From a simple shy Punjabi girl to Queen of Delhi, Aashmeen's journey in the world of beauty is no less than a roller coaster ride. Starting out as an assistant in a local salon 16 years ago, Aashmeen Munjal has come a long way to being now recognised as one of New Delhi's most prominent beauty professionals. Equipped with specialist academic skills acquired at London School of Make-up and the City & Guild University, UK, Aashmeen currently operates seven high-profile salons and three academies in the National Capital.
The Gladrag's Mrs India North Zone finalist and the title of Queen of Delhi in 2001, Aashmeen Munjal has shaken the world with her strokes. She now lives her dream of making people beautiful. Constantly on call at some of the country's most prestigious fashion and lifestyle shows, Aashmeen discusses the opportunities and challenges of India's rapidly enlarging and evolving beauty services industry.
What makes Aashmeen Munjal special ? I don't take my profession as regular work, it is my passion. Making people look beautiful drives me and it fascinates me. I believe, it is important to look beautiful internally as much as externally. For example, if a model or a bride is in a bad mood or depressed, no matter how much makeup I put on her face, the real beauty will not show up. At that moment, I try to make her feel calm and comfortable and then do the makeup work. I believe in giving a human touch to my strokes.
Tell us about your professional background I started because of my school friend, but then I fell in love with this work and joined a colony parlour as an assistant. I got married at a very early age in a conservative Punjabi family where I was not allowed to go out and work. I started working from my house, had one room and then the journey began. I later did a course with Shahnaz, Jawed Habib and many other courses, also my work simultaneously.
Tell us about Star Salon & Academy. It started 19 years ago. My partner said it is time to take our profession on a training level. Since the word 'Star' was what I wanted to be, I named it Star Salon & Academy. It has been 4 1/2 years now and we are training budding makeup artists.
Are you personally involved in training ? Due to hectic schedule I did not have the time to get involved in training. I relied upon my friends, family members, co-workers, to teach the students whatever I have taught them. We have three academies in Delhi, 100+ students and still adding. We have collaborated with many international academies and have made a fusion of their styles with our personal touch.
What are the challenges you faced in this profession? First challenge was at home, I was married in a business class traditional family where women were not allowed to go out and work. I was confident of who I was, I didn't want to be dependent. When I entered this profession, the biggest challenge was quality staff who are also loyal. Existing competitors were L'Oreal, Shahnaz, Jawed as well as a number of small salons. The first salon I opened was old fashioned and also on the first floor.
How do you choose your stylists? The stylist should be innovative, a thorough professional, should have knowledge of products. Like if one is doing makeup or hair colour, must have knowledge and idea behind the whole camouflage, skin enhancing, matching etc. I hire people as per their understanding of the art of makeup and their skills.
What is your brand’s USP? I don't do the regular things other people do. I like challenges. I know how to handle blue colour on hair, how to style hair without cutting an inch. I suggest a healthy diet to my clients. Basically, I believe in creating magic.
Who’s your role model? Jawed Habib. It is not that I want to be like him, but I like his professionalism and knowledge.
Any famous clients? There is a long list of top shot clients. I have worked for many fashion shows also. But what I like the most is bridal makeup. Whether it is Laxmi Mittal's daughter or a bride in Delhi, whenever I do makeup, she opens her eyes and the sparkle I see in her eyes is what I yearn for. I never get that sparkle in a model's eye because it is professional.
What trends as per you will rule in 2016? Bright colours will be in, because now people have started experimenting and done away with dull and boring colours. Re-bonding will be out and light golden, pink hair colour will be in.
What is the typical customer profile of your stores and has it been changing over the years? People are becoming more conscious about their looks and also demanding. Earlier my customers were quite casual about themselves, but nowadays, they too are careful about their body, haircut / colour. Thanks to the internet, specially Youtube, youngsters too are well aware of fashion, hairstyles, tattoo, colouring.
What concepts / innovations do you introduce in your salons to retain your consumer base? Times have really changed, people are not satisfied easily. They have shown an inclination towards many upcoming trends. I have to keep upgrading myself so that we can retain clients.
Do you have tie-ups or collaborations with brands? I have tie ups with L'Oreal India, Aroma, and Capital Brushes to name a few.
What is the typical return for retailers in this business? How much time does it take for a store to break even? Return depends on the location, type of clients, interiors, quality of staff, products and services. All my salons give different returns. The Kamla Nagar salon gives a good turnover. My salon in Ashok Vihar started attracting clients very fast especially teenage crowd. Returns are unpredictable.
Do you have a private label (your own products)? We already have a Star brand which depicts a certain level of quality. As of now I don't have any private level for products, but I might consider it in future.
How big are your stores? Minimum 1200-1500 sq.ft and maximum 4000 sq.ft.
What is your location strategy? I go by my intuition. If my target customers are students, then I would choose the North Campus area like Kamla Nagar. I opened one parlour in Pusa Road because it is Central Delhi and I want to attract a more upmarket clientele. I chose Pacific Mall because it is the most sought after mall in North Delhi. My new salon is coming up in CTC Mall because it is a bridal hub and anybody who wants to get married will surely visit there, whether for clothes or makeup.
What kind of investment is required while setting up salons such as yours? It depends on the interiors. If it is a small salon with average interiors, Rs 2000/ sq ft should be enough. If it has a lavish look, like for one salon I had bought floor and wall material from Rajasthan, chandeliers to give a royal touch, then it would go well above Rs 8000/sq.ft.
How should beginners go about arranging capital to open a chain like you have? Did you approach venture capitalists / banks for investing in your business? I started my salon with the 'shagun' money I got when I had my daughter. As my business flourished, I arranged funds from Small Scale Industries (Laghu Udyog). I never tried the venture capitalists but one must be intelligent about handling funds. The investment should be done as the business grows. Open one salon and work hard on it, not too many salons and not able to handle even a single one.
How would you describe the growth journey of your stores over the years and its course of trajectory going forward? What are your expansion plans? At present I have seven salons and three academies, all of them are doing well. I am looking for more, but right now this is all I have.
Advice to budding stylists? Be an all rounder, a thorough professional. When I entered this field, I learnt everything about Spa, Panchakarma, Ayurveda, Aerobics along with makeup and hair. Nowadays the demand is more and supply is less, being an all rounder is always beneficial. The world appreciates those who know how to dig the well.