After 18 years of corporate life, 44-year old Vasant Prabhu started wholesaling and distribution of homoeopathic products in South India in 2009. He had already gained a treasury of knowledge through various roles in ICICI Bank, Centurion Bank, BPL, IFB and Indecomm Global before turning entrepreneur. He had turned down the selection as a Gazetted Probationary officer (KAS) in government services when he began his career as he was more interested in working in the private sector post his MBA.
In an IOS exclusive, the Belgaum-based online seller shares about building the homoeopathic medicines portfolio on online marketplaces like Snapdeal and Amazon, and his recently launched online store, homeomart.com.
What extra documents /formalities are applicable for selling medicines on online marketplaces?
One has to be compliant with Ayush (Ministry of Health, Govt of India) rules and Guidelines in this regard. So one has to have retail drug license and have to be certified as authorized seller of the brands they represent. One may also require food license (FSSAI) for selling certain types of homeopathic food products.
Was it easy to start selling online, since you deal with sensitive products?
Our forte is alternative wellness and cure, specifically Homeopathy. We started with Homeopathic cosmetic products that included Shampoos, Hair Oils Soaps etc. and then diversified into other homeopathic OTC products. And since we were already into physical distribution, procurement was not a problem. Almost all the products were on our shelves already. We just had to pack them and ship on time.
We started selling on Snapdeal in 2014 as its health and wellness category was diversified and roaring. But it was difficult to get the product listed as Snapdeal did not have any uniform procedure or a single point of contact we could coordinate with. It took us nearly 3-4 months of constant follow-ups and struggle before we could list the products. Also, Snapdeal had a very high cancellation rate and that put a big question mark on viability too.
So how did you tackle that?
The response to our products was very good. In fact our account has never been suspended.
When we went to Amazon they did not even have a product category nor products listed in homeopathy. We created the category for them and today it is one of the important portfolios in their health category. In the process we became their top rated seller too.
You could say that we were instrumental in bringing homeopathy products online in India since we built up the portfolio in both Snapdeal and Amazon and later to others like Flipkart and Healthkart.
What is your current online presence?
Currently, we are focusing on our own platform ‘Homeomart’ which is India’s first exclusive multi-brand homeopathy store. We are also the leading top-rated seller on Amazon in our category. We are also present in Snapdeal, Flipkart, Healthkart among others.
What prompted Homeomart?
We saw the potential of ecommerce after about 3-6 months of operation.
The volumes and growth gave us motivation to expand and grow. We realized that the current ecommerce platforms (where buyers and sellers converge) were just marketplaces which sold everything under the sun. There was no proper differentiation in sub categories and listing methodology. This meant that customers did not have the choice and freedom to choose by specialty, symptoms or sub categories. We felt that these diversified marketplaces did not bring in the subject matter expertise and offer choices tailored to customer needs.
This prompted us to start ‘Homeomart’ and our endeavor has been to offer the complete suite of Homeopathic products and services. The world of homeopathy is very large which has a wide assortment of categories and products. Only a specialist player like us can do justice to this profession.
What is your revenue per month?
We are targeting at least Rs 10 lakhs of Business per month. Since our average order size is about Rs 450 this would translate to about 2250 orders per month or about 75 per day. In the next 1-2 years we would like to scale this to about Rs 35 lakhs per month (Rs 4-5 Crores/year) and we have the capacity to do so.
Homeomart contributes to about 20% of our revenue already. In a short span of time we have garnered a pan India footprint (in terms of orders coming from every nook and corner of the country) and have also successfully forayed into American and European markets.
How are the elements like packaging, logistics, inventory management taken care of?
We have specialized homeopathic order and inventory management software, Eval, custom-built to meet the unique challenges of Homeopathy, including the demands of distributors and retailers.
We have a fully trained team to prepare packaging that meets industry standards. We procure good quality packaging materials and ensure that many homeopathic products, which are fragile, withstand the rigors of transportation & delivery across India and abroad.
Lesser than industry average
Ensure minimal returns with double checks during order dispatch and quick deliveries
Best ecommerce portal in India today?
Undoubtedly Amazon; because it understands the business better than others and has put processes and systems in place accordingly. They are consistent in their policies and demand high standards from sellers. Unfortunately portals like Snapdeal, and PayTM lack this consistency. When they face a problem because of their slack processes, they shut down the entire category. Sellers like us suffer for no fault of ours and this puts a big question mark on their credibility.
What challenges do you foresee?
Competition is getting intense and predatory pricing tactics by newbies is putting pressure on our operating margins. We aim to offer online pharmacy for prescription products offered by online homeopathic doctors. Since the portfolio for such products is huge, it will be a technical and logistical challenge to put it online and have it implemented.
We intend to have a hybrid model where we sell on our own store as well as online marketplaces.
But our own platform will have to start competing for internet space from the big brands like Amazon whose portfolio we have built and created in the first place!
Advice to new budding sellers?
Identify a niche and be good at it. Don’t try to be the ‘Jack of all trades’ as it could boomerang on you. Build a well-knit team to chart growth, so hire carefully and cultivate your star performers.