40 Years Ago... And now: Becoming hair experts

Vivek Gambhir, Business Standard, 10 November 2014

The story of the evolution of the Godrej Group is intertwined with the history of India. Innovation has always been core to our approach, and it goes hand in hand with our strong legacy of trust, integrity and respect for people, which spans over a century.

By 1974, the Group was fairly well established. We were looking for a new segment to enter and decided to venture in the hair colour category. We already had businesses in metal locks and almirahs category, oleo chemicals, soaps and agri feed, among others. Hair colour, however, was a brand new category.

Back then, the hair dye market in India was undersized but we believed it held tremendous potential - it was growing well in other global markets. Our research and development team worked diligently on making a very good formula for hair dye and this encouraged us further to make a foray into the market.

The first product we launched in 1974 was called Godrej Liquid Hair Dye. Packaged in bottles, this product was a runaway success, so much so that the term dye itself became synonymous with Godrej. It laid the foundation for us to become the number one player in the hair colour market, a position that we hold with pride even today.

The Rs 2,500-crore hair colour market in India today is exciting, experimental and transformative. Hair colouring is no longer considered an exercise in hiding greying hair. You can choose from an array of powders, gels, cremes, colours, in just about every shade, while being assured of nourishing, conditioning, enriching benefits at the same time. When we started out, however, it was very different.

Colour was an antidote to ageing. To add to it, there wasn't much choice for consumers in terms of colours - companies in the category mostly offered black. The process of combining components made the exercise in hair colouring very tedious and the packaging in glass bottles, which looked medicinal and carried detailed information on mixing and measurement components, was not customer-friendly.

One step up

Around 1976, post the success of Godrej Liquid Hair Dye, we strengthened our foothold. We enhanced internal capabilities and our manufacturing setup to brace for further expansion. This new category came with its own challenges, the biggest of which was that hair colour oxidised rapidly when it came in contact with air. We realised that experimenting with product formulation was not enough. We needed to rehaul our manufacturing process, including

the machinery and material that we were using for packaging, to support our new product ideas.

Our hair colour business would grow exponentially in the decades to come and we never stopped delighting in how our products would emerge as winners. Marketing lore would talk about farmers who used our dye to colour their buffalos a glistening jet black so that they could command a better price; and of men, who priming to look their best, would hastily touch up their hair before a job interview.

Be the change

The success of our liquid hair dye made us bolder and more experimental. Our extensive research translated into a unique hair dye in powder form. This was in 1981 and it became the first in a series of innovative, hair colour offerings. Our new, easy to use powder hair colour, made popular with the kaato, gholo, lagaalo (cut, dissolve, apply) slogan, catapulted us further ahead in the line. It made hair colouring an almost intuitive, three-step process, minus most of the fuss that had caused consumers to shy away from it in the first place.

In the years that followed, we revolutionised the market by introducing our hair dye in a convenient sachet format. This was a landmark in many ways. Priced at just Rs 7, this new format opened up the rural India market for us. The next addition to our portfolio was a shampoo-based permanent hair dye-cum-conditioner.

The hair colour market was now slowly changing. Consumers were eager to experiment with different colours and we started expanding our range. At each stage, we were exploring how to better our product offering and delight our consumers.

We soon found ourselves treading a fine line. On the one hand, we had a proven legacy of expertise in hair colour. On the other, our consumers, now increasingly conscious of the hair colour products they were using, were leaning towards colours with more holistic hair care propositions.

We had been innovating for a while now. Many of our products over the years had been 'firsts' in their own rights but the contradiction lay in the way our brand was named. We realised that we needed to break away from the association of being just a 'hair dye'.

Backed by this insight, in 2008, we rebranded Godrej liquid and powder hair colours as 'Godrej Expert'. Through the 'Expert' tag, we leveraged our track record of innovation and promised a better, more enhanced product. As a first step towards this, later that year, we introduced a colour-lock technology with longer lasting effects.

We took the rebranding a step further in 2011, with the proposition of 'Happy hair, happy you.' As part of this revamp, we expanded our portfolio to include a new range of hair colours with add-on benefits. Our 'Advanced' range, for example, used a non-drip gel format; a first for us.

Today, Godrej Expert has a loyal consumer base of over 4 crore users. It is available in 2.3 million outlets across India and the number is growing.

A new chapter

Hair Care also plays a key role in our global strategy - 3 by 3 - a focus on building a presence in three categories (home care, hair care and personal care) across three emerging geographies (Asia, Africa and Latin America). We own leading hair care companies across these geographies and are leveraging learning and technology to enhance our product offerings. A classic example is the game-changing Godrej Expert Rich Hair Creme, launched in 2012: For the first time ever the Indian consumer was offered the crème-in-a-sachet, which was available at an affordable price of Rs 30. We brought in technology from our Argentina business but reformulated the product to suit Indian hair. This superior quality crème, which equals, if not betters, much more expensive alternatives, has taken the market by storm. It has allowed us to democratise the crème category in India, by offering powder hair colour users an easy option to up-trade.

We have come a long way from where we started 40 years ago, constantly evolving with our consumers. We are excited about what lies ahead because as we like to say at Godrej, we believe we are only as good as what we do next.