How Shiva Kumar revitalized and reinvented his hair care products business through participating in the Business Development Center’s entrepreneurial training program
Olive & Praise brings quality, affordability, and local production together to offer a variety of hair and cosmetic products that rival the big brand names. The company’s passion is to create affordable hair care solutions for the Indian market.
Shiva Kumar, a graduate from the second batch of the BDC Entrepreneurship Class in 2012, has a vision for making quality, affordable hair care products and solutions available to the average customer in India. Having already started his business Olive & Praise back in 1998, and after 10 years of previous experience in product management for other cosmetic companies, Kumar thought that he knew plenty about running a business. But upon taking the BDC Entrepreneurship course, he was surprised to discover that, in his own words, “he knew zero about business”. Through the course, he realized that he was missing the very foundation of running a business “from the heart”—with business ethics and a purpose to bless others—which was of far greater significance than just knowing how to develop and sell a product. Though he had always had great intentions of being a blessing, no one had helped him think through what this actually looked like in the business world before.
Upon graduation from the program, Kumar had a new determination to maintain high quality standards in his hair products without compromising, even if it took time to build his brand and gain customers who understood the value of his offerings. To start off, he relaunched his primary product, coconut hair oil, changing the packaging and upgrading the quality. He was now set on giving his very best, even if he lost customers temporarily, since he was convinced that integrity was a better long-term plan than constantly changing the quality to give customers the price they wanted.
It has not been an easy journey, but Kumar certainly has never looked back. Initially, Olive & Praise had focused on catering to the rural markets that make up 70% of India. However, marketing their products proved a challenge, and they were not able to keep up. Eventually, the company shifted from mass products to class products, rebranded themselves, and repositioned themselves in the market. The company experienced greater profits. Over time, they began to formulate their products themselves, producing similar items to those of the major brand names, but for less. Over the years, one of the major challenges has been a high turnover in the sales and marketing team, with difficulty getting committed employees who produced results. Much revenue has been lost through unsuccessful marketing. However, Olive & Praise is currently looking into a new online sales model, and sees much potential for growth. Despite these challenges, Kumar measures his biggest success in the customers who greatly appreciate the brand names, packaging, and quality products offered at a discount. He also celebrates the success of having remained in the same business for 20 years, despite its ups and downs.
Olive & Praise (www.oliveandpraise.com) offers a wide range of hair care products. They sell under the Flo brand name, which carries 10 different varieties of shampoos, as well as hair spas, hair serums, hair oils, sulfate-free shampoo, hair-growing oil, cool oil, coconut oil, aloe vera skin gel, and facial scrub. In addition, they also produce a Baldino line of products for hair loss treatment. Currently, Olive & Praise markets their products through super distributers in states, who work with distributers in towns under them, who work with retails, and finally reach customers. Presently, Kumar has a handful of employees working under him, including an office manager, office staff, and a technical person. And thus far, the company has been using third parties to do the manufacturing of the products.
However, Kumar is constantly exploring new horizons to broaden his business scope and services, increase his selling base, and cut out middlemen. Many new projects are underway, including big plans to launch on online portal to sell directly to customers in the near future. Secondly, Kumar is investigating how to set up his own manufacturing unit in Bangalore, rather than relying on third parties. This would give the company free access to every area at any time, allowing them to check and ensure that consistent quality standards are upheld. Kumar is currently seeking out the right location, employees, and investment for this project. As part of this, he hopes to import some of the needed raw materials and packaging materials from China. A third area for growth is the possibility of expanding into overseas markets. Olive & Praise has already been selling in Nepal for a year, and is well underway in getting the necessary licenses to do so in Malaysia. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are other potential markets that Kumar hopes to expand into. Since much of the working capital has been spent on brand building and market building, investments will be required to fund these endeavors. Kumar’s vision is that in 10 years, his company will be ranked within the top 25 companies in the cosmetic industry in India. He also dreams of starting hair treatment clinics across India, where people could bring their hair concerns to dermatologists and trichologists, and be offered solutions in the form of assessments and individualized plans.
As far as advice to entrepreneurs just starting out, Kumar emphasizes, “If you want to start a business, first you should learn the ethics and the methodologies. MBAs and MCAs will not define your business ideologies… There is something much more to learn. There are ethics, ways, and means to doing successful business…Those secrets are all revealed in BDC. If you want to learn the secrets of ethical business, go to BDC.” He also states, “A business needs to be run not only from your head and stomach, but also from your heart. If you learn this, your desires will be fulfilled. Everyone makes money. But HOW you are making money and doing business is what makes you successful.” Furthermore, he adds, “Many people aren’t persevering in running a business. Having been in the same business for 20 years, I can say that it takes much patience and perseverance.”