Sunita Passi is the founder of Tri-Dosha, an ethical Ayurvedic and holistic company, specialising in skincare products, holistic treatments and professional training in yoga, meditation and spirituality; herbs and nutrition; mantras and gem therapy. As she prepares to expand her business into the international market, she tells us about the pleasures and challenges of working across continents and cultures, and offers expert advice for those wishing to follow suit.
Launching the business - the birth of Tri-Dosha
I started life as an international business journalist and lived abroad for four years in various different countries. I was always into health and wellbeing and had a lot of holistic treatments. I found that the benefits were incredible with a job as stressful as mine. The seeds were sown for my move into Ayurvedic therapy.
Ayurveda is a holistic health system and something I grew up around as my grandfather was an Ayuvedic doctor. I remember visiting his clinic on my first trip to India aged seven, and being fascinated by all his herbs. I think that inspired me on a deep level and in 2002 I re-trained as an Ayurvedic therapist. In 2005 I launched Tri-Dosha as an Ayurvedic training academy for holistic therapists. A few years later we launched our product range.
The Ayurvedic ethos runs through our business as a whole. Our product formulas are organic wherever possible. We use sustainable packaging, environmentally friendly ink and recycled paper for labels. Our herbal skincare ingredients are imported mainly from remote suppliers in India and we work on the formulas with a traditional herbalist. After this stage our oil infusions are cold-pressed. Then all our products are locally blended in the UK.
Fortunately my first job as a business journalist gave me a lot of insight into how India worked. I was stationed over there for four months at one point and interviewed over 80 Managing Directors. Through this I came to know the main Indian manufacturers and how the system works, plus I think I kept every business card I was ever given! I also have an agent in India who located contacts for me while I lived there. Now if we need to source a new product, ingredient or partner up with a new manufacturer he’s able to do that on our behalf, which is really useful. For anyone else thinking of expanding abroad, there are agents in foreign countries who will do this for you for a fee.
Running an ethical businessBecause my roots are Indian I didn’t really experience any culture shocks – but saying that, I’m not fluent in Hindi or Punjabi, which are the languages of the areas we work in. On a business level, most people speak English now. But you do need to know who you’re working with in India. On the one hand it’s this amazing spiritual country where everyone’s 'Zen'; on the other hand it can be a bit naughty; you’re having to barter and if you’re not certain who you’re wiring your funds to you might not see them again! You do need to be savvy, but if you establish good professional contacts then they can take care of the grassroots things so you can focus on strategy.
But there are challenges. You have to be practical first and foremost, because you have to bring in profit. I’m ambitious for our business and want to grow it globally.
Sourcing your raw materials from a developing country means you’re supporting labour and benefiting the community economically. You’re also more conscious of your margins and your pricing, giving fair prices to your suppliers and being conscious of the whole channel. It's also about being conscious of giving back; the more successful your business becomes, the more ingredients you can purchase – it’s a win-win. You’ll continue to contribute to the growth of your suppliers' industries as well as your own.
Giving back to wellbeing projects in India
Expanding the business outside of the UK - the first steps
We have a few accounts outside of the UK to whom we supply our products: The Four Seasons in Cyrpus, two spas in Malta and one in Barbados. Now we feel we’re in a position to put the infrastructure together and set up a network abroad to expand internationally. The first market I’m interested in is India. Obviously they already have very successful Ayurvedic brands such as Himalaya and Banyan Botanicals – but nobody’s taken Ayurveda to a contemporary level and made it funky or boutique-like, which is what we do. The Indian spa market is growing exponentially and they love products from the UK. Although we bring our raw ingredients in from India we manufacture all our products in the UK so I’m really excited that we can sell back to India their own idea in a more contemporary way.
The next market is the Middle East. I’m off to a three-day hotel and spa fair in Dubai in September to network. It’s going to be like speed dating! You pay a registration fee and have 10-15 meetings set up for you with hoteliers who have certain projects on the go and you get to pitch your business.
I’d say there are three steps to it. Firstly, ask yourself ‘Are we ready to run? Is our concept defined and in place?’ When the answer to that question is yes, then the second stage is to try and establish a few new overseas clients organically. That will give you the confidence to supply abroad. We’ve had clients in Malta and Barbados for four years now and because of that we’ve become comfortable with the process. Any questions about global expansion that might come up, will come up at this stage. Plus, you already have more income coming in because you’re growing. Each step forward you’re learning all the time.
Stage three is to attend fairs and networking conferences – what other opportunity will you have to sit down with 10-15 business people all interested in what you have to say? Once you’ve created the contacts and the market knows you’re ready to push your business out there, people will start talking to you differently.
Challenges of a new market
The main challenge for us is understanding how to tweak the business for each market. You have to understand the local customer base culturally and know what suits them. Even if we were to think ‘I really understand the French’ we could discover that perhaps they don’t like Indian ingredients or warm to use of traditional Ayurvedic words – then we’d have to go back to drawing board and get creative again.
Challenges also lie in understanding new customers. It’s always exciting when people get in touch with us. If that contact is a well-established hotel and spa then we already know that they’ll understand the business process. If we get a call from a smaller customer that’s equally exciting but because they might not understand the business processes then you have to educate a little so you’re both coming from the same place. As long as you’ve done your homework, have a good network in place and good people around you, these things will only seem like small challenges and you can focus on the exciting aspects of growing your business.
You can find out more about Sunita and Tri-Dosha at www.tri-dosha.co.uk.