By  on December 29, 2010

New Delhi — When President Barack Obama visited India recently, his discussions with entrepreneurs and business leaders included a beautician and business woman who had been at his Summit of Entrepreneurs in Washington earlier in the year. Twice in the same year Shahnaz Husain — who is a leader in the $100 million premium herbal beauty market in India — was reminded that focusing on global markets can pay off. Husain declined to break out numbers, but industry sources speculate that her company generates about one-sixth of the $100 million herbal market. Other players in the market segment include Lotus Herbal; Forest Essentials, which was acquired by the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., and Biotique.

One of the earliest beauticians to set the tone for herbal beauty products in the Seventies, Husain is living proof of the approach she championed at the U.S. summit — building a brand, without advertising, into a network consisting of retail, salons and franchises. It has been a 25-year task of promoting brand India and ayurveda worldwide. Her distinctive dress style (long flowing caftans), striking hair (worn thick and open down her back with orange henna) and heavy black-kohled eyes all match her imperious manner. She told WWD:“We have nearly 300 franchise ventures in India, which include salons, spa and beauty training institutes. We have more than 800 shop-in-shops, as well as over 10,000 salon outlets, that is in our own salons, franchise salons and other salons. We also have about 22,000 other points of purchase. We are present in 500 towns in India and in the adjoining countries of Nepal and Bhutan and many other countries including the U.S., U.K., Canada, etc.”

In August, she opened a counter at Selfridges in London. “International branding is very much a part of our plans,” she said, adding that the addition of Selfridges was a major move.“It is a great step forward in terms of consolidating our international presence,” she said.

As founder, chairperson and managing director of the Shahnaz Husain Group of Companies, she continues to drive expansion. “I entered the international market during the Festival of India in 1980,” she recalled. “I stood alone and sold brand India and ayurveda. It was not easy without fancy packaging and commercial advertising. I let my products do the talking. To everyone’s surprise, we sold out the entire consignment in three days and broke [Selfridges’] cosmetic sales records.”

Her brand successfully moved on to Galeries Lafayette, Bloomingdale’s in New York, Seibu in Japan, La Rinascente in Milan, El Corte Inglés in Spain and other top locations. However, the overseas expansion did not undermine her growth plans for India. “The retail business, especially in cosmetics products, has registered 25 percent growth. The increase in the herbal beauty products business is higher — at 40 percent,” she said.

The retail format followed by the brand so far has been aimed at creating a presence in several different formats. Earlier the brand was primarily available in local markets but as more formally organized retail developed the line acquired counters in several department store chains. The focus in 2010 is changing to more of a shop-in-shop format with trained beauty advisers and the Shahnaz Husain signature and franchised salons serving as retail outlets. Her brand has more than 350 skin, hair, body and health care products and is known for its continuous product innovation through new launches.

Franchising has been a core strategy. “We have extended all our ventures through the franchise system, like franchise salons, shops, spa and beauty training institutes,” she said.The next target area is day spas, into which she plans to convert more salons — spas geared towards revitalization, rejuvenation and stress reduction within the ayurvedic principles of holistic care. “We have introduced an entire new repertoire of salon and spa treatments, using traditional and exotic ingredients. With the ‘total well being’ concept gaining ground, day spas and spa treatments are poised for an exciting future,” said Husain.

In August, Shahnaz herbals, which has been in the premium segment, made its first foray into the midsegment range priced between 75 Indian rupees, or $1.62, to 203 rupees, or $4.39. This range, called Shahnaz Forever, is only available in India at this time and includes 22 stockkeeping units, including a face wash, toners, protective creams, scrub, face pack, hair cleansers, oil and conditioner. “We decided to enter the midsegment and the mass market after establishing total brand loyalty and brand identity. It took at least four to five years to create a range like this. We did a lot of research into the combination of herbs being used so that the quality and effectiveness is not compromised. These products are not treatment products, they are simple daily-use beauty care products. It is not a glamorous line,” she said, adding, “I felt it was my duty to make safe, quality products available to the customer at affordable prices.”

A new skin care range, Shalife Plus, was launched for the festive season this October. She also made a splash at the Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi from Oct. 3 to 14 with a special salon for athletes from all over the world.

Meanwhile Husain continues to look ahead, keeping one eye on the international arena and the other on the beauty and wellness market, which includes beauty services, worth an estimated $2.68 billion in India.

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