Romoni, an online beauty service startup based in Dhaka, offers on-demand salon, makeup, spa, and bridal services. Dhaka Tribune’s Zora Mohsin speaks to the Co-founder and CEO of Romoni Services Ltd, Armin Zaman Khan about how her small page on Facebook grew into a household name in a few short years.
Armin Khan graduated from the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka in 2013, and started her career with Standard Chartered Bank as a Fast Track Graduate. After a one and a half year stint in SCB, she started working with the Access to Information Program in the Prime Minister’s Office as an Innovation Consultant, and later went on to work as a key member of the Rural e-commerce project, piloting the launch in Union Digital Centres across the country. After a two and a half year stint there, Armin began working full time on Romoni Services Limited, along with two co-founders.
When and how did you decide to create Romoni? What was the motivation behind it?
Women like me were my biggest inspiration. The fact that I didn’t have the time to find the best salons according to what I needed, or didn’t have access to credible beauty advisors or beauty experts who could provide decent services at home and save my time was really what inspired me to solve this problem.
The idea of Romoni came to me when I was working as a consultant in 2016. My work hours were unpredictable, and I missed a few of my friends’ weddings because, by the time I had reached the salons to get my hair and makeup done, they were all closed. I'd always wanted to do something on my own and start a business, too. When I realized that many other working women, like me, might be facing similar issues, I wanted to bring a solution to this, and help women get the services as per their requirements. That’s when I started researching this industry more.
What did your business model look like when you started initially? How have you had to alter that to fit the Bangladeshi market?
When I initially started as a solo founder, I created a marketplace for all the salons and spas. Each business would have its own profile with a service list and booking option, and customers could book appointments with them directly from our website. After a few months, however, I realized that there is no inherent need among Bangladeshi customers to book an appointment with the salon, but there is a need to receive services at home at reasonable rates and from professionals they can trust (confirmed by extensive customer surveys). Hence, I pivoted the business model to what is now Romoni.
Tell us about your vision with Romoni when you began, and how much of that you've been able to achieve so far. What is your vision now, after a successful couple of years?
Our vision was to be a one-stop platform for female professionals and micro-entrepreneurs in the beauty industry -- a platform that enables them to start, run and grow their businesses. So far, we have been able to provide them with a customer-facing marketplace to start their businesses and a one-stop platform for sourcing all their business supplies. In the future, we want to provide financial and other relevant support to help their businesses flourish further.
Since the pandemic hit, how has your business been affected?
Business has been fluctuating, but towards a positive trend, overall. When it hit initially in March/April 2020, we had to suspend services for one and a half months, but we resumed it during the Eid-ul-Fitr season in 2020 due to a high demand. With going out being so risky, Romoni's services have been a convenient choice, and thus have been in higher demand during these uncertain times.
Let's discuss employment opportunities at Romoni. How many service providers are currently employed, what's the hiring process like, and what kinds of benefits do they enjoy under your banner?
We hire all our beauticians through personal referrals and social media. We have two categories of service providers/beauticians -- freelancers and in-house. Freelancer beauticians are what we call our “micro entrepreneurs”; they are typically independent beauty experts who use Romoni like their personal business platform. They get sales from our platform, can buy products for their businesses, and -- depending on their performance -- they can also apply for micro loans to expand their businesses (by hiring employees, for instance). Currently, we have 1000+ freelance beauticians registered on our platform.
In-house beauty experts are beauticians whom we have hired as full-time employees under our brand. They are provided a base salary with a commission, along with other benefits. They receive regular skill and behavior training from our experts, and also get preferential access to our own salon brand Romoni Salon Naturals. At present, we have 10 in-house beauticians in our company, and we are working towards increasing that number soon.
Romoni has recently launched its own skin and hair care line, Romoni Salon Naturals. What kinds of products do you offer?
At Romoni Salon Naturals, our main products are face masks, hair masks and hair oils -- all natural, ayurvedic products that are free of harmful chemicals.
The reason we launched our own line of salon products was that there was a constant demand from our customers, and also our service providers, to use verified beauty products of authentic brands. We realized that the market was saturated with counterfeit salon products filled with really harmful ingredients. Thus, we wanted to launch our products on a small scale first to measure the response before we expanded.
What kind of competition do you have in the market? How do you ensure your services and products stand out?
On the beauty service end, our major competitors are definitely the big salon chains who are constantly innovating their services and coming up with new ideas in the market. As an online (on-demand) service provider, we do have a few online platforms and pages as competitors; but in terms of service quality, our reviews speak for themselves.
We ensure a consistent quality of services through regular training sessions, researching the customers' needs for new services (and price points), and coaching our service providers on how to deliver a memorable customer service experience every time.