L’Oréal Professional’s DP Sharma Inspires Leadership in Excellence
Director of L’Oréal Professional Products Division, DP Sharma is a leader who continues to take the reins on countless business innovations by the global brand in India. Speaking to Beauty Launchpad’s Editor Ritoo Jhha, in an exclusive interview for our YouTube channel – Beauté Espace TV – Sharma details L’Oréal Professionnel’s efforts and goals for various aspects of the business including the ARTH Academies, the L’Oréal Dream Team, and post-COVID preparations to boost retail & training.
Training & Education
Given the skill opportunity we have in India, there’s a lot we can do in education at different levels. At the top, we have the L’Oréal ARTH Academy with 15 partners. There are plans for its expansion in the future as we get the most qualitative outcome from ARTH. Apart from this, we also have 47 education centres and train about 3.5 lakh hairdressers and beauticians in a year. The next level, the digitisation of education, is a big opportunity for us — we have more than 170 hairdressers registered on the L’Oréal Learn N Connect app, where we have a six-month course to a half-day express course.
We can scale up digital education, thanks to the government initiatives in the beauty and wellness sector, wherein we will be partnering with certain centres of excellence that have influence over their regional academies. So, we have different academies and methods to integrate students at different strata. In the next few years, we hope to engage millions of hairdressers.
L’Oréal ARTH Certification
L’Oréal Professionnel’s ARTH (Absolute Route to Hairdressing) Academy is a full-fledged hairdressing school initiated by L’Oréal Professionnel India in 2005. The idea is to have one centre where students who are absolute beginners in hairdressing could enrol for dedicated six-month courses that are designed for those do not even know how to hold a pair of scissors. By the end of six months, the students would have both theoretical and practical exposure including salon internships.
After the first few years of successful operations, we scaled up the model by contracting and collaborating with local academies. Today, we have around 15 partner academies run by top brands and salon chains in India, that are governed as per the SOPs of L’Oréal ARTH Academy in Mumbai. They give them a curriculum to follow, which explains the entire structure and how it is executed. We also train their trainers, as at the end of the day they are the ones delivering these classes in their respective cities or towns. The assessment is, however, done by our own trainers. They fly down from the headquarters in Mumbai and assess the tests held at each partner academy.
The ARTH Certificate is issued if a student qualifies in the exam and I can tell you, it isn’t easy to crack. On average, 80-85% qualify and pass on to the next level. Yes, the assessment is stringent; the reason is that the quality is well-controlled and hence, the high demand for students graduating from these hair academies. These graduates are employable the moment they get the ARTH certification and many of them have worked as L’Oréal trainers for years, while some become entrepreneurs or join top brands or salon chains.
Indian Hairdressing Awards (IHA)
IHA is a platform for the best talents to showcase their creativity and get recognition as well as world-class exposure to further sharpen their acumen in hairdressing. We started IHA as the next avatar of the Colour Trophy. Four editions of the L’Oréal Colour Trophy were conducted before we transformed it into IHA in 2014-2015. Earlier, it was a single award — the Colour Trophy, then we introduced the cut and style as well as the business awards. Integrating customer feedback, IHA became a mechanism where art, beauty, and business are all recognised together. We have been doing this in India for a long time now, but last year it went international for the first time, with the event held in Dubai.
This year, however, as we are in a state of lockdown, there are no plans I can tell you about the IHA Awards. We will just wait and watch for now and probably, in a couple of months from now there will be better clarity on how we can take it forward. But, we know for sure that the artistic edge L’Oréal brings to the table needs to be there. To that effect, Matrix held ‘Hair Transformers’ as a digital event, last year. All the entries and initial assessments for the competition were entirely done digitally and then, 10 shortlisted participants from across the country were invited to Mumbai. That doesn’t mean IHA could go digital too. But from the division (L’Oréal Professional Products Division), we can present on both physical and digital platforms.
L’Oréal Professionnel Dream Team
Our Dream Team is a group of specialized hair artists who are the best in the industry. They try to help to train our industry partners in the latest cuts and styles. We created this group a decade back and it is still a small group of six artists. Then, we also have the L’Oréal ID Artists — the second set of brilliant artists who are young, dynamic, ambitious, and creative. Eventually, ID Artists could qualify for the Dream Team — if we have great talent, then why not expand the Dream Team. But that is something we leave upon the artist to decide.
Vocal About Local
Yes, L’Oréal is a multinational company; no doubt about that. But in the Indian context, we have a full ecosystem with the country. We have two manufacturing units, two research centres, and innovation centres operating in India. 90% of all the products we sell in the country are manufactured here and we also export it to nine countries. We also have a massive network of people — more than 5000 people are directly and indirectly employed by L’Oréal India. Most of the brand’s developments are done considering the Indian skin and hair types. So, we are very relevant locally and continue to invest in the country. We also continue to train; the core essence of our skilling programs is very Indian.
At-home services may see a change in demand, especially for basic services as people may want to limit their out-of-home visits. At the same time, a lot of services provided in salons are high-skill, such as hair straightening, colouring, or cuts. Consumers are loyal to their hairdressers and we expect them to show a preference to be served by those they know and trust, at a salon they are familiar with. Further, the salon experience is special as it is a time away from home or other usual surroundings, and consumers look forward to their salon visits.
Salons will evolve in the new normal; they are already evolving with the adoption of new and more stringent hygiene and sanitisation practices. Therefore, we expect salons to be destinations for consumers. We will continue to study consumer habits in this space and ensure we are responsive to changes by providing the right products and services, to both our salon partners and at-home service providers.
Initiatives for Barbers
L’Oréal’s Professional Products Division in India has over 170,000 hairdresser partners, operating in over 45,000 salons. These range from traditional barbers, women’s beauty salons, and modern unisex salons. We have strongly mobilised our teams to help all our salon partners navigate these challenging times. During the lockdown period, L’Oréal’s Professional Products Division conducted over 4250 + e-training sessions with 50,000 hairdressers and beauticians to keep them up-to-date on their skills and be visible to their clients. L’Oréal also announced a credit extension for all its distributors and direct salon partners, for the duration of the lockdown. The training ensured that salon partners, including barbers, used the time to upskill and enhance their techniques, while the credit extensions aimed to minimise the economic impact of the lockdown on them.
With the gradual reopening of services and salons, we understood that many salons and barbers might be overwhelmed with the preparation and safety expectations. Therefore, we have developed a ‘Back to Business’ hygiene and safety guide that serves a ready reckoner for them while preparing to reopen. It gives them a user-friendly outline of the key elements they must act on to ensure the safety of consumers as well as themselves and their employees; namely, safer operating procedures including hand cleansing, tool disinfecting, reorganisation of the salon to space-out appointments, and minimising contact payments, to ensure social distancing requirements. We are also supplying masks and hand sanitizers alongside the new operating guidelines.
These guidelines are now available to all salon partners of L’Oréal Professional Product brands — L’Oréal Professionnel, Matrix, Kérastase and Cheryl’s Cosmeceuticals. Matrix has gone a step further, and through its solidarity initiative Project Sunshine, helped over 4000 salons in 45 cities with sanitization and fumigation services. A sanitisation certificate has then been provided to salons and shared with clients via social media to further reassure them.
We are committed, now more than ever, to our role as partner and advocate of the hairdressing industry and will continue to work tirelessly to lessen the impact of this crisis on them.
Future Forward For the Industry
Right now, there is probably no one on this planet who hasn’t been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic — at least economically. The industry has seen a strong double-digit growth in all the decades we have been a part of it. The last two decades, especially, have been rocketing in terms of growth; customer awareness and demand for beauty were always increasing and well-connected. We do expect this trajectory to continue. There will always be a pause, which is right now but just a phase we are going through. In short to mid-term, the industry is going to bounce back because beauty is a necessity today. The two key aspects that I would like to highlight are:
1. The psychological safety of the consumer
All of us including the industry partners need to work strongly towards re-generating consumers’ confidence in terms of psychological safety — the assurance that they are entering into a premise that is 100% secure.
2. How to manage the business with social distancing and hygiene guidelines
This is going to be a cost implication as well. So, how you manage the structure of your PNL is also going to be an important aspect.
Coping with COVID
Retail is one of the key aspects — it is a sizable contribution for some salon chains but I think the scope is much more. An initiative we have taken now is the home delivery of products. It is the new normal in this time of crisis and I don’t think it is going to be temporary as we have already tasted success. More than 10000 people have been trained to deliver products at home; we have integrated with different partners and everything is in place. So, this initiative is going to go a long way in normal circumstances as well.
Yes, we need to reinvent the business; we have to change with time. At the same time, I also want the industry to understand that we have to come together to reinvent the confidence. Once that’s done, we’ll start seeing the double-digit growth as well. Industry partners need to take the initiative, reach out to the consumers, and convince them personally.
Key Learnings from the Industry
It gives me a lot of satisfaction when I see that we are trying to skill the industry. We are trying to impart education, which is a very noble cause for me. Right now, with the COVID crisis, it has taken a backseat but I believe there is an opportunity here. It is the way we reinvent ourselves that will drive this industry. There are times when we need to calm; we need patience in the times of crisis. We need to take the lead as market leaders and handhold the industry to the next level.
Going forward, the digital revolution would have a big impact on us and it is going to be the key, not only for communication but also for consumer behaviour in terms of choosing products and services. The social image of a salon will be something that people will look into. These are things that I want to focus on in the industry, especially, taking education to the next level through digitisation.