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(image) New Delhi: Yearning for the exact tint of red on perfectly curled hair is what drove 25-year old Smitha, a secretary at a private firm into the plush unisex salon on her drive home from work one day.

Smitha, is one among the increasing number of appearance conscious Indians whose awareness of the freshest global beauty trends is prompting more international players to set up shop in the country and forcing the existing domestic beauty services industry to become more organised.

"We can see India moving away from the traditional and now just starting to merge the old and the new," says Rod Anker, celebrity hair stylist at the kimrobinson salon in the capital who charges a minimum of Rs 10,000 per haircut and points out that he regularly gets flown across India for his clients.

Anker, who previously worked at the Beijing centre of the salon says as more people from India began visiting the salon centres in Beijing and the Singapore to get their hair done so they decided to set up base in Delhi almost three years ago.

Similarly, over the past five years grooming standards in big Indian cities have become more comparable to those in far more developed countries as consumers have become more discerning and have access to international fashion trends and media.

"Consumers are well travelled and some even make trips abroad just to pick up their favorite products. More importantly the twin emergence of luxury mall visitors looking for an original and exciting shopping experience in stand alone boutiques (as opposed to departmental stores) coupled with the emergence of such luxury malls in India has given players like us the right environment to operate," says Anjali Pai, product manager, Kiehl`s India.

The cosmetic company founded as an old-world apothecary in New York already has a sizeable market share in other Asian countries like Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore etc offering products for skin and hair.

The retail beauty and cosmetics market in India is currently estimated at USD 950 million and the overall beauty and wellness market that includes beauty services is pegged at USD 2.68 billion.

The country`s cosmetics market is growing at an annual rate of 15-20 per cent which is twice as fast as that of the US and European market but says Ahuja, "The overall beauty products services per capita in India has a lot of catching up to do. There is immense potential in the market".

"For the longest time while beauty product business was relatively organised, the beauty services sector was largely unorganised. Today people are beginning to notice that this business is a sustainable one instead of a mere Mom and Pop store," says Sandeep Ahuja, MD VLCC, an international wellness brand which has a network over 237 locations across 102 cities in 8 countries.
Whether it is the presence of international players or demands from more discerning customers, domestic players are seen to be adding to the breadth of their services integrating, spas, weight management centres amongst other customised services.
"Take the case of procedures like Botox, peels or fillers where earlier they were restricted to a limited few both in terms of people as well as cities, today across all society it has become a subject of discussion rather than to be kept under wraps," says Ahuja.
Lakme, one of the country`s first branded salon chains has also tied up with international hair care and styling brands to give Indian fashionistas global services.

"Services offered at our salons cater to the specialized needs of the modern contemporary women. We have recently ventured into the field of organic skin care with a Hungarian company," says a spokesperson of Hindustan Lever which owns the Lakme brand.

Industry veterans like Blossom Kochhar who has been operating in the country for over  30 years says entry of international players is a good sign.
"The entry of foreign players is good for us. Earlier people mainly housewives or older people and later on more working women used to visit us, now we see that every group of women and so also men whatever their income are availing of salon services.

"A lot of them earlier used to visit salons abroad or order their cosmetics, now with more players and more demanding customers, there is going to be greater care about quality and hygiene as well as more emphasis on educating the stylists too," says Kochhar who owns multiple companies spanning skincare & beauty products. 

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