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The sachet that revolutionised entrepreneurship

by Annamalai Suriamurthy
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Democracy and revolution may sound antithetical. Ironically, it was a bloodless revolution spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi that brought democracy to India. Post-Independence, green, white, and blue revolutions ensured the development of a free India. But there is another revolution, which continues to sweep the country, which has remained unsung — the ‘sachet revolution.’
Pioneered by a family of very enterprising entrepreneurs from a small town of coastal Tamil Nadu, Cuddalore, the sachet revolution has touched almost every Indian family in some way. The world-renowned ophthalmologist, G. Venkataswamy, founder of Aravind Eye Care System, used to narrate this sachet revolution story from Cuddalore as a benchmark in making services affordable. His other example of making services available in the McDonald’s food chain.
The sachet revolution is a classic example of out-of-the-box thinking. In the 1970s, people were not prepared to make use of plastic pipes beyond watering their gardens. Shampoo was a luxurious item that can sit in the cupboards of the rich and famous. As a discipline, any product in liquid form could be carried only in glass or tin containers. Looking back at these sentiments, one could be tempted to wonder how primitive people had been.

Universal availability

The cliche is ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ This cliche triggered a revolution. R. Chinni Krishnan, a science teacher, dared to question why should shampoo be on the luxury list. His trick fulfilled the twin-objective of making a luxury product affordable to the common man and also make it available universally. By packing shampoo in small plastic sachets, he ensured that it can be carried anywhere at any time. No need to worry about spills or broken bottles. It was only the beginning of the revolution when he started to sell Velvette shampoo in sachets at a very affordable cost.
The availability of shampoo in sachets meant that it can be used by villagers and even children. Thus, much, much before television, mobile phone, or even electricity penetrated the rural terrain, the sachet made its mark in the village market. His sons — C. K. Rajkumar, C. K. Ashok, C. K. Ranganathan, and C. K. Kumaravel — fine-tuned the revolution, which permeated into all areas of consumer contact all over the country. The MNCs just had to follow suit. It is an incredible ‘Make in India’ success story worth mentioning in textbooks. Mr. Ranganathan is India’s FMCG leader today.
It proved that you do not require an MBA from Harvard University to be an accomplished entrepreneur. The wall dividing the lifestyle of the rich and the poor has been razed down. It has made available items that were once deemed luxury in villages.
The CK Family is lauded not just for its innovations in entrepreneurship. More than building up an FMCG empire, it has immensely contributed to the democratization of entrepreneurship and consumer behavior. It proved that you do not require an MBA from Harvard University to be an accomplished entrepreneur. The wall dividing the lifestyle of the rich and the poor has been razed to the ground. It has made available items that were once deemed luxury in villages. The shampoo was followed by many other lifestyle products from the CK Family. Today, every other industrial or business house uses the sachet in one form or the other.
The eldest of the family, C. K. Rajkumar, an ophthalmologist who formulated Nivaran 90, passed away in Chennai on October 7.

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