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Homegrown luxury beauty brand Forest Essentials to open 12 stores in the UK

NEW DELHI: Estée Lauder-backed luxury Ayurveda skin care brand Forest Essentials is looking to expand its footprint rapidly to its first international market, the UK, in the next three years.

The company will open 12 stores in the UK by 2024 and bolster its online presence with a local e-commerce website in the next six months, said Samrath Bedi, executive director at Forest Essentials.

The move comes on the heels of the company’s launch in the UK via local beauty e-tailer LookFantastic.com. The company said its stores will come up in places like London, Manchester and Birmingham to begin with, and expand to other locations later. For online sales, UK is one of its largest markets outside of India. E-commerce contributes 30% to its total business.

It took some time to grow the international business, Bedi said, since the company wanted to get its business right in India first.

“It is very expensive if you don’t do it right and it could also fail very quickly. We use a lot of our website traffic data to understand what markets we could go into next. We had evaluated the markets of UK, the Middle East and the US,” he added. Forest Essentials e-commerce site ships products to 120 countries.

Over the last two decades, in India, Mountain Valley Springs, which runs Forest Essentials, has launched 100 stores. Seventeen of these have come up during the pandemic. This number will reach 105 by the end of the year. The stores are company owned and operated. In the last 18 months of the pandemic, the company saw almost 74% of its sales coming from online. The figure was just 18% pre-covid. With increased mobility, offline sales have returned though online sales have bulked up to stabilise at about 27%. “It has reached a space from where it will continue to grow,” Bedi said.

The company makes skin and hair care products for women and men that rely heavily on ayurvedic herbs and local ingredients such as soaps that have pure ghee, whole cream milk, raw organic honey and cane sugar, among others.

Even during the pandemic, the company saw a revenue decline of only 17%. Its consolidated revenue from operations for FY 2020-21 was about ₹209.9 crore, it said in a filing to The Ministry of Corporate Affairs accessed via business intelligence platform Tofler. In the previous fiscal, the company reported net revenues of over ₹253 crore, an increase of over 25% compared to the 2018-19 figures.

Back home, the company is eyeing bigger presence in smaller towns and plans to set up stores in places like Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. “It is interesting to see how retail is developing in these towns, and there is a demand. People who are spending their money – in bigger or smaller towns – will not hesitate to spend more money if the products work for them, especially for skin care. That’s where the bulk of our business lies,” Bedi said.

However, there’s still room to grow in the big cities where the company runs 15 stores across the metros.

The company, started by Bedi’s mother, Mira Kulkarni in 2000 was set up with a ₹2 lakh investment back then. In 2008, New York-based Estée Lauder Group of Companies invested in the firm for a minority stake of 20%. It has since increased its stake but Bedi decline to share details.

Forest Essentials competes with brands like Kama Ayurveda in India and gets a large chunk of its business from supplying amenities to about 500 luxury hotels and spas globally.

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