Hand-in-hand always

DC | GAUTAM SUNDER
Published Jan 4, 2014, 5:26 pm IST
Updated Mar 19, 2019, 4:38 am IST

Does a husband-wife team make good business partners? Well, it’s always been a topic of debate, but this success story from Chennai hits the argument for a homer indeed, surprising the traditional heavyweights in the beauty/wellness industry like Delhi and Mumbai.

It all started 13 years back — in 2000, when C.K. Kumaravel who completely believes in the concept of women entrepreneurship, wanted to help his wife Veena start a new business to keep her busy while their kids were away at school. “We just wanted to be known as a reputable brand, earning around Rs 60,000  a month — that would have perfectly satisfied us,” recalls Kumaravel.

Cut to 2013, their brainchild Naturals has completely revitalised the beauty industry in the country. So, how did this journey unfold? Well, after considering options like a kids’ day care and a boutique store, the husband-wife duo decided to start a salon — that would provide quality service at affordable rates. “Either it was the 5-star hotels that were too expensive, or local barber shops that were unhygienic. But I’ll admit, neither of us had any experience in the beauty and wellness industry. In fact, I thought a manicure was for the feet and pedicure for the hands!” Kumaravel laughs.

But of course, they must have needed an initial budget, but Kumaravel says they started off with nothing. “What budget? I followed a simple policy known as the 3F rule – Friends, Family and Fools,” he laughs, adding, “We just needed to convince them to let us borrow money from them. I managed to collect around Rs 30 lakhs from them. Today the value of Naturals brand is at around 250 crores.”

In fact, they say they knocked on the doors of 50-odd banks before someone finally agreed to finance them. “But we don’t blame our detractors — circumstances were different then. I have to thank my wife for being such an amazing source of inspiration and support whenever I have felt down and out,” Kumaravel says.

As the business grew, so did the need for manpower. Veena, especially is continually travelling to bring in people from the North-East who are then trained in their centres, and later equipped to work in the salons. “Now, several academic institutions also serve as a source of manpower for us. The biggest leap was when we decided expand our franchise system. From just six salons in 2005, we got more than 500 enquires and plans went into overdrive,” she recalls.

With 326 salons launched today in the country, and one in Colombo, Veena and Kumaravel are among the most formidable power couples down south. But while their dashing combination has made for a terrific professional relationship, how do they manage to keep work out of their family? “We never discuss work at all! Unless it’s a very important meeting, my husband and I handle completely different departments of the company. We make time to take short holidays, mostly with family and friends. Just recently, around 25-30 of us had an amazing vacation at a lovely resort on the outskirts of Bengaluru,” says Veena who also has a knack for interior designing, and contributes a lot to designing the look of the salons.

Kumaravel agrees with her, “She deals with training and HR, while I focus on marketing and business development. So our paths never cross! Outside work, we watch movies, spend time with the other and family members, socialise at parties and events. We absolutely support each other in all aspects of our lives, and somehow have learnt to strike a balance.”

The couple also has two children who they say, are priority customers at all their salons! “Our son and daughter are young, and like to experiment with their hair. Not me, though — I never get a haircut at a Naturals; I always go someplace else to check out the competition!” smiles Kumaravel.

After 13 years in the business, they have some special memories and one of them was when Kumaravel went to a newly-launched Naturals in Coimbatore asking for an appointment. He was turned away saying it was fully booked by the stylist who didn’t recognise him!

“We are glad to see our staff progress in life, and grow with us on this journey. Some of them run our franchise outlets today, and it gives us immense satisfaction to witness this growth. It’s been a total team effort,” he explains.

Looking ahead to the future, Kumaravel signs off on an ambitious note, saying, “Currently we are the numero uno salon in India, preparing to also take the rest of Asia by storm. By 2020 we will have a worldwide presence, with 3,000 salons, 50,000 jobs and successful women entrepreneurs.”

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