Delhi-based Anshita Arora, 26, recently started working after completing her postgraduate studies in art history earlier this year. While her income varies depending on assignments she gets from art houses and museums, she spends Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 a month on her appearance.
She prefers different salons for different services, be it hair care or skincare or dressing up for a party. "The amount spent may be even higher if I have to attend a family wedding or a theme party," she says.
"For skincare, I like herbal or natural products. For haircare, I prefer international salon products. It feels good to pamper oneself." With Arora typifying a trend among Indians today, the beauty business is booming. "Clients want quality these days," says Diksha Gupta, co-owner of one of the Looks salons in Delhi. "We have clients who come for one service such as an eyebrow shaping or a haircut, but who, after enquiring about our other services, tweak their monthly budgets accordingly and block another service for the next month," says Gupta.Beauty expert Ambika Pillai, owner of a chain of salons, agrees with Gupta. She says the urban salon market in India is small by world standards but growing at a rapid pace. Indeed, a KPMG Wellness Sector report released in April this year projected that the size of India's beauty and wellness market would nearly double to Rs 80,370 crore by 2017/18 from Rs 41,224 crore in 2012/13. Business is so good that it has caught the attention of private equity firms.
CLSA and Everstone have both invested in the Vandana Luthra-owned salon chain VLCC. "Every second day we get an enquiry from an interested PE firm," says Luthra.
"We are currently in talks with two more of them." Luthra, who opened her first salon in 1989, now has 300 of them across 121 towns and cities in 16 countries, including in Africa. She intends to scale up the Rs 1,000-crore company five times in the next three years.
"We are growing at 30 to 35 per cent," she adds. Other well-known chains are also expanding. Chennai-based Naturals, launched in 2000, has 380 salons across the country, which founder Veena Kumaravel wants to increase to 3,000 by 2020. CavinKare's 12-year-old salon brand, Trends In Vogue, has 400 outlets and intends to add another 100 this year, according to its Business Head, R. Gopalakrishnan.One segment of the beauty business that is doing particularly well is specialised haircare. An AC Nielsen report estimates the haircare market in India at Rs 3,630 crore, with average annual growth of 20 per cent. Indeed, even L'Oreal's premium Kerastase treatment - in which a "Kerastase Ambassador", a hair specialist, examines the customer's scalp condition with a special camera before recommending appropriate haircare - is becoming popular despite its steep price tag, with more than 200 outlets in the country providing the service. "Our ritual prices range from Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,500, while the anti-hairloss programme can cost between Rs 1,600 and Rs 10,500," says Smira Bakshi, General Manager, Kerastase India.
Another segment expanding rapidly is bridal makeup. Earlier, it was usually only the bride who visited the salon prior to the wedding ceremony, but now friends and relatives often join her and salons offer special packages for them. "Our bridal package cost ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh for 10 people, which includes head-to-toe grooming and makeup," says Nirmal Randhawa, owner of a chain of salons and a spa in Delhi.
If it is the bride alone, Randhawa charges Rs 25,000. "When they go to a location for the wedding, beauty professionals charge Rs 50,000 and above per assignment," she adds. Spas - or medi-spas as they are popularly called - are also gaining popularity, where customers undergo nonsurgical skin lifting, treatments for weight loss and more. Randhawa herself is turning her gym into a medi-spa with an investment of Rs 70 lakh.
Quality beauty treatment calls for specialised knowledge - thus training schools are also proliferating. Most salon chains have their own academies. VLCC, for instance, runs 75 different courses, with fees ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 26,000 for the basic ones and Rs 30,000 to Rs 2.9 lakh for the advanced ones. Specialised courses in cosmetology cost between Rs 50,000 and Rs 3 lakh, depending on their length and nature.
The government's Beauty and Wellness Sector Skill Council also runs various training schemes. Naturally, employment opportunities in the sector are booming, too. The KPMG Wellness Report estimates that workforce requirements in the beauty and salon segment will grow from 3.4 million in 2013 to 12.1 million in 2022. Salaries of makeup and beauty professionals vary between Rs 15,000 and Rs 65,000 per month. Martha Ngade, 28, hailing from distant Senapati in Manipur, is an employee at one of Looks' Delhi outlets. She started on Rs 4,000 a month at a small-time beauty parlour, but for the last three years has been with Looks and now earns Rs 40,000.
"I have taken responsibility for my younger sister who is studying in a Delhi college," she says. Since the investment in setting up a salon is relatively modest - as low as Rs 1 lakh for an outlet - many employees dream of setting up on their own. Five years on, Ngade hopes to go back to Senapati and start her own salon. So too Nisha Sharma, who trained at VLCC and now earns Rs 20,000 plus incentives working at Naturals's Delhi outlet. "I'm excited at the prospect of opening my own salon," she says.