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Grooming goes upscale

India is not what it used to be. Egged on by higher pay, overseas travel, trials that lure and peer pressure, consumers are flocking to high-end salons. That should explain a haircut that costs as much as a laptop computer. Himani Chandna Gurtoo reports.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2012 21:42 IST
Himani Chandna Gurtoo
Himani Chandna Gurtoo
Hindustan Times

For Rs 50,000, you can buy yourself a pretty good laptop today. Or you can get a haircut for the same amount. At the absolutely premium end of the hair and beauty salon chain business, a number of international names are entering India with their services for the ‘discerning’ consumer.

Italian stylist Rossano Ferretti, who has styled Lady Gaga, Salma Hayek and even Princess Diana, charges $1000 (Rs 50,000) for a haircut at his two salons at Delhi and Mumbai, each. “Every six months, we are growing about 35%. We are keen to open in other cities too,” said salon director Dimitri Lafiandra, Rossano Ferretti, Delhi.

Singapore hair-styling chain Kimrobinson, now in India, charges a relatively humble Rs 10,000 for a haircut. That packs in a first time consultation, cleanse, cut and finish.

The rapid entry of major international salon chains into India is happening thanks to a willing and growing consumer set, mostly in the major metros. Pedicure, manicure, massage, skin care, make-up and other such services form part of the offerings.

“In order to ensure steady footfalls and sustained revenues, many players have started offering cosmetic dermatology services and professional beauty treatments,” said Jawed Habib, chairman, Jawed Habib Hair and Beauty.

So, is India really that hot a market for big-ticket indulgence?

Pierre Habert, salon director at the French-origin Bastien Gonzales, a pedicure and manicure salon chain, said, “You may call India a price sensitive market but I see discerning clients who appreciate value. The response from the Indian market is very positive.”

Consumers are far more willing to spend a premium, as long as they are getting something distinctly different and much better than the regular services. “I wanted to experience the hair cut which can completely reshape my personality. We have always heard about such things in the media, but the experience is altogether addictive. I think I need to reshape my pocket as well,” said 30-year-old Kavita Sharma, homemaker wife of an IAS officer, who tested out a haircut at Rossano Ferretti.

“Bastien Gonzalez is well known. I always knew that it has to be expensive. I loved the way they follow a multiple-steps pedicure and manicure therapy. They don’t use water at all; it’s much more pleasing than a spa,” said Karishma Mehra, 21, a Delhi University student. It is precisely for such differentiators that consumers pay hefty premiums. No international style firm, therefore, feels the need to localise its service. “We do not localise our services. Our protocols are our signature. However, we appreciate the fashion sense depending on the region we are in,” said Lafiandra. Other international brand salon chains agree.

Health reasons play their part. Ranjana Majumdar, 28, marketing executive at a multinational, said, "My skin type is sensitive and almost every facial I’ve got done has proved to be a disaster. I had tested some therapies in London and Italy while holidaying, so I wanted something similar, even if it cost a bomb." She tested a facial service at the UK-origin Toni & Guy’s salon in Delhi.

Men, in the post-metrosexual age, are also increasingly frequenting such salons. “Beauty services are no longer a female bastion. Players are increasingly focusing on setting up unisex salons,” said Shahnaz Husain, the celebrity MD of the Shahnaz Husain Group.

"Men are getting more conscious about their looks and the fundamentals of grooming are gaining momentum in the form of unisex salons. Of the total footfalls of 35-40 clients in a day, 18-20 are men — almost 50%. Not only haircuts and hair styling, but facials, manicure, pedicure and threading are a few of the most wanted beauty services that men are opting for. The best part in dealing with guys is they are ready to spend even more money than their female counterparts on hair styling," said Maryann Khullar, salon manager at Toni & Guy, Delhi.

For the Jawed Habib chain, the male to female customer ratio is 50:50, and for its JH HairXpreso, it is 40:60.

“I spend money on hair styling, budgeting Rs 3,000-8,000 for it every month. After all, my looks are a part of my confidence," said Avichal Khanna, senior executive at a business conglomerate.

Homegrown chains are giving the dandy multinational chains a run for their money by launching unisex salons.

After successfully running its Lakme Studio and Salons chains, Lakme-Lever last year launched its unisex Lakme Ivana chain, starting with Delhi. It provides premium grooming, skincare and haircare services for men and women.

Indian chains including Lakme, Kaya, Hair n Shanti, VLCC, Shahnaz Hussain and Jawed Habib have ushered in a new era of trained salon personnel, offering services based on global insights and professional products based on state-of-the-art technologies.

“Growing affluence and the increasing cost of medical care are making the common man explore wellness options, where salons are at the centre of the growth story,” said Aseem Kaushik, director, L'Oréal Professional.

“Salons are a daily affair. Before going for business lunches or an important sales meeting, or due to the personal desire to look good all the time, salon visits are becoming a frequent activity by consumers,” said Suvodeep Das, marketing head, Kaya Skin Clinic.

“There is an increasing shift from basic salon services to advanced services, though the former continue to remain a steady footfall generator,” said Husain.

Even basic salon services, however, are gradually upping their prices. Ranging from Lakme to a Coleen Khan outlet, a hairwash-haircut-hairset routine ranges upwards of Rs 750-1,000 today, up from around Rs 350 two years ago.

Chains such as Kaya and VLCC, in a bid to retain consumer loyalty and grow in the business, are also offering high-end branded, specialised products in addition to their services.

You could call it ultra-grooming, and as for the word “expensive” — its envelope has been decidedly pushed.

First Published: Feb 12, 2012 21:08 IST