“If your competitors are your friends, you have less problems.” Latha Mohan
Forty years ago, Latha Mohan started her very first 120 sq. ft., airconditioned, ‘Kanya Salon for Ladies’ in Chennai in 1980. It cost her a princely sum of Rs.1 lakh to set it up. Her love for hairstyling and make-up inspired her to get trained in cosmetology from a T.N. Govt. Polytechnic. A further 6-month course in Pivot Point Singapore helped hone her hair, skin and make-up skills. She opened her 2nd Kanya in 1984 and after that, there was no looking back for Latha and the business. Today, Latha as MD and her son Vikram Mohan as CEO, own and operate 29 Bounce and Kanya salons and Oryza spas in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
They recount their journey in an exclusive one-on-one with SSWEEKLY.
Sandhya Chipalkatti: Latha, you are one of the founders of the beauty industry in the South. How did you start?
Latha Mohan: My husband who was with the Shipping Corporation of India always encouraged me to follow my passion, get trained, also to open a salon! But, where was the money those days? My family was kind enough to help me with funds for the 1st salon. We opened with a staff of two, and me!
My hairdresser was Vietnamese. In the beginning all my staff was Vietnamese. I used to train them. It was difficult to get Indian girls to work in salons those days. So, it worked well for me.
“I think that hairdressers/professionals running a salon bring passion, drive and expertise to the business.” Latha Mohan
What was your growth path for Kanya?
Latha Mohan: My first 120 sq. ft. salon grew within 2-3 years to a 900 sq.ft. salon with rising demand. I soon opened our 2nd Kanya in 1984. After that I opened 4 more stand- alone salons in Chennai and also took over the salon in the prestigious Madras Gymkhana Club. By this time Kanya had become a well-known name; a very popular ladies salon in Chennai.
One day, Rahul Bhalchandra (Co-founder, YLG) who was then working with Health & Glow in Chennai asked me if I was comfortable with a store-in-store concept salon in Health & Glow. I told him it would be a clash of interest as I was already running salons in Chennai. So, he offered me space in three stores in Bangalore to start Kanya on a profit-sharing basis.
That was entry into Bangalore for me! We did basic publicity and we were overwhelmed by the people’s recognition of Kanya and slowly started doing quite well and got many clients. Then I thought, why not open a standalone salon? So, we opened in Indiranagar. By then I had a lot of ideas about how to start a salon. I learnt on the job, making mistakes at times too! Eventually we opened 3 stand-alone Kanya Salons in Bangalore.
Soon after that, I came out of the Health & Glow agreement.
When did the New Gen join the business?
Latha Mohan: I never started this business for my children. At the most I thought my daughter could join the business, as Kanya was a ladies salon. By then, Vikram, who was working with KLM said he wanted to do something on his own.
Around the same time, 1987-88, I got an offer to sell from a big company who wanted to open women’s salons. Vikram flatly vetoed the idea, suggesting I should scale up instead.
Vikram Mohan: I told Amma that we do something different…. start a Unisex Salon. She was taken aback as unisex salons had a dubious reputation those days. But, I got my sister Prarthana also involved and we decided to go ahead and launch Bounce!
But we wanted to work on the floor and cut hair. So, we went to Adhuna and Osh to understand the business; met Nalini and Yasmin too, and trained in Vidal Sassoon and Toni & Guy before starting Bounce.
One thing we were clear about is that we wanted to be multi-brand salon, to have the creative freedom as a hairstylist. When we opened in Chennai in 2004 our first Bounce Style Lounge was a cool, trendy place where you could get superb haircuts! When we opened in Bangalore with a 4000 sq. ft. Bounce on Lavalle Road in 2005, we had DJs playing music on Saturdays and people thought it was an international brand!
Today we have 22 Bounce Salons between Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad.
Tell us about Oryza?
Vikram Mohan: My mother launched the stand-alone Day Spa concept in Chennai with Oryza in 2005! It was inspired by a fabulous foot spa experience we had in Thailand. We were so impressed that we felt we must bring it back home! Amma trained our staff at the famous WatPo School in Thailand and hired 2 therapists and a teacher from the school to get started. That is how the South-east Asia influenced Oryza was born!
How did the evolution of Bounce happen?
Vikram Mohan: It is the next, logical level of the evolution of the salon industry….to be a responsible, be kind to the environment. The trigger was David Bollati! We were inspired to come up with an eco-friendly salon after attending a convention at the Davines village in Italy.
The objective was to reduce the consumption of resources; reduce our carbon footprint etc. Our clients just loved it! But today with the pandemic and all the PPE etc., all our efforts have gone out of the window!
“We were all about saving the environment, right now we are saving ourselves.” Vikram Mohan
How have you managed the COVID pandemic?
Latha & Vikram: The pandemic has taught us a lot. We had to take difficult decisions, close 4 of our stores. We had to get into the survival mode. Safety comes first and we follow all protocols rigorously. I don’t want one single customer getting COVID and say “We went to Bounce”.
Our business dropped by 50% in the lockdown. But we are getting more new walk-in customers than ever before! We are growing in baby steps – 5 to 6% every month. Our salon business is at 60% now, spas at 25%. We broke even in October, made some money in November, December I think will be good, but Jan to March we are worried.
We are just so very grateful that we have an amazing team and clients that believe in us!