We talked to Sri S Prathipati, Founder & CEO of Juttu Extensions®, the retail brand of Tirumala Human Hair Impex LLP (THHI). This is what he said:
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sri S Prathipati: My family and I are doing well and have coped through these difficult times, Thank you for asking.
Covid 19 has created an unprecedented situation for billions of us across the world. Our heart goes out to anyone who’s been directly or indirectly impacted during these times.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Juttu Extensions®
Sri S Prathipati: In the late ’90s, My father, Mr. Parthasarathi Prathipati, had visited one of these hair factories, which applied for a loan at the bank he used to work at. He identified the potential the industry has and observed that they were quite disorganised. They also couldn’t communicate in English, which was an issue for them to get overseas sales. So, he encouraged my mother, Mrs. Geeta Prathipati, to explore this opportunity. One to get these factories organised and two to get them overseas orders. She used to work as a secretarial officer for a publicly traded company, so she started off as a consultant and used to connect importers with these factories. She has helped quite a few such factories to grow exponentially for over a decade. I was ushered to accompany clients to these factories during vacations from school and later while in college. This is when I was introduced to the world of Indian Hair. My mother is the one who basically kick-started my career in the hair industry.
After graduation, I took up a corporate job in the ITES sector and later moved to London for postgraduate. I came back to India in October 2009 and joined mom in consulting for hair companies. A lot of the clients I met urged me to start my own company, and in 2011 I formed a proprietorship and started trading Hair directly instead of consulting. Along the years, I have worked in diverse domains like ITES, Healthcare, Alternative Healthcare, and Beauty. I am also part of the management at a cosmetic clinic since 2014. In the year 2016, along with my mother, I formed Tirumala Human Hair Impex LLP (THHI) and partnered with our long-term associate/vendor, and became a partner in the factory rather than a trader.
Back in 2010, during my time as a consultant, I did introduce online buying through a website for a client of mine, however, the process back then was not seamless as it is now. We didn’t have the facility to accept payments online for international transactions, so It was a lengthy, cumbersome, and a time-consuming process, which didn’t translate well in terms of sales and eventually had to be shut down. I believe it was way too early.
Though I have been catering to the b2b segment, I always wanted to get back to retail. I worked around the issues I faced in the initial concept and studied other businesses in overseas selling, and in the year 2018, I conceptualised the retail brand “Juttu Extensions®.” Juttu means “Hair” in Telugu, a language spoken in south India, literally translating to “Hair Extensions.” it is also the language spoken where the largest ethical bank of virgin human hair, Tirumala temple, is located.
We officially launched Juttu Extensions® by THHI as an e-commerce website in the 3rd quarter of 2019 with a few products and with all the products in Feb 2020. We had quite a bit of activity on the website during the lockdown, however, we could not accept or fulfil any order due to Covid related circumstances. The activity was a much-needed validation and boost I needed for the retail segment.
How does Juttu Extensions® innovate?
Sri S Prathipati: We forayed into the start-up world with Juttu Extensions® by THHI, giving access to Affordable Luxury Hair Extension direct to customers through our e-commerce website. This became possible, as there are facilities to accept international card payments in India through payment gateways and ease of shipping.
We sell hair extensions made with Ethically Sourced Unadulterated Raw South Indian Hair. It also goes by the name 100% Virgin Remy Indian Hair or Unprocessed Hair. Our product line includes Wigs (Full Lace, Front Lace, and Closure), Bundles, Closures, Frontals, Clip-On Sets, Clip-On Volumizer, Nimbus (Halo) extensions, Tape Extensions, Keratin Tips (I,V,U, and Flat), MicroRings and PonyTail extensions. All these products have been straightforward for years, any new product innovation or suggestions from client(s) is researched and developed, We do not sell those products on our website or pitch it to other b2b clients, as it’s that particular client’s intellectual property. Recently, a b2b client of ours had suggested a technique (which I am not at liberty to disclose) for a certain line of hers, this is being experimented with, and we are hoping to come up with a desirable solution. Additionally, I analyse market trend, listening to our customers, studying what my competitors are doing and new product introductions so that I am in sync with what’s happening.
We ship worldwide from India for both wholesale and retail. In retail, for orders placed through our website, we do free shipping to USA, Canada, UK, France, Spain, Germany, and few other West European countries (for some products like Bundles, Closure, and Frontals, there is a contingency to be considered for free shipping). Though we state on our website that we ship in 3 to 5 business days, most of the products are shipped within 1 to 3 business days, and the customer receives it within 6-8 business days from the time the order is confirmed. Yes, the time taken for delivery is a concern, however, my customers so far have been patient and happy with the product they received. We concentrate on the quality of the product and use minimal, sustainable, and reusable packaging, which is a cloth bag that can be used as a shoe bag or anything else the customer may prefer to use it for. This enables us to keep the retail pricing lower and sell the product to the customer at affordable prices. We could store our products in warehouses or through major e-commerce platforms and make faster delivery, this adds up to the cost of the product, and I won’t be able to sell at a competitive price. I also feel strongly that a customer would be happy that every order that is made and when the order received will get individual attention and quality is maintained. This so far has translated well with customers in the retail segment. Also, I am in no hurry to scale up, I will do so in due course. The retail segment is also playing a major role in enhancing our b2b customer base; as for an order to be considered wholesale, there is a minimum quantity requirement per order for wholesale prices to be applicable, and these are ex-factory prices.
In the wholesale segment, I have clients since the proprietorship firm that was formed in 2011 who continue to buy till date; I have also formed a personal rapport with them over the years. I always maintained clear communication in terms of timeline for delivery of goods, which has always been appreciated. However, the quality of our products does a lot of talking by itself.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sri S Prathipati: Financially it was a set back with the stringent lockdown there was no way for the workshop to function, however, we made up once things started opening up. Initially, it had us worried, but our clients in the wholesale sector were putting in back orders, which I could only confirm and fulfill after the lockdown was lifted partially and we could resume work. We also faced issues with the availability of raw Hair as all the temples were closed, and the prices have shot up exponentially. Thankfully, We had some stock from pre-lockdown, which was an advantage in completing the back orders maintaining a competitive price point. Though things are stabilising, the shortage of raw Hair still persists, as the footfalls in temples is restricted.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sri S Prathipati: Thankfully the partners and I didn’t have to make such choices. However, after the lockdown was partially lifted, we did have a shortage of staff as they had moved to their hometowns. However, they were very supportive to resume work and did so as soon as they could travel back. We are very grateful for the support they’ve extended during these difficult times.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sri S Prathipati: At present, I use a few apps associated with the e-commerce platform for CRM. I am exploring some ERP and CRM software in consideration of our growing customer base. Now, customers receive updates of their orders via emails as well as through online messaging platforms. It does take time to individually send these messages, however it keeps the communication real-time with a personal touch. These messaging platforms also help a lot in terms of supply chain and logistics.
Apart from software or apps, I like to interact with my clients. Every time I get an enquiry for wholesale, I make it a point to speak personally with the probable client over a phone call than just share a PPT with a price list and pictures. I spend time in understanding the market segment they are trying to cater to, if they are new to this trade, I educate them about different qualities of Hair, what kind of quality we deal with, what to expect and what not to expect, how we work and timelines for delivery. This helps the client to understand and decode a lot of information or misinformation. If they are already in the trade of hair extensions, I try to understand what kind of quality they have been dealing with and, if they have had any issues, how we can ensure they don’t face similar situations with us. My oral presentation usually lasts 20 minutes. This is s methodology I adopted and developed over the years. This has proved to be quite effective, especially with people who are looking for a quality product as opposed to just crunching numbers. We are in the process of developing interactive content to communicate the same through our social media profile and e-commerce website so that even retail customers understand what they are buying from us.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sri S Prathipati: No, we didn’t.
Your final thoughts?
Sri S Prathipati: The vaccine has given us a ray of hope, and I hope the world will get back to normalcy soon.
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