During his five-year stint at Glasgow University as under- and post-graduate in telecommunication and Master’s in Business Administration, Naveed Azhar – presently the director of sales and marketing at just4girls.pk, an online cosmetic store – often travelled back home loaded with cosmetics as gifts, mostly meeting requests from the females of the family. This is where an idea sprouted in his fertile entrepreneurial mind.
After he was done with Glasgow University after five years, Azhar found employment at eBay. “The idea found nourishment there”, and after discussing it with a few friends of similar bent, the venture was initiated in 2011.
Just4girls.pk is an online cosmetic store that deals in 100% guaranteed original cosmetic products that are otherwise not easily available to a large customer base in Pakistan.
“Whenever I was coming back home for vacations, the female family members would request to bring over cosmetics which I had not even heard of but in Pakistan, they were aware of them,” says Azhar.
“People here are aware of the high-end brands. They want to go for them but since these products are not easily accessible, they have to settle with whatever is available. We thought, why not cater to that market by making them accessible here,” says the 35-years old.
“We never went around seeking investors… never had an angel helping us. We did it on our own, and we came in very heavy,” said Azhar, when inquired about where the seed money had come for such a cash-intensive venture.
The first of its kind
Due to the founding member’s expertise in digital media and e-commerce and their intent to cater clientele countrywide, the cosmetic store had to be based online. With that decision made, the team began the research on the market it was going to tap into.
“It was untapped yet niche market and we saw the potential in it,” says Azhar. “We did research and in 2011, we launched our online store – the first of its kind in specialized category website on e-commerce,” he reflects back.
With a total of 25 persons in the team and the TCS onboard as the startup’s official delivery partner, the startup was launched online when internet based businesses were not very popular.
However, pioneering anything means going into uncharted territory, with swimming against the tide more of a norm than exception. At the time the venture was launched, e-commerce was not really a developed medium for businesses and entrepreneurs were basically starting from scratch to not only build their startups but also creating the tools of the trade and awareness in the market on its own.
Three main aspects
“There was no 3G or 4G at that time and when we marketed ourselves as an e-commerce store people generally assumed that we were expensive than the conventional market, so the first challenge was to create awareness in masses,” says Azhar, talking about the initial challenges.
“Of course if we were selling a makeup palette for Rs8,000-Rs10,000 and a customer had to pay online, we had to give them the surety that it was original and good quality,” says Azhar, who believes safety, security and awareness were the three main aspects Just4Girls.pk had to look after.
However with the launch of 3G and 4G in the country in 2014 and the emergence of various local and international online startups, the momentum gathered pace for the cosmetic store in its infancy period.
It took around three years before Just4Girls.pk’s team could finally build a clientele of its own and find a stable standing for the venture in the exponentially growing national e-commerce space – now hosting as many as 60 million internet users.
From 2014 onwards, the venture has tapped a large portion of this originally untapped market and now the company receives over a 100 orders per day from areas as far apart as Northern Pakistan, interior Sindh, and the hinterlands suburbs of Punjab.
“Sometimes orders from Panu Aqil or Badin are as sizable as Rs10,000. This reflects awareness of all these products in such remote backwaters, the only issue for the natives being accessibility. I mean fair sex all over the world loves to indulge in makeup, we just want to help them by providing the best product, the one that they desire at their doorstep,” says Azhar.
Nothing but the original
Regardless of the considerable basket size Just4Girls.pk receives from the boondocks, the three major cosmopolitans – Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad – remain top of the ladder in terms of ordering, with patrons from all backgrounds gradually opting for the e-commerce site to order their desired products – some of them even belonging to the category who really are not that keen to splurge big sums on cosmetics.
“Our commitment with our patrons remains that, regardless of the price tag, we shall deliver nothing but the original. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are expensive. Some items have prices as low as Rs299, but even so the product would be original and of good quality,” said Azhar of the varied price range that has enabled the startup to tap a significant niche in the cosmetic segment.
To enhance customer service and provide ease of home shopping to their clientele, Just4Girls.pk offers the option to its clients to order from Amazon. If a certain product available on Amazon is preferred by a customer, she or he can order at the local venture and it would procure and deliver it.
The constant endeavour with regard to providing 100% original product with free-return-policy in case the product does not meet the expectation level of the buyer has now brought its rewards, and won serious global recognition to the company.
It reflects in top-of-the-line brands such as Maybelline, Garnier and L’Oreal making the e-commerce portal their official partners in Pakistan and Makeup Academy London – a renowned international brand – has appointed it as its official distributors in the country.
All this combined also has enabled the company to achieve 5-7% annual growth – also reflecting on the overall growth of online cosmetic purchases. The online cosmetic sales are now worth Rs150 million and expected to grow twofold in the next two years – making it the fourth largest category among the e-commerce platforms.
Azhar does believe that the growth is still slower than the potential – with the conventional cosmetic industry a hundred times that at Rs150 billion. He hopes that the startup can notch an annual growth of 10% or more in the years to come.
Now, for a startup, that would be success worth savouring.