His mother launched the Ayurvedic beauty brand and he made it an icon among Indian luxury labels. For Samrath Bedi, there’s no other place for Forest Essentials than at the top.
After studying Economics and Psychology at the University of Rochester in New York, Samrath Bedi was set for a career in corporate banking when his mother Mira Kulkarni began dabbling in Ayurvedic skincare products back home. Intrigued, Bedi returned to New Delhi in 2002 to check out what looked like “an interesting project.” He never left.
Starting from a single flagship store in Khan Market, New Delhi, Forest Essentials is now one of India’s leading beauty brands, retailing from almost 50 points of sale across 15 cities. Though the concept was Kulkarni’s idea, it took the brand’s Executive Director, Bedi’s execution to scale up the business. “We are a yin-and-yang combination,” smiles Bedi about their relationship. “She’s impulsive, while I’m logic-driven. She has the vision and I take care of the implementation. We have different personalities and this works, yielding maximum long-term impact.” The mother-son duo were clear about the division of responsibilities very early on in the business. While Kulkarni looks after the R&D and branding, Bedi handles the business operations and ensures that the processes are in place. “We have played to our strengths,” he says.
The Indian skincare major is known for the traditional techniques it follows in formulating preparations. Ayurveda suggests that every person has a different “prakriti” or body type, which determines their skin and hair quality, thus necessitating personalised treatments. Due to this reason, Kulkarni and Bedi decided to retail mostly from their own showrooms, even if that meant investing more. “The shop-in-shop model isn’t very viable; there are too many external variables. We need our retail staff to be informed about Ayurveda and the ingredients that go into every product. We need to create a specific luxury ambience. That’s just not possible if we have to deal with different department stores who have rotating staff,” he explains.
The past 16 years have been invested in building a strong base for the brand, he says. “We’ve seen exponential growth, but there is plenty of ground to cover. We have to keep raising the bar and keep the momentum going,” says the 42-year-old, referring to the proliferation of me-too brands in the market. Forest Essential’s lineup includes about 250 products across hair care, skincare, mother and baby care and wellness. They have tied-up with about 220 hotels to supply toiletries for guest rooms, including The Taj Group, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and The Ritz-Carlton and employ more than 400 people across the country. “The luxury beauty market is still very nascent in India, and we are very small compared to what we could have been, say, in a market like China, where infrastructure would have given me access to 45 cities, not just 15,” he says. Bedi is unconcerned about “disrupters” like Baba Ramdev, the yoga guru who has made waves with his low-cost beauty products. “Patanjali is creating new consumers from rural areas. It’s helping grow the Indian beauty market,” he says. When those customers graduate to luxury goods, Forest Essentials will be among the brands that benefit.
Working with his mother was challenging initially, but in the long run, it has taught Bedi the art of listening and has helped him become more patient. “I have evolved along the way,” he admits, “I realise the importance of understanding and respecting another’s point of view.” It helps that he loves what he does. “It’s not work for me,” he laughs. Exactly the words that his mother would have used.
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