Mahendra Kumar Pahwa, 34, proprietor of a small chemist's shop in Haridwar, suffered from splitting headaches. No medication helped when one of those came on. "Then about four years ago a friend suggested I use Himgange hair oil regularly," he says. "I did, and my headaches disappeared." A delighted Pahwa began stocking the brand at his shop, which he had not done before. There were more surprises in store. "I had begun greying very early," he adds. "But as I kept using Himgange, the greying not only stopped, it was reversed."
| THE LOW-DOWN|
- Himgange falls in the 'cool hair oil' category
- It has a 28.5% share in a Rs 700 crore market
- Launched in 1987, it is now a Rs 200 crore brand
The manufacturers of the hair oil, Gautam Kumar Burman, 74, and his sons, Neeraj, 41, and Vikram, 40, do not make any medicinal claims for their product. They only maintain it is in the 'cool hair oil' category, and while there is no research to back it up, all such 'cool oils' - which produce a cooling, tingling sensation when applied to the hair and scalp - are said to relieve tension, insomnia, headaches and fatigue. Among such oils, which command a Rs 700 crore market
, Himgange holds a 28.5 per cent share, concentrated mainly in the North, where its owners claim it is the dominant player in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It has held its own against national market leader Emami whose Himani Navratna has a 52 per cent market share nationwide.
Once a chemistry professor at Montreal University, Canada, Gautam Burman decided to return to India and take charge of the family business when his father fell ill in 1971. The Varanasi-based Burmans ran a large distribution company in Uttar Pradesh. But Gautam always wanted to start something of his own, and on a train journey, watching a fellow passenger vigorously oiling his hair, he decided he would make hair oil. His chemistry background came in useful as he experimented for months with oils, herbs and fragrances, before launching Himgange in 1987.
The big breakthrough, however, came with the decision to shift base from Varanasi to Haridwar in May 2005. To woo investors, the newly formed Uttarkhand state was then offering a 10-year waiver of excise duty and a fiveyear income tax holiday if they set up industries in the state. The new factory the Burmans set up used automated, high quality packaging process, unlike in Varanasi where most of the job was done manually. "Faster packaging of bottles opened new avenues," says Vikram. "We were able to increase production to cater to the rising demand."
Himgange grew at a compound annual growth rate of 34.4 per cent between 2007/08 and 2009/10. Growth was slow in the last financial year, down to 5.4 per cent, which the Burmans attribute to a pleasant summer and the coming of early rains: when the temperature is low, fewer people use cooling hair oil. The rising cost of raw material also took its toll. But the overall achievement is still enormous. "From a time when I used to personally visit retail stores carrying samples of my product with me in a van, we have grown into a Rs 200-crore brand," says Gautam.
Vikram believes the next phase of Himgange's growth will come from launching new products and entering the southern markets. Himgange is even considering an acquisition and could go public in two years as well, he says. Last year, the company launched a coconut hair oil brand called Kerlina in a market where Marico's Parachute is a clear leader. "It has received excellent response so far," says Gautam.
Kanpur-based stockist Umesh Gupta spells out Himgange's strengths. "The key differentiator from its rivals' products is its quality," he says. "Its rivals may employ aggressive advertising, but Himgange has a loyal customer base. It also offers better margins."