"We plan to amp up our retail presence to about 100 stores in 2023": Re'equil's Vipul Gupta

He talks about what made him launch the brand, and much more.

Mumbai: We often hear of people launching their own businesses or brands to earn fame, wealth and recognition. Very rare are those cases wherein we hear of someone launching a brand to offer something which wasn’t actually available to him/her when he/she needed it the most, to the consumers. A realisation creeps in that there is a market gap to fill. Such is the story of the brand Re’equil and its founder Vipul Gupta, which delved into.

Putting things into perspective, as per Statista reports, the direct-to-consumer (D2C) industry in India, which was valued at $33 billion in 2020, is projected to reach $100 billion by 2025. The D2C beauty and personal care segment alone is expected to reach $4.4 billion in India, with a whopping compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29 per cent by 2025, as per Avendus Capital. The D2C beauty market has over 80 brands, one of them being Re’equil; and the number is steadily increasing.

Established in 2018 as a D2C cosmeceutical brand, Gupta reveals that the brand name Re’equil stands for restoring equilibrium and is built on the ideology of providing efficacy-driven formulations for skin and hair concerns. The brand firmly believes in setting the expectations right and believes that any individual is more than their skin and hair.

Re’equil’s parent company, Effective Cosmeceutical, forayed into the CC cream segment a few days ago when it launched its 100 per cent Mineral Sun CC Cream with SPF 50 which is water resistant and transfer resistant. Available in four shades, it is a breakthrough CC cream with the nourishing benefits of moisturiser, sun protection and coverage. With this latest offering, the brand lays emphasis on the importance of consistent skincare to achieve effective results along with choosing the right formulation for one’s skin. It is the first ever 100 per cent Mineral Sun CC Cream with SPF 50 and PA++++. Enriched with skin-friendly ingredients, the Sun CC Cream has a calming and healing effect. In addition to offering dewy coverage, this cream helps prevent signs of early ageing and hyperpigmentation while keeping the skin protected.

Even though the new launch is a CC cream, Gupta truly doesn’t view it as one. "Honestly, we don't look at this as a CC cream, and we call it a Sun CC because it's a sunscreen with a CC benefit. It's not a CC with a minimum SPF. Most of the CC creams don't come with any SPF protection. If they do, they have a maximum of 15 or 21 SPF. Also, they are not 100 per cent minerals. This is 100 per cent mineral sunscreen that suits even the most sensitive of skin types," he emphasises.

Talking about the sales figures for Re’equil, Gupta highlights that the brand has been making Rs 50 crore of gross sales every year, and it has been so this year too. Out of the total of 34 SKUs that Re’equil has, the bestsellers that form a sizeable part of the business are its hair conditioners, Ultra Matte Dry Touch sunscreen, skin moisturisers and hyperpigmentation products. And out of these 34 SKUs, around seven-eight SKUs contribute to 70-80 per cent of its total sales.

Edited excerpts:

On the personal story behind launching Re’equil

This has roots in what I went through as a consumer, at a very young age. I was in the second year of my college career when I started losing a lot of hair. And it was quite damaging to my self-belief at that time. I tried probably each and every product that was available over the counter, through ads and probably tried every dermatologist and trichologist and also used prescription-based products available. Some of them may have been good formulations, but where they faltered was they never set the right expectations for me as a consumer. And, they would promise fast results or unrealistic results, which as a consumer, later on, I figured out that, they were just playing with my desperation to get results and leveraging on that. And I just felt a lot cheated as a consumer and thought that no other consumer deserves that.

I ultimately also got a hair transplant done. And the story continued, even though they promised great results, without explaining what the side effects can be for the medication, they put me on to. And again, an episode of lost trust in how I as a consumer was dealt with. I realised that it is not just in hair. That kind of mis-selling or mistrust is prevalent even across all categories of personal care. Ads would show a girl with a pimple popping up and a face wash would do its job overnight, and the girl would be ready to go to a party the next day or face the world, so to say, the next day. It’s unrealistic and also shows how submissive or how full of apprehensions a consumer becomes when they say human hair concerns and you know how brands would project such people is not really the right way.

And I thought that I would want to do something about it. So I launched a brand that, number one, makes sure that delivers effective formulations that have an underlying deliverable - it means it also includes setting the right expectation of the consumer about what it's going to be - what they can expect and what they can’t or should not expect. We believe that skincare is not a miracle, and hair care is not a miracle. It is not a journey towards perfect skin or hair, it's more of your progress every single day. And it's healthcare essentially, not a very superficial thing. And we promote progress over progression - that is what we truly stand for. And, that's how, you know, the brand was started. It has been a wonderful four and a half years.

On the USP and differentiating factor of Re’equil

So, the answer to how we set ourselves apart from any other brand is what we constantly deliver and what we believe is our differentiating factor - that is efficacy-driven formulation. Also, we believe in matching delivering results with what we claim. And what truly sets us apart includes efficacy – it is a 360-degree approach, it comes from the results of the product matching the expectation, the safety of the product, and also from being transparent to the consumer in what ingredients are there, what expectations they can have. This is what we constantly deliver – it’s the foremost.

On the R&D involved to make Re’equil the brand that it is today

The most important thing will be to understand our consumers better - be in close communication with them, understand what their expectations are, and what they truly want from us, how we can become better. So, there's a very close dialogue that we have with our consumers that helps us in delivering what our consumers really want. And the foremost approach that we take is ensuring that the brand grows organically rather than depending on other mediums. We believe that word-of-mouth referral is the strongest way to grow. And, that comes with a lot of trust - when consumers have trusted the brand.

In terms of a communication strategy, we believe in the word-of-mouth strategy—that's the ultimate goal. And that's how we have garnered the trust of consumers - most of the people that we speak to, the majority of them tell us that we were referred to them by their friends and family. That's a testimony of trust for us.

On the heavy utilisation of digital and television as a medium of communication

We, too, utilise digital strongly. All credit goes to the digital mediums to reach out to the vast audience that India has to offer, without which we will not be able to penetrate the market. So, with digital mediums, you can acquire a new customer. But, to get a repeat customer, your product has to deliver, it needs to solve the problem that the consumer bought you for. And if that happens, word of mouth grows and you start growing in your repeats and referrals.

Having said that, digital mediums are very, very important and have been very instrumental in our growth. So 100 per cent of our ad spends are on digital.

We might or might not use television – it completely depends on where our target group (TG) is as we keep on expanding and penetrating the next layers of the market.

I think TV is an important medium even today to a very large set of audience, and we should be eyeing that space sooner than later.

On the TG for the brand

Any gender, as we are gender neutral. Generally, I would put 18 years plus though there is some fraction of consumers that will also be teenagers. But largely 18 years and above and going up to maybe 50 – 55 years. But majority would be between 25 and 40 years of age.

Mostly from urban areas, making their own money, so which means employed. They value honesty, and integrity and have value for money, and most importantly trust – the brands they can trust.

Our TG is across the length and breadth of the country - from the north, we have consumers in areas like Srinagar and Leh, and we have consumers in the northeastern states as well. So, we are going to be very well spread across, but the majority is in metros, tier I and tier II cities.

We have a strong presence in cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Pune, Gurgaon, Mizoram, Kolkata, Lucknow, Nagpur, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Patna, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad etc.

We are also looking at expanding internationally, but not in the short term.

On products like anti-ageing, and simultaneously catering to different age groups with varied requirements

I like to bring to everybody's attention that we do not believe in something known as anti-ageing. Ageing is a very natural process.

We embrace fine lines and wrinkles. We look at areas where there is premature skin ageing, where your skin has wrinkles or fine lines that have appeared prematurely and we have products like retinol night cream or 20 per cent retinol serum.

Skincare is very different for different age groups. And that's why I say that the consumer base falls into the category of 25 to 40 years. And we have products which are primarily for sun protection, and moisturising - moisturiser for dry skin, normal, oily skin, or acne, or very concerned-specific offerings for example, acne and hyperpigmentation or premature skin ageing. And, that is primarily in these age groups and all our products suits all age groups from 18 to 45 years, when it comes to these concerns.

When it comes to a very specific age group, let's say beyond 50-55 years, or let's say for an age group that is around pre-menopause or post-menopause ageing cases in the female gender, then the skincare needs to be very different. And because the elasticity at that age, or the collagen level, is very different when compared to age groups much younger. And so we have a very concerned specific approach. Probably when we look at an age-specific offering, we will come up with that range completely differently.

On the impact of covid on the business

So the initial few months, we were completely shut because no logistics were working. But the biggest thing that I think covid brought in that's not good for our business, but that's how it changed the overall consumer buying behaviour and made people more comfortable buying online, and shifted content consumption online, a lot of awareness started happening between consumers through online content, through online as a means of influencers and key opinion leaders (KOL).

So it was a shift not just in overall consumer buying behaviour, it was an overall positive outcome, in that sense for us. We feel that now the markets have opened up people are again shopping offline and online. Going forward, omnichannel has to be the approach.

On the advertising and marketing spends for Re’equil

I would say that our endeavour is to make sure that we advertise very efficiently. We acquire new customers efficiently. That has been the mantra right from day one. We are a bootstrapped organisation, we have not raised any money. We have funded the growth of the company through its own profits. And so, in that sense, we are very mindful of spending efficiently on advertising. And so we try to cap our advertising expense to a maximum of 20 -25 per cent of our revenue.

On refraining from getting brand ambassadors on board

Our consumers are our brand ambassadors, our consumers have to be the brand advocates. Influencers are a great medium to spread awareness and talk about your product offerings to the right consumer segments and audiences. But talking about having a celebrity endorse the brand – we have not really given a strong thought to it, and are not very aligned with it at the moment.

There's no particular reason for not getting a celebrity brand ambassador on board. We want to focus on making sure that our consumers spread the joy that they have and get out of using our products, and share their experiences and satisfaction with their family and friends. That's what we want to stick with.

On being available at marketplaces, online and retail expansion

The brand is present primarily 100 per cent online and in a few Nykaa stores - in about 12–15 cities, we are present in one store in each city. But we are also looking at setting a footprint in offline retail - we are looking at expanding to about 100 stores across these 15 cities.

And we're also looking at an expansion of our portfolio—we will be strengthening our product portfolio going forward by creating depth in our current categories and also looking for new categories. The current focus is to increase the depth of our existing category.

On the ad campaigns and the thought behind those, for the brand

Our campaigns, so far, have focused on what is similar to our products—they focus on effectively communicating, in a very simplistic way - what the product is, and what problem it will solve. And that's how we position our campaigns.

There will be a campaign around the new launch. We will be looking at some brand campaigns, not just product campaigns.

On the challenges that you faced, and the learnings and lessons that you imbibed from the same

I don't come from a background in either retail, FMCG, cosmeceuticals, or personal care. I come from a totally different background in commodities trading - from 2005 to 2015, I worked in that space. After that, I wanted to start something with a strong deep lens of making sure that consumers discover products that are effective, and products that communicate the right expectations should be that's what I started with.

But, no journey is devoid of challenges. Different, with lots of ups and downs, but a beautiful journey—I think, it's the journey that we all live for and every day is a challenge. You overcome them, you get ready, and you are better prepared for the next challenge.

On the vision and way forward for Re’equil for the next five years

We have a slightly long-term vision, and that vision is to be the world's most trusted personal care brand. And so, this is very close to each one of us working at Re’equil. Our everyday actions are aligned towards achieving that vision. It is probably not a five-year vision, it is slightly long-term. But this is what we aspire to be.

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