Singh Styled: Bringing Back The Sikh Identity

At a time when it was difficult to find quality turbans and beard care products for Sardars, Singh Styled became the dressers for Sikhs. Charanjeev Singh, the Founder, is not only breaking the stereotype of the grooming business but is also helping Sikhs maintain their identity while keeping the tradition alive.

Sardars are known for their smart, elegant and classy dressing style. They have been rocking the turban and showing pride for the beard since forever. But did you know that Sardars do not cut their hair EVER? You can imagine the effort and maintenance that goes behind it.

What is astonishing is that good quality turbans and grooming products are not easily available in the market. Sardars have been using hair sprays and gums to set their beards from generations, which are harmful for the beard. As for the turbans, can you imagine that Mumbai has just one turban store, which caters to over 2 lakh families? The younger ones to avoid all the hassle, have embraced the modern lifestyle by giving up their turbans and cutting off their beards.

And amidst all this, the art of tying a turban is getting lost; the Sikh identity is getting lost.  

In the second episode @The Impatient Marketer, we have Charanjeev Singh, who shares how he built a brand that resonates with all the Sikhs in the world. Charanjeev who is now the only Sardar in his family who wears a turban, took upon himself to bring back the Sikh identity. He proudly says that for the Sikhs, the turbans are their crowns.

After 3 and a half years of Singh Style being established, he still remains the first point of contact, showing his undying commitment towards bringing back the Sikh identity, and a strong dedication to making it all work.

Time-Stamped Key Notes

 

01:50 - Journey from the private equity world to Men Grooming 

03:48 - How did you come up with this niche product? 

04:35 - Cracking open the grooming market that is still associated with women

11:46 - Challenges in bringing the big idea to life

12:47 - The transition from identifying the need to building a brand  

14:18 - Taking the online store offline 

15:30 - Getting to that 71% repeat customer base

20:20 - Shaking hands with marketplaces

20:50 - Singh Styled products on Amazon vs products on the Singh Styled website

21:25 - Being the first point of contact for customers

23:20 - Impact of Product demonstration videos

25:00 - 3 Words of caution for entrepreneurs who are staring off

 

Transcript

00:00:33

Vivek:

Hi guys! I’m Vivek the founder at iZooto and this is the second episode of The Impatient Marketer. Today we have with us, Mr. Charanjeev Singh from “singhstyled.com”.  For those who do not know Singh Styled, Singh Styled is the go-to store for Sardars and Sikhs for their grooming. Hi Charanjeev! Good to have you here. 

Charanjeev:

Sasriyakaal Vivek! Sasrikaal to the Impatient Marketer audience.

00:00:44

Vivek:

So, Charanjeev why don't we start with your introduction?

Charanjeev:

So I've been a digital domain for the last 14 years. I started my career with advertising and digital agencies working on Hero Honda and all. Then moved on to wealth management or pride making sites where I was building a platform for online trading and portfolio management. This was back in 2006-07. I gained a lot of experience and then moved onto the startup world. My first startup was called “sportyzen.com” which allowed people to play a sport of their choice without becoming a member of any club and that continued from 2012-14 and then “Singh Styled” happened.

 

 

00:01:42

Vivek:

So the journey from the private equity world to men grooming, how did that happen?

Charanjeev:

So in 2014, we had an internal discussion at home. A lot of young Sikhs are moving away from their identity. While the debate was going on, to be clear that in my entire family I’m the only Sardar left who ties a turban and has a beard. Most of my cousins have moved out because it's very hard to maintain this identity. This is what during the debate I said that it's not very easy to find turbans and it's not very easy to find beard care products. I'm talking prior to 2014 as I think after 2014-15 there was a large boom in men's grooming market or the beard men market. In Bombay itself, there's only one turban shop that caters to about 2 lakh Sardars.

00:03:03

Vivek:

Wow!

Charanjeev:

You don't get good quality cloth, in the fifth or sixth wash the colors totally fade away. These are the problems that the community was facing. You neither have a Sikh icon you can look up to! Till 2014 there was a Sikh icon that was a Jazzy B and Yo Yo Honey Singh again. Though I'm not against them, it's about maintaining the identity. You need to have some icon whom you can look up to.

So maintaining an identity was one problem while another problem was whom do I look up to? So during this discussion, an idea popped up that why don't we build a platform that would allow us to become a genie for sardars? Where I can actually help them maintain their identity by providing them or supplying quality turban and preparing products for beards which are suited for every skin and every beard type as well as create the content that actually helps them to dress up. So basically Singh Styled is like a butler or dressers for the Sikhs. That is also Singh Styled’s tagline and our mission as well.

00:04:33

Vivek:

You know it's interesting that these days “grooming” and “men”, these words do not go hand in hand. The word “grooming” has always been associated with women. Women groom, women dress up and women are a lot more interested in accessories as compared to men. How do you sort of convince your audience which was already moving away from their tradition of turban and beard to say “Hey guys! This is cool!”, how did that happen?

Charanjeev:

So Vivek there's one clarity I would like to give is men outside India always dress up! They dress up for work. They dress up for events. That is why you have black-tie events. It's only in India that we men taboo everything and we make it more feminine like “Oh! That's what women do!”.  But under the hood, we also know that you and me, we also have used our mother’s Lakme fairness creams before going for a date. Right?

So men's grooming was always there but it was always under the wrap. I remember in college days I have seen my own friends using face washes by quietly going to the washroom and washing their faces so that the girl next to them gets impressed by their fairness. So I would say that beardmen’s era brought a focus on men's grooming and remove a taboo that boss you can also use a fairness cream or a face wash. It's okay!

00:06:25

Vivek:

Right!

Charanjeev:

Coming to Singh Styled, Sardars have always been very classy dressers. If I tie a turban I would like to match it with my shirt or my jeans. The only problem was that they were not getting the products easily available in the market. I still get emails that people are using hair fixers to fix their beards. These are gums basically! These are the same Camlin gums we used to get in schools, Sardars have been applying the same from generations to set their beards. It's very bad by the way. It's a gum so when you are washing it so there's a lot of wear and tear that happens. Many sardars have come back with patches. Now sardars have started using “Taft”, which is again a hair spray. Now hairsprays are predominantly are a strict no-no for the beard. If you down to the brands and tell them that you are using their hairspray to set your beard, they won't publicly accept that it's good for your beard. Its because you will be inhaling those gases. Sprays are as much meant for the hair as they are meant for the armpits but not for the beards. But since there were no other products available that's why Sikhs have figured out ways and jugaads to get the products.

Singh Styled came and I said “Okay if I can provide quality turbans, not just the black, blues, yellows and reds. I will create a black and blue turban, I will give them orange candy color turban and I create products that are tested by dermatologists to set the beards.” Most of the Sikhs who are, have been using or suffering using these products will move and start using our products. This was something that the market was already wanting, right? This was a crucial need. So Singh Styled basically identified and catered to that need. It might be a very small market but for Singh Styled the market was huge! Also, we have been getting lots of sardars who have cut their hair and have moved away from their identity are now coming back. Now there are two things that have happened.

Suddenly I moved away from my identity because I saw my friends bully me about beard or tieing a turban but suddenly even they have started growing a beard. The other thing is now the products are available. There is somebody out there who’s trying to help them. So now they write emails to me about “I want to get back to my identity. I want to learn how to tie a turban. Can you show me how to tie a turban and what is the turban length?”. So I tell them to go to the Gurudwara and first learn the art rather than buying the turban from our site. Learn the art of whether you like the Diljit Dosanjh style or Patiala-shahi style that Navjot Singh Siddhu wears or UK style that I tie. So first, go and learn the art and then you can come and buy online. So this is how Singh Styled has garnered popularity within the community.

00:10:20

Vivek:

Hey, I loved that story! The need for the product was very clear. It was barely catered to, in the first place. And then the fact that you are taking such a clear and strong stand that “Hey! It's not about us selling the product but you coming back to the identity!” which is of a Sikh with a turban and a beard. I think it’s a ridiculously powerful message for all the sardars out there who still wears a turban. Awesome!

Charanjeev:

Thank you so much! So I always say that brands, even a Coca-Cola would spend millions of dollars to build a brand identity. They would have distributed billions just to maintain it and that's what Singh Styled is all about. It's a butler for you! You want a turban of a particular shape, you tell me the shape and ill get it for you. You have any beard issues, you tell me, we have our formulation team that gets the product done and sends it to you. For even Singh Styled, I had a lot of problems and I went to clarify them. I've even written down mails to the brands that we are a community that needs a lot of hair care products. Everyone just shunned us out because we are just 13 million Sikhs of which only half of you all will be using it. And I was like “ Boss! You know if you provide a product that suits the skin and the hair, that customer is for life long.”

Vivek:

Yeah, that's true!

Charanjeev:

 If you multiply it, in a year I will require it 12 times and I am going to be interacting with you for my beard care and you then multiply it with the number of years I'm going to live, that's huge! The numbers are humongous.

00:12:41

Vivek:

Absolutely yeah! So, Charanjeev you have been around for like 3 and a half years now. How is the transition from identifying the need of the market which used to have, even in Bombay, just only 1 store that provided clothes for a turban, to actually set up a whole manufacturing process, to define a brand and create a brand? How has this journey been for past 3 and a half years?

Charanjeev:

It’s been fun! Where we started off with around 20-21 products, today we are sitting on a 110. By 2020 we will have around 600 turban shades. We started off with only 2 beard care products which were beard oil and shampoo. Now we have a beard setter which is the hero product that replaces the hair fixers and all that. By the end of 2019, you will have a range of personal care products for Sikhs. By the way, 60% of our beard care products are bought by non-Sikhs. They are buying the beard oil and beard shampoos because of the trust the brand that if its a Sikh whos building a product, he understands beard and he understands what goes into maintaining a beard. That's how they are ordering from us.

In 2018, Singh Styled was a purely online platform but now in 2019, we are setting up our first retail experience center in Bombay. We will be doing the same thing in Delhi then Gurgaon and moving on to Chandigarh and then Amritsar. But that's going to take some amount of time and efforts. The target for 2020 is that we want to be catering around half a million Sikhs across the globe. We already have customers in Canada, UK, US but now we are looking at distributors, retailers with whom we already are negotiating deals, who will retail and display our products.

00:15:06

Vivek:

Got it! Awesome right! In 3 and a half years you are now at a stage where the catalog is exhaustive, and now you have retail which is huge right? Again, Charanjeev I know this question is self-explanatory but you must have a ridiculous repeat usage. What does that look alike?  

Charanjeev:

So the repeat usage is happening because of the quality of the product that we are offering, you don't get that in the market. That's why we have taken 3 and a half years of not borrowing money for marketing. So what we have done is we started off with a small customer base and figured out which product is working, why is it working. For example, our turbans are the only turban cloth, if you take a 7-meter long turban cloth it gets boxed into such a small box. It's because of the thread count, the material, the fabric or even dyes that have been used. We see to it that it does not fade away in the first five washes and takes around 20-25 washes to fade.

So since we are premium on those products, the customers are willing to come back. The beard care products, when we started off, all of the 3 products were a failure. The customers came back and said the oil is great, the shampoo is great but do something about their fragrance. So we rebottled the fragrance. On the beard-setter people came back to us telling us that the whole time experience isn't great. After 3-4 hours we have to figure out the ingredients that are skin friendly and then only you can wash it off easily but it still remains for 10 or 12 hours. So when once we have done that because of which the customers have come back and nearly 70% of our customers are repeat buyers because those products are not available in the market.

00:17:30

Vivek:

A lot of people out there speak heavily about how retention is the key to building a solid e-commerce business with quality like yours.

Charanjeev:

I’ll add one more thing which is in the core, the product is one but the customer experience is the second thing. Product is the first thing because when the first time a customer buys from you is basically how easily the product was available and what was the experience in receiving the product. So, for example, the first time a customer buys a product from our site, I actually send a handwritten note. I used to send a handwritten note, now it has become more automated but it has all my information. It has my direct email ID, it has my phone number. So if you have any issues even regards to delay in receiving their package, I’m the first contact right now. Then it starts percolating down to other departments wherein, for example, Sumit is heading the Operations department and marketing. So if I hear that there's a delay about this particular customer, what's the reason? Then I write to them or call them up explaining the reason and they are happy about it. It's there because they know that the founders are managing it.

These are the reasons why your buyers are happy because now they are in contact with the core team. If today, you go down to buy a new product from a grocery store or supermarket, how many of you can actually call HUL and say “Hey! Your product is bad!” or “Your product is good but I want to share some suggestions.”? They have customer care numbers but there is someone 30 floors down who’s taking the call but the guy at the 30th floor is not getting the call. We have made it that all the founders or the guys working at Singh Styled are working at the same level, they receive the feedback and they share the feedback within the team.



00:19:57

Vivek:

I think you have spoken of a very important aspect that the customer experience is not just the product itself but also how it's delivered, how it's packaged and of course, how the customer service is like? Customer Feedback is Sacrosanct, it is super impactful. So tell us, do you also sell actively on market-places like Amazon, Flipkart as well?

Charanjeev:

We do, yes. It’s actually routed to our third party company because that's a totally different focus area. It requires a different team and we have had our team till the time it has been possible to cater to our own experience.

Vivek:

Got it! So Charanjeev help me understand, between your own store and your own brand and then being there on the Amazon market-place, what appeals to you more as an entrepreneur?

Charanjeev:

Managing directly is what appeals to me. Amazons and all according to me, are more of advertising platforms. They will make the product available but won't provide that sort of experience which we at Singh Styled provide. Most of these customers actually move on to Singh styled once they buy the products because they would have heard of us, liked our products or done some research about the company and they would come to the site and see other ranges.

00:21:43

Vivek:

Right! Charanjeev you are one of very few entrepreneurs in India who’s hands-on and is in retail and maintaining the website and is literally the first line of contact for customers. How do you pull this off? So tell us a bit more about you; the man behind the story. 

Charanjeev:

So there’s no set formula it happens like a duty. You're managing, building a brand and you're a parent to the brand. When things have to be done, they have to be done. I think when you're hands-on, see this won't continue for very long and this is what I tell entrepreneurs or businessmen. That what I'm doing is not going to last for too long, right? There will be more and more people whom I will have to hand over. What I am doing right now is that I'm building a base. This is how an experience or customer has to be managed. So it happens this way, the whole day we all manage things.

00:23:12

Vivek:

Now Charanjeev what is very interesting is that you are demonstrating your products live in your videos.  How did that come into the picture?

Charanjeev:

The thing is that when we launched the beard setter, people did not know how it was to be applied. So that was the kick start of our videos. One of our customers called up and said if we can do a tutorial of how you set your beard so that's going to help us to understand the product and its application. So we started off with that and it was so impressive that now every month rather than a blog post, we come up with a video which is much more interactive. 

Vivek:  

Do you know how videos are pretty much on for products now? Is that how it works?

Charanjeev:

Yeah! So we have done just a few of them but in a coming couple of months we will be coming up with a range of videos. It’s going to be more like how to tie a turban or do you maintain your hair, so it may be related to products or it may not be related to products.

 

00:24:32

Vivek:

Got it! Pretty interesting! So Charanjeev I got the context of you being personally attached to the story and being extremely hands on unless you work this day-in-day-out, right as a CEO working as a secretary. Being an online retail store, what are your words of caution for entrepreneurs who started off at this pace.

Charanjeev:

I think what I follow and this is the advice for everyone is that there are three C’s which are you maintain your Cash Flow, which is the fuel to run the business. Second, you must know your customers very well, interact with them more on and off. You know you can become the CEO and start putting more and more layers but that may hurt you in the long run. So you need to be grounded, you need to more interactive with customers daily because you might end up getting a new product idea or you may get to know a new channel or selling or presenting your product! The third part that I always say is that you get a good CA because at the end of the day, money matters and I’ve had experiences with quite a few professionals and thankfully now we have got a good team that manages the money properly.

The other advice that I would give is that don't burn your money. If your products are great, if your customer experience is great, talking of ourselves, our first 50 customers brought us the next 150 customers and our next 150 customers brought to us our first 1000 customers. This is because we respect our each and every customer. Whenever we actually write them a letter, I always say that “Thanks for investing in Singh Styled through your first order.” The first order that comes to you is basically a bet that they've played. That money could’ve gone to anyone! But that's the bet they have taken with you and if you don't provide them the customer experience backed by a great product then that customer is never going to come back. So rather than going down a marketing agency and pulling your hair for advertising spend the same time in building a great product and creating a whole customer journey experience. So that the customer comes back and says, “You know what? I'm not alone. Here are my 10 other friends or family members. So please go ahead and cater to them as well.” We have in fact, not even once given any brownie points to anyone for such loyalty.

It has only happened that whenever that phone rings, whether I or anyone in the office who takes the call, would say “Sasriyakaal! How can I help you? Then we make sure that how can I help you actually get converted into how can help you. Not just saying that let me get back to you, give me 10-20 minutes and then I'm off. So I always say if you are building a business, you are building or you are working in any other company, know your customer. How you would have wanted them to you? So, manage the money properly, know your customers, give them the experience that they need and I think you should be good.



00:28:33

Vivek:

Awesome! Thanks, Charanjeev! Thanks for this extremely insightful and interesting theory. I'm super excited about what this year has in-store for you and Singh Styled and again thank you for joining us in the second episode of the impatient marketers. Hope to see you soon again!

Charanjeev:

Thank you so much!



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charanjeev singh - singh styled - the impatient marketer speaker

Speaker

Charanjeev Singh 

Charanjeev is the Founder & CEO at Singh Styled. He is a digital evangelist with 14 years of experience in developing products, building teams, improving profitability, performance and value of companies. Currently, he is building the world’s first Sikh fashion brand, Singh Styled, that caters to the grooming and styling needs of 30 million Sikhs, across the world.

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About Singh Styled

Launched in 2015, Singh Styled is the world’s 1st grooming and styling platform for Sikhs. It provides a variety of Sikh styling essentials like Turbans, Beard Care and Style Advisory. Their quality turbans come in every hue. You name it and they have it. 

Singh Styled products are available on third-party carts like Amazon and Nykaa. Singh Styled currently ship to 133 worldwide destinations, which includes Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Far & Middle East, and Africa. They also plan to start their operations in United Kingdom, Canada, United States and, Australia.

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