Homemakers Radhika Tapadia and Sangeeta Valdwa first met about 15 years ago. The two women from Sedam, Karnataka happened to visit a song and dance rehearsal for a festival organised by the Marwari community (that both belong to).
“Our children needed to be trained for the performances and for 20 days, Radhika and I met often during the rehearsals and that is how we became friends,” recalls 56-year-old Sangeeta.
Many tete-a-tetes led to the friends thinking of ways to make better use of their time. They had been wanting to try their hand at gardening and realised that Radhika had some ancestral land in Sedam that they could put to use.
“In 2008, we also began getting concerned about the food that was available in the market. We wanted fresh fruits and vegetables for our family and hence started growing them ourselves on that piece of land. The two of us were also really fond of roses and planted a few saplings,” recalls Sangeeta.
Those few rose saplings they planted bloomed over the years just like their friendship. Seeing the organic roses flowering abundantly, the homemakers-turned-business partners decided to make value-added products like gulkand, rose water, and rose preserve free from chemicals and preservatives.
With the growing popularity of the products that they made in their own kitchens, they decided to start their small enterprise in 2012 and later branded the products under the name Gulaboo.
Now, the friends and entrepreneurs sell over 11,000 units of their products in a year and earn anywhere between Rs 10 to 12 lakh annually for their business operations under Gulaboo. They also have a network of over 20 homemakers/franchisers in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana who buy their products and locally sell them.
Moreover, the homemakers also get orders from countries like Australia and Canada where their gulkand, dried rose petals, and rosebuds are popular. In conversation with The Better India (TBI), the homemakers share their enterprising entrepreneurial journey.
Farming Organic Roses to Starting a Business
Sangeeta was born and raised in Hyderabad and completed her BA degree from Kasturba Gandhi College. She moved to Sedam when she got married at the age of 21. Radhika completed her education in BA from Mahatma Gandhi College in Ahmedpur, Maharashtra and moved to Sedam after her marriage.
They were both busy homemakers taking care of the household and as their children began growing up, they got more involved and participated in community organised events where they ultimately met.
The duo feels that Gulaboo is a result of their decision to cultivate Radhika’s ancestral land.
They started out by growing vegetables like spinach, fenugreek, lady finger, bitter gourd while also planting fruit trees like sapota, mangoes, Indian blackberry, and custard apple among others.
“But when it came to roses, we planted a few saplings and with cuttings, we would keep propagating the beautiful flower. We often used the rose petals at home for pujas but after a point, there were so many roses that we didn’t know what to do with them,” says Sangeeta.
The duo then decided to use the roses to make gulkand, a sweet preserve which is prepared using pink rose petals. This sweet delicacy is made in parts of India and Pakistan and is best consumed with a glass of milk. Additionally, it can also be used in rose-based desserts and is known to promote gut health.
The gulkand found many fans in family and friends. This is what urged them to set up Gulaboo. Over time, the production of fresh fruits and vegetables increased as well. They now sell freshly harvested veggies to homes in their locality through WhatsApp but not on a very large scale, informs Sangeeta.
“We also sell about 2,000 kg of organic sapota in a year. We are just happy that we are providing safe and chemical-free food for people to eat,” smiles Sangeeta.
Making Use of the Organic Roses
After the phenomenal response for the gulkand, the duo decided to start making rose syrup and rose water.
The duo grows roses on a three-acre farm and tends to them on a daily basis. “Although temperatures are really high in Sedam, these roses survive and grow well here. This is because we have chosen a variety grown in Rajasthan and naturally, they can sustain in hot temperatures too,” informs Sangeeta.
Every day, Radhika and Sangeeta collect these roses and get them home. The gulkand is made at home after the roses are properly cleaned. Then the rose petals are gently rubbed with sugar and sold in jars. They also employ two people full time who look after the farm and oversee the production of rose water in a small unit on the farmland.
“The gulkand becomes like this natural jam which looks pink when it is freshly made. Over time, the colour darkens but that is a natural process and it does not affect the taste or quality. In season time, we make almost 50 to 60 kg in a day and there is also good demand for it,” informs Sangeeta.
People from places far away from Sedam order Gulaboo’s products. Jaipur-based homemaker Nidhi Sodhani first tasted Gulaboo’s famous gulkand at her family home in Hyderabad three years back. Her mother had bought this from the duo in Sedam and after loving the taste, Nidhi has been frequently buying it too.
“I usually mix it with water or milk and drink it. It really cools your body during summers and is also good for the digestive system. I buy their products in bulk every four months. In fact, my young son loves their rose syrup too, and often drinks it with milk. The taste is so distinct for him that he can tell if I am using any other rose syrup,” explains the 32-year-old mom.
There are several other homemakers-cum-small time entrepreneurs across the country who resell Gulaboo’s products. Megha Rathi from Sholapur is one such example. The 32-year-old discovered Gulaboo about two years ago when the duo from Sedam had visited the town for an event and had set up a stall.
After tasting Gulaboo’s products, Nidhi herself asked the Sedam-based duo if she could buy the products in wholesale from them and resell them. And the duo agreed.
“The rose syrup and even the rose water does really well among the customers. The gulkand is a crowd favourite and every time there is any demand, I order from the Gulaboo and sell it here. I don’t even have to advertise anywhere. People themselves come and buy these products,” she informs.
Challenges and Future Plans
Having set up a venture in a small town without any business knowledge is not a piece of cake and the duo has had their own share of challenges.
“Initially when we started, a lot of people would judge and mock us as we live in a small town. They would assume that our business eventually would never take off. But, with hard work, we have established ourselves and this business. Now, people know us as the ‘Gulaboo ladies’. I feel good that people appreciate our work,” she says.
Additionally, having a small team and doing everything on their own can be really exhausting for the duo. “But, the sleep after a long tiring day is absolute bliss. In fact, it feels a little odd and we get restless when there is very little work to do,” says Sangeeta.
From her own learning curve, she has a few words of encouragement for other budding entrepreneurs and especially homemakers.
“I would tell other homemakers that you can do anything that you set your mind to. We went from two plants to 10,000 plants. And we never really started out thinking we would set up a business. So, if one really wishes to start a business, I think one can even do better (than we did). Remember that you can achieve anything,” she says.
Sangeeta shares that they plan on increasing their rose products. They have already experimented with rose ice creams, cookies, chocolates and even soaps which have done well. In fact, they get bulk orders from clients who especially order their rose soaps and chocolates to be presented in hampers at occasions like weddings. Sangeeta says that they plan on manufacturing this at a larger scale in the future.
“We started out with farming. Gulaboo happened because of our interest and the need to make good use of our time. This wasn’t for any fame or money but to find a purpose. In the future, we want to continue doing what we do and make natural products available for everyone,” she says signing off.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Prajakta Kale who is known for her Bonsai plants
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Social Media platforms
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
Ans: Sincerity and devotion towards one’s work
*In my free time, I ____…
Ans: run off to work at the farm with Radhika
* Before this interview, I was ____…
Ans: drinking tea
* A message for your past self about small businesses
Ans: Don’t think so much before starting anything
*Best advice you ever got is ____…
Ans: If you have the will to accomplish something, do it
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)