09 October, 2009

When skill set takes over everything else!

If there is one activity that many urban men dread every month among others, it’s the thought of visiting his “personal groomer”. From a nonchalant corner shop that could seat not more than three people at a time to the more recent air-conditioned (sometimes unisex) salons, this business has come a long way. The Barbers are today better known as “Hair-stylists” and the profession is gaining acceptance as a popular vocation too and many youngsters are getting their hands “on” in this business. The recycled newspapers have been replaced with Filmfare, Femina, Vogue and even India Today! From waiting outside the shops to fixing prior appointments, from standing under scorching sun to comfy sofas, a lot has changed over the years, right in front of us!

While the beauty-care market in India is worth over Rs 5,000 Crores, growing at 25% pa, according to an L’Oreal study conducted in 2008, the services business accounts for 87% of this market. The estimated size of the men’s grooming market annually is over 1,500 Crores and has been growing at a CAGR of 12% over the past few years. But organised players command less than 5% of the pie. Every city or region in the country has a bunch of players, although many of them have aggressive plans to grow nationally in the years to come. YLG or You Look Good is the most recent entrant in this market, while Limelite promoted by Cavinkare is among the oldest. Other players like Bodycraft and Bounce operate with a limited reach within a particular geographical area.

The three most important things that men look for when they visit a Salon are Convenience to visit the Outlet including parking, Skillsets of the Staff and the Ambience of the place. While the order of priority may change from each person, the most important aspect to note here is the Skillset of the Staff. All things being great but a poor job done wouldn’t bring back the customer again. To ensure that the service delivery is consistent, many chains also have an in-house training academy. Before the staff starts attending customers (Go Live!), they are given an induction for 10-12 weeks. This largely includes training on using the right equipments, the SOPs to be followed (yes, afterall it is a complex activity), and observing some of the senior crew members performing the job.

It has been studied that over 70% of the customers prefer to be handled by the same stylist in their subsequent visits. This is because they believe that the staff already knows their preferences and thereby, the job could only get better over a period of time. According to a dip-stick survey conducted in a leading chain last year, atleast 9% of visitors walked away if their favourite staff was unavailable or busy (and were willing to wait for the same person if they had time).

The biggest drawback today is that there is not a single large chain in India that could boast of offering consistent service across a single city. And the reason is quite understandable – staff attrition. The stylists at the entry level are paid between Rs. 4,000 – Rs. 7,000 per month and earn and share tips worth Rs. 2,000 per person per month. Sooner than later, they tend to lose interest and start looking outside the window – either to hop on to another salon/chain or simply to pursue some other vocation. Unlike in the West, this is not a profession that many feel proud to be in.

Customers are charged between Rs. 50 and Rs. 500 per session that usually includes “Hair-cutting/trimming” followed by a wash. Certain Salons also offer package deals that include facials, massages, etc., and the staff are expected to “convince” their customers to take up one of them. Interestingly, if a staff speaks about a certain service to the customer for more than 4 minutes, the chances of him agreeing to experiment (if he is a first-timer) is over 90% according to survey in a popular salon. And once the customer is happy about this particular service, he would obviously frequent the place. Most chains however, do not sell branded personal grooming merchandise in a big way. Even if they do, the focus is minimal and its’ sales doesn’t contribute more than 10% to the total.

Two years ago, while we were still selecting operators for our Bengaluru International Airport, I had discussions with leading salon operators in Bangalore and in India. But no one was convinced that passengers would ask for such a service. Unsurprisingly, today the same people are willing to undertake this activity! While I feel happy that leading operators are looking up at the Travel Retail potential, it is sad that we don’t have a suitable space today at our Airport nor do I see such parlours coming up at other Airports in India in the short term. In this case, it is clearly convenience that a passenger looks for – trimming beard or a quick head massage or simply, a haircut and a wash and may even be willing to pay a handsome amount for the service! But necessarily, skillset would precede every other aspect – especially at the neighbourhood Outlets. This is one reason why many people keep shifting their salons regularly. After all, it’s an activity done once a month, but one has to sport the same look for the next four weeks!

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