Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, having seen his father reach heights with his problem-solving skills, the weight on CEO, Co-founder Naturals Salon, CK Kumaravel’s shoulders was always a lot. Right from his childhood, Kumaravel had seen the way business is conducted. He started taking decisions very early in life. As fate would have it, through unfortunate circumstances, CK Kumaravel got destined to be in a position to take life with sincerity and responsibility. “The morning next to that of my father’s death, we received a call from my mother saying, ‘From today I’m your mother and your father.’ I was a 13-year-old kid, my eldest brother being 25, I did not even grasp what it meant. All I knew was that my family is in some kind of trouble. It is our father’s dream and mother’s values through which I lived. We all, six siblings, live our life with those values today,” he calmly puts it.
Learning from Mahatma Gandhi’s, ‘A single man can make all the difference’, Kumaravel resolved during college days that he can define the fate of many lives. He himself can make the difference. Post-college, he goes on to do an apprenticeship under the guidance of his elder brothers. He was a young kid full of ideas and after being nudged as ‘too young’ instead of direct dismissals of his ideas, he jumped to the next solution. The solution is to start his own business. “Some people discuss and some people decide. The ones who discuss do not decide and vice-versa. So, I decided to start my own business.” CK Kumaravel shares with Dutch Uncles.
The Tides of Life
Exemplifying sheer honesty in his voice, Kumaravel goes on to share his tryst with waves of success and failures, “I started off with Raaga Herbal Product. I had plans to reach big turnovers. By the third year, I had reached 6 crores of turnover, that is like 60 Crores today.” Just when success along with its glamour was touching his feet, the tides turned the other side, “I launched my next product, Raaga Hibiscus Oil and that was the first failure. Next, tried to expand in North India and that was the second failure. The third was a new product which I wanted to try, a mouth freshener and another failure,” Kumaravel beamingly shares.
I ask him back, how is he cherishing those failures today and he replies like a veteran would, “Hard-earned victory if not monitored carefully, seeds of failure are sown there. I was like Abhimanyu of Mahabharata at that moment. Vendors clueless, frozen bank accounts and well-wishers telling me I’ve failed. Failures make you strong.” Kumaravel further shares how a piece of advice from his father helped him come out of those times. “He told me the importance of learning English and how success in business is connected to it. I bought Think and Grow Rich, a very popular book, but I just read some chapters. How much can a Tamil medium guy read in English?” he adds. From here, to overcome the hurdle of reading, Kumaravel starts to listen to audio collections of books. For the next 35 years, he has kept on utilising his free time to read and gain knowledge through his walkman. This one habit he recommends to all entrepreneurs to adopt, he calls it the method of ‘continuous education’.
After learning from the motivational talks, he often got through his audio collections that it was his efforts that failed and not him, Kumaravel decides to move ahead with something new. Ideated by Co-founder Naturals, Veena Kumaravel, CK Kumaravel’s wife, Naturals Salon chain finally originated.
Despite the risks of jumping into a new industry in the 2000s when Salon chains were not present in any figment of imaginations, Kumaravel thinks that over-brooding seldom helps. He states, “Take a decision and make it right. I don’t like how these entrepreneurs keep on deciding. If you want all the traffic signals to be green, you will never be able to take the car out of the garage. We both weren’t beauticians. I used to think manicure is for feet and pedicure for hands. I feel it’s a great advantage to have no knowledge of the industry. That is how you make your own rules.”
Irritation as a Source of Energy
CK Kumaravel believes irritation can act as a big source of energy. Per Kumaravel, there are many examples of great successes which were born out of irritation arising out of failures. Start of Naturals had these aspects ingrained in the story. “We were irritated about the lack of good quality and affordable salons. The good salons were only there in 5-star hotels. They were intimidating and unaffordable. On the other hand, were the local barbers and beauty parlours, where the hygiene and quality standards were very poor. We, as a customer, could not fit into both. We thought there is a need for a good quality affordable salon,” he explains.
Now you have a problem, a solution and a team in hand, what is the missing puzzle? Capital. Kumaravel shares with us his favourite mantra of ‘Three Fs’. “Three Fs are friends, family and fools. First, comes the family, your family and friends are your first bankers in India.” Over the period of time, Kumaravel had matured as an entrepreneur and he tells us how gradually his thought process became more realistic, “My theory, earlier when I was doing Raaga, was ‘dream big, live big’ later when I started Naturals, it became, ‘dream big, start small and keep moving,’ with this mindset I launched Naturals.”
Expansion and diversification are often discussed as contentious matters in a start-up’s life. Whether to grow the product or to keep focusing on core strength, is a topic of discussion. Per Mr Kumaravel, this is something that only an entrepreneur should know himself. “You are going in a car and with what speed you are going, only you should know. Ensure that the family requirements are always meant. In the eagerness to grow, don’t risk everything. Because when your family is in trouble, it will emotionally make you traumatic. When you come back home and you don’t know how to pay the fees of your young children, I think that will be a killer.” Whether you are expanding or just continuing to run your business, he emphasises on saving some funds. “So, twenty percent, thirty percent, keep it.”.
India: A Different Animal
Things have changed completely for the beauty and wellness industry today. The old times where entrepreneurs did not want to put their hands in the industry ridden with taboos along with consumer spending resistance, is now a breeding ground for many new products. Kumaravel opens up on how India has changed with time, “India after 2000 is a different animal. Thanks to the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and Former PM PV Narasimha Rao’s move that opened our economy and gave us economic freedom. Today, the first salary of the daughter is bigger than the last salary of the father.” How did you tackle the general perception back in the 2000s that was an adversary to the health and wellness industry? I ask him back, to which CK Kumaravel answers with, “The customer was ready to spend on the beauty though the society did not look at the beauty business favourably. They attached taboo to it. I said, as long as it is fair and legal, I have no problem in doing business. Now there is another opportunity in such taboo businesses. Quality players will not enter your business. Your competition is another beauty parlour or housewives. All that gave me time to establish, learn, make mistakes.”
Today, I can very proudly say, I’ve created successful women and I’ve also created house-husbands. The wives have started making more than their husbands.
From his LinkedIn profile to interviews and public speeches, CK Kumaravel’s life as a business person has always been about empowering women and making them start their own businesses, by turning their dreams into an entrepreneurial journey. Today most of the franchises of Naturals Salon across the country are being run by a woman. On this, he shares his thoughts, “I’ve told you about my experience with my mom, from housewife to the role that she played for 35 years. I see many extremely talented women, who do not have self-belief. Just think, if this energy is channelised, what a big difference it can make to my life, their lives and to that of the world.” He further proudly shares with a tinge of humour, “Today, I can very proudly say, I’ve created successful women and I’ve also created house-husbands. The wives have started making more than their husbands. I don’t like the word, housewives either. You see the kind of talent, potential and energy is locked in the 4-walls, it is a gross injustice!”
Confidence as an entrepreneur to be the face of the company is a key skill. Having that in your bag can act as a game-changer in itself. On this, Kumaravel replies with, ‘Confidence is everything.’ He adds, “There are more talented people than even Sachin Tendulkar, but the point is, how confident are you to play the ball? Talent is not everything. Confidence comes with practice, practice, practice and a couple of failures.”
Talking on the importance of ethics in an entrepreneur’s life, CK Kumaravel says, “In India being an entrepreneur is difficult because we seldom have role-models. Being honest and ethical is not respected. Only people with money and power are respected. In business, we think, money is a problem or maybe skill is the problem; but actually, it is the character strength. That is what is the most important thing in business. Only when you have the emotional maturity and character strength, you’ll be able to withstand the challenges of early days of entrepreneurship.”
The customer was ready to spend on the beauty though the society did not look at the beauty business favourably. They attached taboo to it. I said, as long as it is fair and legal, I have no problem in doing business. Now there is another opportunity in such taboo businesses. Quality players will not enter your business.
A Pioneer of the Industry
Today, when he visits people working in his salons, he is thanked graciously by the workers for being the reason behind the change in perception of the salon industry. How does it feel, I ask him, “It is absolutely like being on Cloud Nine. I used to look at my father and say, the greatest use of life is to do something that outlasts it. To make it from a socially tabooed industry to a lifestyle industry, I feel this was the biggest contribution from my side,” he answers.
Having your wife as your Co-founder is a fortune not many have. How is it to work with your wife? He is asked. On this, he lightly shares that it is both ‘good and bad’. “Good is that we know that we are going to sail together and nobody is going to run away with the business. The bad is that sometimes, the problems of the office reach home and that of home, reach the office.”
Thinking about the future, CK Kumaravel talks with a set date about his plans along with his natural sense of determination. He shares how 15000 jobs by the year 2022 and making Naturals the best salon chain in the world by 2025 is his goal. Having lived a remarkable journey that is just not of an entrepreneur but that of a visionary businessman who has pioneered the salon industry in India, Kumaravel says, he lives his life’s each day full of conviction. With this, he rests our interview leaving a thought-provoking vision, “My goal is to build a corruption-free India. I want to make India beautiful. That’s why I have recently joined politics. It is the silence of the good people that destroys society. So it is our mandate and responsibility to give the next generation a beautiful, safe country.”
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