family to join their business.
But determined to prove himself on his own merit, he persevered with his dream of building a successful enterprise in its own right and things finally began falling into place.
Mr. Agarwal established RatnaSagar Herbal (RSH) Pvt. Ltd, a business manufacturing talcum powder. Identifying Kolkata as a popular market for talcum powder he devised innovative and unique packaging strategies for his products, helping his brand gain a foothold among consumers.
Not content to sit still, despite the popularity of his brand, Mr. Agarwal travelled the length and breadth of the country. He spent the next 11 years gathering experience and learning from different markets like Varanasi, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Ambala and others with a view to growing the business until in the year 2000 he was ready to take RSH to the next level.
With its range of products limited to talcum powder, RSH’s business was extremely seasonal. The company generated a majority of its annual revenue in the summer months. Mr. Agarwal correctly recognised that for sustained success and growth, RSH would have to branch out and build a portfolio of products that could be sold all year round.
Thus, RSH in 2001 branched out into skin-care creams, the first product other than talcum powder to be added to its portfolio.
The skin-care creams business started out with a plan to produce just 10,000 units. But today the company’s skin-care creams are among the largest-selling in India. Then, Mr. Agarwal launched the Skin Fruits Cream brand in 2003. Today it accounts for a whopping 25 percent of the company’s revenue.
But it was really the following year, 2004, that marked a watershed moment for Mr. Agarwal and his company. RSH set up manufacturing operations in Baddi, which paved the way for the biggest expansion in the company’s history, The Company added Aloe cream, lotions, face washes, face packs, scrubs, facial kits and a whole lot more to its portfolio.
By 2008, the company had more than 30 products in its portfolio. They began outselling talcum powder. The share of revenue its once mainstay product accounted for dwindled until in 2010 the company phased talcum powder out completely.
Under Mr. Agarwal’s stewardship, the company’s transformation from a manufacturer of talcum powder to a full-fledged maker of skin care products that had a market all the year round was now complete.
With the company’s popularity now soaring, aided by nationally telecast TV advertisements as well as newspaper and magazine ads, the company was able to sign big name celebrities like Anushka Sharma as brand ambassadors further boosting the company’s credibility.
His business well established and gathering momentum, Mr. Agarwal took yet another bold gamble - he decided to aggressively market his face wash products. It wasn’t a popular decision. The size of the whole face wash category was only Rs. 300 crore at the time. But it was a gamble that paid off, with the face wash market now at Rs. 2,300 crore. Despite being a highly competitive category controlled by big multinationals, Joy has been able to carve out a 2 percent share of the face wash market and is the sixth largest of 20 players in the space.
Over the years, the company continued to set new milestones. One such was the launch of Honey Almonds Lotion (HAL), which was awarded Product of the Year in 2013. Today the company ranks third in the winter lotion category with a nine percent volume share, as reported by Nielsen. HAL, meanwhile, is a market leader in the moisture cream category with more than 30 percent market share.
To cope with the growth and better understand customer needs, a qualitative survey was conducted which highlighted the need for product association with the parent brand ‘Joy’. Thereafter, “Joy Beautiful by Nature” came into existence, which celebrated the natural beauty of a person and promoted the cause with various campaigns that the brand has since executed. These include the “Hire Just One” campaign for acid attack survivors and the “Joy Pure and Safe” campaign that distributed hygiene kits to transgenders and sex workers in Kolkata during the lockdown.
By 2015, Joy was growing at a rate of 18-20 percent year on year. It is currently the seventh largest skin care brand and aims to be among the top five in the next three years.
With the core beliefs of honesty in business and of providing excellent products at affordable prices, Mr. Agarwal has been growing this business since its inception. He believes in a proactive approach to understanding consumer needs to provide what customers want. He believes “We have to be better than yesterday, not only in terms of numbers, but also with our outlets, our brand image, people resources, and strive for excellence to ultimately stay relevant to the consumers.”