The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Sujan Lal Manandhar & Kelly Machin
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Sanim Dhakal, the Founder and CEO of Braj Beauty, which is a home salon service in Nepal. Their customers can order for the services right from their app on their mobile devices or their website. Sanim talked about how the lockdown impacted Braj Beauty. They established this organization right before the lockdown in Nepal. They had to completely shut their business from the mid of March till the end of April. The lockdown also restricted any deliveries during specific times of the day. But the customer and employee support helped them resume their services with the use of proper protective gear. The safety of the customer is still their priority. 60% of the clients that they have right now started using their services during the lockdown. In the coming months, they want to increase the number of customers, app downloads, service portfolio and a number of beauticians.
Could you introduce us to Braj Beauty?
Sanim: Braj Beauty is a premium home salon service. It was launched on 17th February 2020. Our beauticians go to the customers and they provide all beauty related services in the comfort of their home. I am the only male in the team. All the other 14 team members are females. I am really proud of this. Our main objective is to bring our services to our client’s doorstep but we have aligned our vision to empower women. Ordering beauty services through an online app is a new concept in Nepal. The first category of our major clients is early adopters who are up for trying new things in the market. The other category is of people who live in the outskirts of Kathmandu city like Budhanilkantha, Thankot, Sanothimi etc. These people have to spend a lot of time and money to travel to the beauty salons in Kathmandu. We are a great option for them since we do not take any delivery charge regardless of the distance.
What kind of problems did you face during the lockdown and what strategies did you implement to solve them?
Sanim: We completely shut our business from the mid of March to the end of April. That was definitely a setback. It was not just due to the lockdown but we were also concerned about the health of our employees. However, after positive feedback from our customers and support from our employees, we thought about modifying our business and adapting to the situation. We decided to move forward. All our beauticians were equipped with disposable PPEs and we provided disposable masks, towels and bedsheets to our customers as well. The safety of our customers mattered the most at that time and it still does. We were able to push the business really well.
Were there any strategies that you tried that did not work?
Sanim: There were a lot of regulations regarding online services during the lockdown such as specific delivery time. You were not allowed to deliver after 9 or 10 am. To cope with this restriction, we wanted to start providing our services from 5 am and also make sure all the beauticians got back to their homes safely. This definitely did not go well because people were not willing to wake up at 6 am in the morning to get their facials done. We did it for 7 days but we failed miserably.
What kind of interactions did you have with your clients?
Sanim: We were expecting concerns related to COVID. Whenever we received an inquiry for our services whether, through phone calls or our app, we would always encounter one question which was about the safety precautions we took while providing our services. They would also ask about COVID related contact tracing. Our employees made sure everyone was safe even when they had to visit the customers and they were following the safety guidelines provided by the government and the company.
How did your competitors react to the lockdown and how were your strategies different from them?
Sanim: We provide home salon service but everyone in the beauty salon industry is our competitor. Even very renowned beauty salons started providing their services at the homes of their regular or premium customers. However, they were charging for delivery and their services were more expensive than ours.
Now that the lockdown has been eased, how is your business performing?
Sanim: We are in a post lockdown period. But the pandemic is still present. It is still a fearful thought for people to invite a stranger to their home to get beauty services. For example, when our beauticians visit a client, it is not only them who comes in contact but their family and friends as well. That is why we have maintained very strict guidelines that all our employees have to follow. The safety gears have to be used and there has to be a temperature check before and after the service is provided. Also, each beautician is only allowed to visit 2 to 3 clients per week to limit the exposure. This has helped us tremendously.
What is the outlook for your organization for the coming three months?
Sanim: The lockdown acted as a downfall for a lot of businesses. It was a similar situation for us as well until the end of April. But after that, we fought back and provided our services with support from the customers and our employees. This helped us reach a new customer level. 60% of the customers we have today are the ones we gained during the lockdown. I think we have made people aware of our existence in the market as a company that provides home salon services. The next step is to scale up the business in terms of new customers, app downloads, and have new services and beauticians onboard.
What are the three things in your business that you need help with?
Sanim: Firstly, I would really appreciate a welcoming mindset in people to online offerings made by startups. In Nepal, some people still do not believe in service until they have experienced it. A lot of startups provide their services online and it can be difficult to get to the core customer segment. I would like it if people were welcoming of such services. Secondly, a lot of startups are coming up in Nepal. I see something missing in this startup ecosystem. You can see companies co-create in other parts of the world. I think more businesses here are fighting for existence and trying to sustain longer than the rest. A startup ecosystem that is cooperative is needed. Finally, I think social media is very crucial to market your business to your target audience. The marketing costs can be higher than expected. It would be a great initiative if private marketing agencies and influencers could provide discounts and economical media packages to startups just how the government makes provisions, tax reforms and registration reforms.
About the guest
Sanim Dhakal is the Founder and CEO of Braj Beauty which is an online-based premium home salon service. He completed his BBA from Symbiosis International University, India and his MBA from UTS, Sydney, Australia. He has work experience in several organizations such as; Foodmandu (Marketing Specialist — 2013), Harvey Norman (Senior Sales Consultant — 2017) and Hewlett Packard (Brand Training Representative — 2018). He is also the Director of several family-owned businesses such as; Brajeshwori International Pvt. Ltd., Brajeshwori Global Business House Pvt. Ltd. and Brajeshwori Industries Pvt. Ltd.