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From finance to hand-made soaps: How one woman set up a bath and body company from scratch

Ishween Anand, Founder and CEO, Nyassa, had planned a career in financial services and she did exactly that until she found her passion somewhere else

Ishween Anand

For many Indians, a career with one of the ‘Big Fours’ in the ‘Big Apple’ would be a dream come true. Ishween Anand was living that dream when she realised that her heart was somewhere else.

After passing her chartered accountancy exams, Anand left for New York to earn herself an MBA in Finance from the Stern School of Management.

“After I passed my CA exams, my first job was actually selling mutual funds for Birla Sun Life. I then moved to New York to do an MBA in finance. I thought I was going to have a very hard core financial services career, which I did for about eight years. In New York, I was with Ernst & Young and was handling mergers and acquisitions for the consultancy.”

But in Anand’s owns words, she hated every minute of it.

“What caught my fancy was a lady sitting at the farmer’s market, reading a book and selling beautiful bath and body products.”

But this was 2005-2006 and handmade bath and body products was not a thriving industry in India. Anand’s love for handmade soaps began with an innocuous search before turning, somewhat, into an obsession.

“It started out as a very innocuous search as I wanted to find out how these soaps are made and then it turned into an obsession. I was still working with E&Y but I was spending more time on soapmaking.com than on the wallstreetjournal.com.”

Anand happened to move back to India in 2007 and already had a job in hand if she wanted it but instead, she chose to follow her passion and her calling. After moving back, the first thing that she did was to get an SDA licence.

“I got the licence in three months and the first place that we sought was Atria mall. I went up to the owners and explained to them that we were a start-up and did not have the money to own a store in the mall but that we would like to put up a little kiosk at the food court level because that was the place that saw the most footfall and only on the weekends. The owners agreed and Nyassa was born. There has been no looking back since then.”

According to Anand, within the first six months of starting, about 20+ stores were retailing Nyassa’s range of soaps and lotions. Today, the brand retails in almost 70+ locations across the country and has four of its own stores in Mumbai, apart from being available online.

“Amazon and Nykaa are our biggest sellers. In terms of sales and revenue, online sales currently account for less than 20% but we are looking to increase that number to at least 50% in the future.”

Corporate gifting forms a substantial chunk of the brand’s revenues. Nyassa has made inroads into the hospitality sector and partnered with various hotels.

Speaking about their approach to marketing, Anand said, “When we started in 2007, we did a lot of exhibitions because we thought that was a great way to talk directly to our consumers because the touch and feel factor is very important in this category. While that still continues to be a part of our marketing strategy, our focus now is on digital. We are looking to plough back 7-10% of our revenues into marketing.”

Currently, the brand’s marketing and communication duties are handled by an in-house team but it is looking to bring a full-service agency on board pretty soon.

Anand sees immense potential in this category and feels the youth today are more inclined towards grooming and personal care and believes that the easy access provided by ecommerce to various products will only contribute towards the growth of the category.

But unlike when the brand started, the bath and body category is more cluttered today. How will Nyassa ensure it stands out?

“Even when we started, we were very clear that we will not be an ayurvedic brand. I think the space that has gotten very cluttered is Ayurveda. When I started the company, I was driven by fragrance. For us, it is about looking at the world’s ingredients and fragrances and bringing them to India.”

The coming year is going to be big for the brand as they are not only planning to expand their footprint but also add new categories.

“We plan to expand the number of our stores next year. For 11 years, we have been in a very personal lifestyle business but this year we are looking to bring in a lot of professional management and grow at a much faster pace. So, we are going to look at the Bangalore and Delhi market for our own stores next. When it comes to product portfolio, we have been doing a lot of R&D for skin care products and they should be ready to launch by next year.”

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