With the goal of bringing ancient Ayurvedic beauty and wellness treatments to the Western world, Shrankhla Holecek left her consulting career at McKinsey to start her luxury beauty company, Uma Oils, in 2016. The roots of the brand stem from her family’s 800-year-old history of handcrafting organic remedies for Indian royalty, and serving as a supplier to top beauty brands, ranging from Tom Ford to Estée Lauder.
“I have long known that my family produces some of the world’s finest organic oils, and that our potent family formulas are very illustrious – but it wasn’t an emotional decision to move into this category,” she said. “It was the fact that consumers were finally questioning the ingredients and formulation of their products that gave me the confidence to believe that our story and our absolute dedication to ingredient purity will resonate with customers.”
Now, the brand, which has a 70 percent repurchase rate, offers about 20 SKUs of beauty and wellness oils ranging in prices from $50 to $175. While it is available within traditional retailers including Space NK, The Detox Market, Net a Porter, Neiman Marcus and Goop, Shrankhla has also chosen to work with partners that allow for experiential interactions. To that end, UMA is currently available in more than 30 independent five-star spas, such as the Beverly Hills Hotel, Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton hotels, as well as more than 90 Equinox gyms via a limited-edition collaboration.
Here, Shrankhla shares some of the key factors that has made Uma Oils a success.
The key differentiation of the brand is its vertically integration.
The entire process, from the organic growing, to the harvesting, to the extraction and blending process is managed by the family’s estate. This allows them to entirely control the quality of their essential oils from start to finish.
“Purchasing from external sources where the quality often cannot be verified is a risk that we don’t take with our essential oils – especially given how unregulated the industry is, and how easy it is for many to dilute ingredients to make a quick profit. For UMA, we pick the highest quality harvest and the most potent essential oils for blending into our products,” said Shrankhla.
To remain authentic, the brand does not partner with influencers.
“We don’t work with influencer marketing and we have never done a single pay for play placement because we believe that the way the current social media is structured is somewhat antithetical to the slow-content approach we’re taking, not to mention that when approaching wellness – supporting the idea of instant gratification is a disservice to the thoughtful, time and compliance-oriented commitment to wellness that is necessary to seeing results,” noted Shrankhla.
Education continues to be its biggest challenge – and opportunity.
To understand what makes UMA products efficacious – or even command the price point it does – requires an investment from the customer to understand Ayurveda, the longevity of its rituals, as well as the ingredient profile. “Our products feature extremely expensive ingredients such as rose, sandalwood, jasmine – ingredients that we wouldn’t be able to offer without a very significant markup unless we got them at cost as we do as the producers,” said Shrankhla. “However, the flip side is that once a customer is evangelized, they are UMA users for life, which is what has allowed us to build such loyalists both in the editorial, as well as the customer community – and has truly elevated us to cult status.”
Self-funding allows for risks.
“We have never sought funding, in part because it allows us to commit to some riskier seeming propositions such as ultra-curated distribution, slow content and product development that truly fits our mission,” said Shrankhla.
Best lesson learned:
The most successful businesses are not built on the best ideas, they’re built on the most committed people.
Shrankhla will be speaking at CEW’s upcoming event, Wellness in the Beauty Space at the Jonathan Club – Downtown LA in Los Angeles, CA on Thursday March 14. She will be joined by Erin Cotter, SVP, Beauty, goop; Walter Faulstroh, CEO, HUM Nutrition Inc. and Priya Venkatesh, Senior Vice President of Merchandising, Skincare and Hair, Sephora. The panelists will be discussing how wellness is driving innovation in the beauty category for retail, product creation, and marketing. A cocktails networking session kicks off at 6 p.m, followed by the program at 7 p.m. To register to attend the event, click here.