Dabur Was Built by a ‘Doorstep Doctor’ Who Travelled to Villages to Treat the Poor

The journey of Dabur India Limited, a company that has transcended several generations, is anything but ordinary. Staying relevant as an ayurvedic firm, while ruling the Indian consumer market for over a century now despite changing demands is no mean feat.

For example, in the last six months, the company has launched various products like Tulsi Drops, Veggie wash, floor cleaners and multi-surface disinfectant sprays to address the enormous demand for hygiene.

Speaking to Forbes, Mohit Malhotra, Dabur’s Chief Executive Officer, said that their strategy of creating a new market and dominating it from the start worked in their favour. This philosophy has resonated in each of their diversified product ranges, from health supplements like Chyawanprash, to the eponymous toothpaste. 

A screengrab from Dabur India Ltd/Youtube

Needless to say, Dabur is ranked among the top five FMCG companies in India and its 260+ products are sold in over a hundred countries. Last financial year, the company clocked a net profit of Rs 1446 crore.

How It Began 

Dr SK Burman. Source: Dabur

Dabur’s journey started in 1884 with Dr SK Burman, an ayurvedic practitioner in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Dr Burman was a household name in the city thanks to his effective yet affordable formulations for various illnesses like cholera and malaria. In response to the growing demand and acceptance of his medicines, Dr Burman started travelling far and wide to different villages and also sent them to remote parts of India by mail-order, and decided to name the business Dabur (the ‘Da’ comes from ‘Daktar’ which is what people would call him, and ‘Bur’ comes from his last name). 

A decade later, in 1896, he set up the firm’s first manufacturing plant for mass production to expand his operations. 

Remember that philosophy of being first and creating a market? In the early 1900s standardised ayurvedic drugs did not exist. Everyone made their own. To ensure the uniqueness of his nature-based Ayurvedic medicines remained intact, Dr Burman entered the specialised area of standardised medicines. 

What followed was the establishment of research laboratories and more manufacturing units that eventually translated into a full-fledged company which is now known as Dabur India Pvt. Ltd in 1936. 

Dr Burman’s son, CL Burman was behind setting up the first R&D unit in 1919 and also for introducing automated medicine-making. CL’s sons, Puran and Ratan Chand took over in the 1930s and began the practice of diversifying in other product lines, starting with Amla (Indian gooseberry) oil for the hair.

In 1972, the family shifted its base to Delhi and in 1996, the company divided itself into three divisions: Health Care, Products Division, Family Product Division and Dabur Ayurvedic Specialities Limited.

A screengrab from Dabur India Ltd/Youtube

So the family got bigger, and so did the company. Usually, around this point, many family-owned businesses tend to split up, as different heirs push their different visions. The Burmans seem to have side-stepped any total division or split of the company thanks to a ‘Family Constitution’ in 1998.   

That document separated ownership from management. They got professionals on board to manage the company.

“Gearing towards a new system where the direct involvement of the family is limited, the Burmans have formulated a Family Council, which acts as an interface between the family and the Board and management of Dabur…..The Burman family has therefore downscaled its direct involvement in day-to-day operations. Allowing a team of able managers to run the company and steer its fortunes,” reads Dabur’s website

Gaining Prominence In India

Source: Mohit Malhotra/Twitter

Back then, many companies across India were in a race to capture the newly liberalised market. But very few were able to cement their place in customer’s hearts.

Dabur was one of them. A good part of the appeal was that they marketed all their products as ones made from natural ingredients. For instance, they banked on ayurvedic mass appeal and pushed Dabur Chyawanprash in a big way. Dabur created their version of the 2,500-year-old Ayurvedic formula in 1949. It became one of their most successful products to date. 

While Chyawanprash, a concoction of nutrient-rich herbs and minerals, was easily accessible at local clinics, the firm gave it a brand spin and touted it as a health supplement in the 1990s.

Likewise, an emotional narrative was woven around hair oil. Remember the old advertisement featuring Priyanka Chopra getting an oil massage from her mother? Or the Dabur Vatika advertisement that aimed to raise awareness about cancer?

In terms of capturing the market and engaging with every type of customer, the firm adopted the classic method of keeping its products in a different price range. They went beyond just conventional selling by introducing exchange offers, coupons, gift packages, incentives, free samples and so on. 

Delighted to announce the launch of our specially designed #ImmunityVans that are reaching out to consumers educating them about immunity, besides giving them access to our range of #Ayurvedic Preventive Healthcare products. Have you spotted one yet? pic.twitter.com/Rgc12MiU7u

— Mohit Malhotra (@imalhotramohit) June 19, 2020

Dabur also kept up with the rapid development in the 2000s with the advent of the internet and new competitions that sprang up.

It did not shy away from a complete makeover to appeal to the new-generation and rebranded itself by getting popular stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Virender Sehwag for endorsements. They also went for a fresh logo by replacing the old Banyan tree with a new one that symbolises growth and energy. 

 

By striving towards increasing the localised supply chain for better and easy distribution while making global footprints, the century-old firm started in the bylanes of Calcutta makes for an excellent case study for emerging startups and home-grown businesses. 

The proof is in the numbers. Dabur has witnessed a strong growth – crossing the Rs 1000-Crore turnover mark in 2000 to touching the Billion-Dollar mark in 2012. 

‘Celebrating Life’ is their new tagline, and they have certainly proved that they can be long-lived as a company, and a fixture in almost all Indian lives. 

All the images are sourced from Dabur/Facebook 

Edited By Gayatri Mishra

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