Ujjwala Shanker, who has started an incense-making venture ‘Holy Shrine Incences’
Q: How did the idea of starting such a niche venture come to you?
I run a school where 'not so privileged' children study. I feel that they need to undertake skill development besides regular studies so that they are able to earn something. Also, many women from neighbouring villages were asking me for jobs. And as they say, where there is a will, there is a way! At that time, Sudhanshu Sharma, heading corporate banking in North India introduced me to Om Pandey who wanted to train my children in agarbatti-making. Both of them were instrumental in my entering this field. They were kind enough to provide me technical support and knowhow so that I felt confident in undertaking this venture.
Q: Is this enterprise environment friendly and how?
This enterprise is totally environmentally friendly for the following reasons-
a. The ingredients used are totally natural, be it charcoal, wood powder, wood bark, guar gum, bamboo sticks or flower petals;
b. In fact sawdust powder or flower petals are recycled without any pollutants and harmful chemicals into beautiful incense;
c. No noise pollution, water pollution, air pollution or soil pollution done during manufacturing process;
d. Incense and aromatherapy have proven psychosomatic benefits;
e. Smoke from our incense does not irritate the eyes or lungs;
f. We use essential oils for our perfumes which promote wellness;
g. Leftover raw material is recycled so there is negligible wastage.
Q: What were the major hurdles/challenges you faced and overcome?
The major hurdles and challenges were:
a. Raw incense sticks get damaged and must be handled carefully to minimise wastage;
b. Since no preservatives or chemicals are used, the incense sticks are prone to getting fungus very quickly and hence need to be dried and stored with stringent precision;
c. To enhance shelf life they need to be perfumed and packed properly which is an expensive process;
d. Finding buyers and a market for my ready products;
e. Extremely labour-intensive business, hence retention of good workers is a major challenge because when they learn what they need to, they tend to leave.
Q: What is the marketing strategy you follow and where do you see your brand in near future?
Marketing Strategy followed by me:
a. Creating awareness for my brand through social media via digital marketing- Instagram, Facebook and Google;
b. Direct marketing B to B via a sales and marketing team;
c. Pamphleteering and road show to create awareness;
d. Making Miss India Pankhuri Gidwani my brand ambassador;
e. Inviting dignitaries for a formal launch;
f. Joined BNI to get business links to wholesalers and C and F agents;
g. A radio campaign for 15 days prior to the formal launch;
h. Targetting Corporate Gifting with my premium range of incense made of flowers;
i. Showcasing my products on Trade India for bulk selling;
j. Planning to sell through Amazon;
k. Making a business website showcasing my complete range with an option for order and paying online.
My tagline is, ‘Jeet tumhari hai’ (Victory is yours). I want my incense to be part of daily life, not just religious rituals. I want my consumers to associate Holy Shrine Incenses with victory in whichever form it means to them. I see making complete inroads into Lucknow in the coming six months and entering UP by the end of 12 months. I will enter big retail chains and make inroads into the Indian market by the end of 12 months. I hope to get a slice of premium corporate gifting segment where a personalised thoughtful gift makes a difference.
Q: What is your advice to those who wish to undertake similar ventures?
My advice to those who follow similar ventures: Be very thorough with the production process- procuring raw materials, training of staff, putting infrastructure in place; register your firm/ NGO; get proper labour clearance, get your PAN and GST number, and understand the laws that govern your business. Have a proper marketing strategy. Have patience and faith in God. Be prepared for teething troubles and stumbling blocks. Don't let them deter you.