When Vandana Luthra founded VLCC (Vandana Luthra Curls and Curves) in 1989, it might have been hard to imagine that the then 30-year-old would one day lead a renowned beauty and wellness business empire, with operations spanning 310 locations in 143 cities in 12 countries. VLCC employs 3,000 professionals today, 70 percent of whom are women!
She entered India’s then nascent beauty and wellness industry with very few success stories to get inspired by (Shahnaz Husain’s being a rare one). In the late 80s-90s, a career in beauty and wellness was not considered a good career option in India.
Meeting this diva of beauty and wellness was an enriching experience. It seemed her innate simplicity and grace were not influenced by her achievements in business. This, despite being a recipient of the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award of the Republic of India.
Inspirations and Impediments
While talking of her early inspirations, Vandana said, “Beauty and good looks always fascinated me. Once, on a trip to Germany with my father I met his friends – a husband-wife duo running a health center there. Theirs was a great combination, with one being a nutritionist and the other a cosmetologist. They had a great influence on my decision to enter the business of beauty and wellness.
“Moreover, the encouragement and support I received from my husband Mukesh, who is also a first-generation entrepreneur, played a big part in my opting to pursue my entrepreneurial ambition, which began some years after the younger of my two daughters was born.”
The fact that her mother was an active practitioner of yoga and had much interest in Ayurveda may also have inspired her in diving into beauty and wellness. She also finds herself fortunate for the “incredible support” of her immediate and extended family, and the inspiration from her two daughters.
The first VLCC center was set up in the Safdarjung Development Area, New Delhi. It focused on dietary modification and exercise-based weight management programs. Then the idea of a center that married weight management with skin and hair treatments was very unfamiliar in India.
“I had to contend with perception issues, skepticism about the viability and sustainability of the business model,” explained Vandana, discussing the challenges she faced in the early years. “Also, many people then were not confident about my business skills as I was a woman. I faced difficulty in financing my venture. I had to be persistent and assertive… It took a while to convince them that my venture had a scalable, sustainable business model.”
Business of Holistic Wellness
According to her, VLCC’s wellness and weight management programs are “not only about scientific wellness and weight management programs. Starting as a weight management and beauty services business in 1989, we have built a bespoke integrated business model with three core businesses.”
These are the wellness and beauty clinics (VLCC Wellness), personal care products for skin, body and hair (VLCC Natural Sciences), and the VLCC Institute of Beauty and Nutrition.
VLCC Natural Sciences has produced a diversified portfolio of natural skin-care, hair-care, and body-care products in-house, under the brand of VLCC Natural Sciences.
The institute was founded in 2001 to address the need for skilled and trained manpower in India’s beauty and wellness industry. It now has 94 campuses in 67 cities in India.
According to Vandana, all these three verticals are integrated “under a single, unifying brand, creating opportunities for customers to engage with VLCC across multiple touch points.” Most recently, her beauty and wellness conglomerate has also forayed into nutraceuticals, under the brand name VLCC Wellscience.
While talking of her personal care products, she said, the company is a market leader in the facial kits segment, with a wide range of products including papaya fruit, party glow, gold, pearl, silver, diamond, chocolate, and de-pigmentation facial kits.
“We also have a strong presence in the regime skin solutions segment, and our range is among the most comprehensive in terms of skin type solutions,” she said.
Rising to the Challenge of the Pandemic
COVID-19 has a bad effect on India’s beauty and wellness industry. VLCC was not immune to its impact.
According to Vandana, the effect was not uniform across all locations.
“Our store sales growth was temporarily impacted as also the roll-out plan for new clinics and institutes,” she said. “However, our sales through the e-commerce channel grew by more than 125 percent.”
She says the pandemic made consumers more health-aware.
“We saw opportunity in terms of the need for our products and services becoming more relevant than ever before,” Vandana said.
VLCC has also introduced innovative delivery methods for the changing times, including online consultations by domain experts, webinars, and online classes for its institutes’ students, among others.
Vandana, who was appointed as the first chairperson of the Delhi-based Beauty and Wellness Sector Skill Council in 2014, is now known as a pioneer who developed the nascent beauty and wellness industry of India.
Despite challenges affecting the industry, Vandana, who was featured in Fortune magazine’s annual listing of the ‘50 Most Powerful Women in Business in India’ from 2011 to 2015, is hopeful about the industry’s future.
“The wellness and beauty industry in India is poised to grow significantly in the immediate to medium term, and the time is ripe for female entrepreneurs in India to make the most of this opportunity and drive forward not just their vision, but also the country’s economy,” she said.
VLCC has brand presence in 25 beauty and wellness clinics overseas, in the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Of these, three are franchised and others are company-operated.
VLCC markets more than 118 skin care, hair care and body care products in India under the VLCC Natural Sciences brand, some of the leading categories being Facial Kits, Sun Care, Anti-ageing and Face Washes.
VLCC Natural Sciences makes its products at two manufacturing facilities in India – in Haridwar in Uttarakhand, and Goalpara in Assam.
VLCC also has a production facility in Singapore. It makes premium skin care products under the BelleWave and SkinMTX brands, which are sold globally to beauty salons and aesthetic dermatology clinics.