Never chase money: Sunil Agarwal, co-founder of RSH Global
Never chase money: Sunil Agarwal, co-founder of RSH Global
First Person

Sunil Agarwal, Co-Founder & Chairman of RSH Global Private Limited, the Kolkata-based company that manufactures Joy Personal Care, X-Men and Karis Naturals products, is aptly described as ‘a leader who has aspirations for his team’ on the company website. Agarwal, whose deep understanding of consumer needs and penchant for perfectionism has led him to run the business successfully over the last three decades, targets Rs 1,000 crore revenue by 2022-23. Here’s his journey, narrated in his own words.

How Joy happened…

When I started the business, I had no idea that it would evolve into a group after 30 years. It was like the usual dal-roti ka jugaad... We were a reasonably well-off middle-class Marwari family living in Calcutta, trading cosmetics and spices wholesale, but when I passed out of college, I never wanted to join that business. My eldest brother gave me Rs 15 lakh to start up my personal care products business. With no knowledge of manufacturing, branding or sales, I lost that money, giving credit to dealers who never paid me back. My brother then insisted that I leave Calcutta and join him in Madhya Pradesh, where we had a flourishing timber business. But I was not keen to leave Calcutta, and asked for six months to try my luck again. This time too, my venture collapsed in two years. Then I started Joy, as a brand, and finally, everything started falling in place.

The talcum powder phase…

For the next 10 years, I dabbled majorly in talcum powder, a product very popular in Calcutta. We were doing very well in parts of South India and North India as well. Manufacturing was not cumbersome, and we packaged it so innovatively, using polymer labels, that it was ahead of its time. Even Emami that was doing well in Kolkata, had good packaging, but used paper labels. I named the company Joy Creators – that we would create joy in the lives of people. I had married early at 22, and though the business wasn’t big, it allowed me to meet the needs of my family.

My most memorable years…

My turnaround year was 2001, when we got into moisturisers, inspired by the natural ingredients space, when not many companies were into‘natural’. For the last 20 years, all our products have been nature-inspired. Our honey-almond winter cream was well accepted and has a very good market-share today. In 2003, I brought out a softer skin fruits cream, which could sell round the year. We never invested a single penny on advertising, but skin fruits cream is now a hundred crore brand in itself.

In 2004, we moved operations to Baddi in Himachal Pradesh, where we got a 10-year tax holiday. Companies like Unilever, Godrej, P&G were setting up large units in those tax exemption zones. The creams I had launched from 2001 to 2003 gave me the strength to believe that I had an opportunity with moisturizing creams, to take the business to North India and make the brand grow. But once there, we realized that the rent of Rs 80,000 per month was too high for us to pay out of our business that made Rs 4 crore. Simply to combat overhead expenditures, we got into the body lotions category. We did 35 product launches in the next four years – lotions, face packs, face scrubs, face washes – that took the business to Rs 22 crore by 2008. All of them are running products today. While most face washes targeted pimples or fairness, we did a fruit-based face wash. By 2009-10, we had reached the Rs 50 crore mark, with zero ad spends. Whoever used our products passed them on through word of mouth. So, those 8-9 years are the most memorable years of my life.

Advertising began only in 2011…

Only in 2011, at the behest of our dealers, did we start advertising. We got Anushka Sharma on board, and the whole world woke up to us and wondered how on earth were we selling so much without advertising all these years! Today we have Kriti Sanon on board. I think it was my belief in high product quality, and keeping them affordable - at our price point, you won’t find a better product from any brand, be it Indian or multinational.

Reaching Rs 1,000 crore…

We are definitely inching towards our goal of Rs 1,000 crore revenue, but thanks to the pandemic, it might be delayed by one or two years. But our marketing spends are as much as last year’s, in fact, more for West Bengal. We had aggressive plans of spending more than Rs 200 crore on advertising and marketing, which we will once the situation is better. For the global business, in the next three years, we are looking at a hundred crore plus turnover. We are very well-respected in markets like Nepal, Bhutan, etc, now we are going deeper into North African markets, and Middle east as well.

In business, we try to beat ourselves…

As a family, we are very honest in whatever we do. Our core belief is that if we have a very good product, we have no competitor. We are always trying to beat ourselves in our own way. For five years, Nielsen had asked us to buy data, but we refrained. A year-and-a-half back, they came to us to say, ‘Do you know that you are leaders in the moisturising cream category? Are you aware that you are No.3 in body lotion category?’ We never knew! We are only passionate about our work, the only thing in our mind is innovation. Never chase money; money will come to you if you are doing good work – that’s what our parents taught us. Our employees are like family. We have very low attrition level; even people who leave keep in touch.

I CAN’T LEAVE KOLKATA: Sunil Agarwal
I am more of a Bengali than Marwari. When I shifted operations to Baddi, I did not leave Kolkata… Today, all manufacturing for my Rs 500 crore business happens at other places, and so many people have told me to shift to Delhi or Chandigarh. I tell them I can leave my business but I can’t leave Kolkata… That’s how it is, very close to my heart. As they say, you can take a Bengali out of Kolkata, but you can’t take Kolkata out of a Bengali.
Sunil Agarwal with wife Abha Agarwal
Sunil Agarwal with wife Abha Agarwal

Passing on the baton…

We are a family-run organization, and as we try to make it more professional, try to build up the brand imagery and perception, venture into digital, the biggest challenge is attracting good talent. We need to create more entrepreneurs among our people, hand over the entrepreneurship to them, pass the baton of the organisation to the right people at the right time...

One priority is a geographical expansion to West Bengal and Maharashtra. We are focusing all our energies on these two States, which will give around Rs 250 crore business in the next 2-3 years. Also presence in high saliency outlets, along with sales force automation. The pandemic has slightly delayed our plans, but we’re getting there. We also need category expansion beyond moisturisers. For moisturisers and body lotions, we have very good numbers. Our challenge is to retain those. In face washes, we just have 2-3% market share. This week, I’m talking to my top leadership on to how to make it a more than Rs 100 crore category in the next two years.

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