The weight loss and beauty company VLCC Health Care Ltd has been in the news for buying back shares from CLSA, an international brokerage and an early investor in the healthcare brand. Experts tracking retail businesses have given thumbs up to the company’s future expecting it to double its estimated Rs 500 crore revenue soon. VLCC offers a spectrum of services including training centres for personnel required in this business. According to its managing director Sandeep Ahuja, new outlets, new consumer products and probably entry into the nutraceutical segment is the next step forward for the company.
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Although Marico Ltd’s skincare chain Kaya does not focus on weight loss, the brand has been increasing the number of outlets as well. Kaya, with 81 outlets in India and 17 in West Asia, specializes in skin care and its CEO Ajay Pahwa would have you believe that serious expansion is in the pipeline especially after it acquired the aesthetics business of Singapore’s Derma Rx. A host of new modern, scientific techniques in skin care have been introduced at its centres in the last 18 months, Pahwa claims.
Surprisingly, a much smaller company Birla Pacific Medspa, a joint venture between the Yash Birla group and a Singapore spa company, also listed itself on the stock exchange last month. Though its current operations of less than 10 centres under Evolve, a brand that offers spa facilities, cosmetology and dermatology services aren’t spinning money yet, it seems to have faith in the business.
To be sure, these companies may not exactly be comparable in terms of size, services or even their business life cycles, but they have a common theme—wellness. And they are very bullish about the business they are in because the Indian consumers are buying into their theme.
How consumers are engaged with wellness giving a fillip to this sector will be revealed in the coming week when Ficci and PricewaterhouseCoopers release a new report on the wellness sector. Currently, the size of the wellness industry that includes weight loss clinics, gyms and beauty treatments and nutrition products is pegged at Rs 11,000 crore according to the last wellness report released in 2009. Ahuja insists that of the total wellness sector, 40% comprises of services.
From all accounts—though neither Ahuja nor Pahwa the two company heads who are expected to chair a session on wellness are willing to divulge the new figures—the industry has burgeoned in the last two years clearly riding on consumer interest in the segment.
What exactly has changed in the last few years that’s made the organized firms in the segment upbeat? The most palpable change has been consumers moving from the “curative” to “preventive”. Earlier, more people walked into VLCC clinics with doctors’ prescriptions recommending “lose weight”.
Ahuja, who has been steering VLCC for almost a decade now, clarifies that the segment has not disappeared but a big chunk of customers come before they need to see a doctor. His theory for the shift, probably true, is the prohibitive cost of medical care in India. As a consequence, wellness is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity.
Little surprise then, the gyms that started out as cool, hangout joints for the young have different client mix. Men and women in their 40s are regular customers and the change is not subliminal. It is in your face.
This paradigm shift has boosted the confidence of companies in the wellness industry that’s growing at between 25% and 35%. Interestingly, while people still flock the clinics for wholesale weight loss, yet others go for body correction and shaping. That’s not all. More men are opting for grooming services than before.
If six years ago, men comprised 15% clients at VLCC, today their numbers have increased to 40% (not necessarily just for grooming though) and the remaining 60% are women. At Kaya, that launched in 2002, from 12% men to 20% now—the shift has taken place in the last two years.
Kaya’s Pahwa insists that a lot more men are coming for anti-aging services: botox, fillers, peels. And these are not just small-screen or big-screen starlets, they are regular, working professionals.
As the popular culture landscape changes with Shah Rukh Khan and Brad Pitt baring their chest every other day, laser hair reduction among men is increasingly in demand. But Pahwa gives more marks to men in West Asia—Saudi Arabia, Oman and other places where they have opened centres. “They are far ahead of Indian men in terms for grooming. Local custom makes it mandatory for them to sport a beard, but they are very conscious about grooming.
Back home, wellness and grooming is spreading geographically with companies spotting a potential in tier 2 and tier 3 towns. There is convergence of consumer behaviour and need as tier 2 customers veer towards what the metro consumers do. So wellness chains with centres in Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Coimbatore, Raja Mundari and Gorakhpur see the developments and demands of the metros being mirrored in these cities.
Shuchi Bansal is marketing and media editor with Mint. Comment at email@example.com