“It was a competitively priced product, and in a few years, gained a market share of 13% in northern and eastern parts of the country,” Daga recounts. This, despite competition from far larger companies like Hindustan Unilever Limited-owned Ponds and Emami.
To compete with these bigger players, Daga knew he had to take Heaven’s Garden to the next level. He took out a loan and set up a manufacturing facility in Odisha. He launched two new product categories—soaps and antiseptic creams. Both categories were a part of Daga’s scented product line.
The Odisha facility was stocked to the rafters with new products. The year was 1999. A bad time to be in Odisha. A super cyclone was on its way, and Daga’s fortunes were about to nosedive.
The 1999 Odisha super cyclone razed Daga’s facility to the ground. Like his facility, Daga’s plans lay in ruin. He was knee-deep in debt and fresh out of luck. The cyclone is an unpleasant memory which he has locked away. One can tell it was painful. If you ask about the losses, he just shrugs.
Once burnt, forever shy
The cyclone passed, but there was still a storm for Daga to weather—debt. He would spend the next few years paying off his dues. By 2006, Daga had paid off his debt. His company was reduced to just its flagship product—Heaven’s Garden. Finally on steady ground, he set about rebuilding.
The only thing he has known and loved are fragrances. So he started there. The idea was simple—extend his product line to deodorants and perfumes. Secret Temptation, their women’s offering, was launched first. A few months later, Wild Stone was launched for men.
While Daga wanted to focus on Secret Temptation, Wild Stone was a bigger hit. The timing was perfect. Not only was the men’s deodorant market already larger than the women’s, it was just gathering momentum at the time as well. Additionally, Wild Stone’s advertising was a hit. Taglines like ‘Wild Stone: Wild By Nature’ were a hit. “Advertising did wonders for us, and Wild Stone became a household name,” says Daga.
Wild Stone grew rapidly in the late 2000s and was on its way to beat Hindustan Unilever-owned Axe which dominated the market. Building on the deodorants’ success, the Wild Stone product line was extended to include perfumes, talcums, soaps, and shaving creams. Secret Temptation was overshadowed by Wild Stone’s success.
But as the brand was gearing up to take control of the market, it hit a speed bump. In 2011, another home-grown company, Gujarat-based Vini Cosmetics entered the fray, introducing the market to liquid-based sprays rather than the existing gas-based ones, a move which was later followed by most players including McNROE. Vini’s ‘no-gas’ deodorant brand Fogg took over the market, leapfrogging Wild Stone and even dethroning market leader Axe. Its popular tagline ‘Fogg chal raha hai’, which claimed that Fogg lasted longer than gas-based deos (because liquid doesn’t vaporise easily), made it more popular than any other deodorant brand.
Since Fogg’s entry, business has been hard for McNROE. Neither Wild Stone nor Secret Temptation has been able to topple Fogg, even after launching new products with a no-gas proposition. As of March 2018, Wild Stone was the fourth-largest deodorant product by volume after Fogg, Nivea and Park Avenue, according to the Nielsen study.
But Daga has dealt with worse. Now, he’s ready to hit back.
Scents and sensibilities
Daga’s stopover (and my meeting) in Delhi is part of a multi-city tour. This tour, encompassing visits to Kolkata, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, and Bhubaneswar, is about tom-tomming McNROE’s brands, especially Secret Temptation. “It is an under-tapped category, women’s deodorants. So far, the deodorant market has been dominated by men-oriented products,” says a brand consultant, who has worked with McNROE. He is not authorised to speak with media.
For a few years now, the deodorant segment has been growing rapidly. Between 2015 and 2017, the market grew by 22%, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor. While Euromonitor does not have a split for the male and female segment, the growth has been led by men’s products only, according to industry executives. Finally, the women’s market, aided by an increase in the number of women in the workforce, is where the opportunity lies.