The power of scent is real, with studies showing it can impact mood. Given the stress of the pandemic, a quick spritz of vanilla or jasmine can certainly lift the mood—but are people even interested in buying perfumes at such a time? Ajmal, the seven-decade-old homegrown perfumery brand, thinks they are.
In March, the brand, born in Assam but now operating largely from Dubai, launched a line of 16 fragrances and body mists in collaboration with House of Anita Dongre labels AND and Global Desi Women, focusing on emotions and moods. “We wanted to create a new segment of perfumes where an aspirational product is made available at an accessible price,” says Abdulla Ajmal, the third generation in the business, and the business mentor and perfumist (NHA division) at Ajmal & Sons, India. He believes fragrance “has a lot to do with emotions”.
We spoke with Ajmal and Saurav Bhattacharya, president (operations) at Ajmal & Sons, about the new collection, their move to the online space, and the future of the ₹3,000-crore Indian perfume industry. Edited excerpts:
Why launch a new line when people can’t visit the store to experience it?
A: We had a choice to either stall the launch or take the bull by the horns. We decided to be brave and go ahead. The best is to embrace our realities and move ahead with new product innovations.
Yes, since smell is invisible, we are super-reliant on external cues for how we should interpret what it is that we are experiencing and where we are experiencing it. If people can buy clothes online looking at the colours, fits and sizes, what if they were able to buy fragrances looking at the colour, notes and the mood it evokes? It’s here that communication becomes important. Instead of focusing only on the ingredients and fragrance families, we focused on the emotions and characteristics. All our communication aligns each fragrance with a mood or an archetype. Depending on you, the mood you want to wear, select your fragrance.
B: We aim to achieve a 10% market share in the perfumery industry this year. The ability to tailor our existing product portfolio to suit consumer needs is paramount. This crisis is offering us a unique chance to offer consumers exactly what they need at an accessible price.
Ajmal products usually come at a premium price. Why and how have you reduced it?
B: In the past two years, we have aimed at growing the brand in two aspects, width and depth, i.e to lower the entry barrier and develop wider consumer reach. Traditionally, we imported 70% of the products from state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in Dubai. Today, despite the pandemic, we have moved manufacturing to India to save 35% on various import duties.
What has been your sales strategy in the past 15 months?
A: Most e-commerce sales are repeat purchases, rather than consumers buying a perfume for the first time. The pandemic has forced brands to think digital. We have been trying to take fragrances from “lifestyle to essentials and pantry”.
B: We initiated this strategy pre-covid. The idea was to drive usage of fragrances as part of a daily regime. Existing brick stores are now doing digital e-commerce to manage the new normal in consumer buying, which has emerged as a significant channel of doing business for us. We are most likely to benefit immediately as we have a presence in general trade, comprising stand-alone pharmacy, chain pharmacy, stand-alone beauty/novelty.
But reports show fragrance is trailing every beauty category at present.
B: Throughout 2020, fragrance brands have focused on the promotion of classic or well-loved hero fragrances to drive repeat purchases. At the same time, brands have also recognised that this reliance is not enough to counteract the losses from brick-and-mortar closures. So many have been finding ways to drive engagement online, such as virtual consultations. Brands are using online quizzes and personalisation profiles to guide customers towards their ideal scent.
When you look at the Indian perfumery market, the per capita consumption is quite low. Most perfumes are sampled due to the receiver being given the fragrance as a gift. At present, the Indian perfume market is at a very interesting stage, especially with the young population that is seeking a lifestyle transformation.
What was the impact of the pandemic on the Ajmal workstyle?
B: We created the “R4 approach” (reset, recover, reinvent and re-emerge) to help the business sustain the impact of the pandemic. We are communicating with our customer as directly as possible. With the help of digital tools, we are being as agile as possible. More importantly, investing in online recreational activities to bond with team members.