What’s the secret behind Mysore Sandal Soap’s historic sales in November 2023?

Rewriting history, in November, monthly production of Mysore Sandal Soap crossed 4,144 tonnes, and monthly sales topped 133 crore.

ByRama Ramanan

Published Dec 08, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdated Dec 08, 2023 | 9:28 AM

What’s the secret behind Mysore Sandal Soap’s historic sales in November 2023?

“I still remember the distinct fragrance of the soap, which came packed in a rectangular paper box. The cover boasted (and continues to) neat calligraphy and a floral red and green motif. Mysore sandal soap brings back many fragrant memories of my childhood when my mother would stack the soap. It was special for her, and she never let me or my five other siblings touch it unless it was bath time,” recalls 85-year-old Sithalakshmi Chellappa.

Her memory resonates with lakhs of other Indians who are patrons of the popular Mysore Sandal Soap, Karnataka government’s profit-making brand.

It was the vision of Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV and the royal family that has ensured the soap’s lingering fragrance in many households even in 2023.

While the fragrance of this heritage continues, the brand summitted new heights of success in November, this year.

Also Read: Tamil Nadu’s Rajalakshmi Sivasankaran is the empress of exquisite lamps

Behind the success story

On 7 December, MB Patil, Karnataka’s Minister for Commerce & Industries, Infrastructure: “First Time in the History of the Company, in November 2023, the monthly production crossed 4144 Metric Tonnes, and monthly sales crossed 133 Crores.”

But we know that the biggest successes do not happen overnight. Change tends to emerge from tried and tested approaches. So was the case for Mysore Sandal Soap. It was the vision and determination of one man that the scents of success started wafting higher and farther.

“When I joined Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Ltd as the managing director, four months back, the floor situation was full of chaos. Workers were divided by caste, class, gender and other differences. No one was willing to give up their rigidness,” says Dr Prashanth PKM, IFS (Indian Forest Service).

The onus fell on Prashanth to clean up the mess. With workers unwilling to work in the night shift, hindering production and efficiency, it was time to crack the whip. Of course, it had to be done with baby steps.

Also Read: Women entrepreneurs shine bright this festive season

The foam of change

While management books are replete with mantras of how to bring effective change, the challenge seems daunting in the government sector. History is proof of how unions and trade groups can shut down entire industries.

Workers unwilling to work in the night shift, hindering production and efficiency. (Supplied)

Workers unwilling to work in the night shift, hindering production and efficiency. (Supplied)

But Prashanth realised it’s all about the process — the process of looking at the human side of bringing this change.

“I started rewarding and appreciating those who performed and were dedicated. At the same time, I also reprimanded those who were unwilling to make any effort. No one wanted to work in the night shift. Production was suffering because of that,” he tells South First.

Workers were resistant to give up their biases, and hesitant to embrace each other as one unit. Prasanth had to concede that much of what works is counter to our instincts. Recognising the need for a comprehensive overhaul, he started working in the night shift too — walking the talk, collaborating with the workers and showing them what change can effectively do to their lives.

Eventually, they relented.

“They knew I was not going to give up,” he says.

Also Read: A growing tribe of men are redefining the gender narrative of Navaratri

Total recall

Miles away in Dubai, educationist and motivational speaker Syed Mohammed Abbas is celebrating the recent success of the brand. Abbas has been religiously using the soap for the last 15 years.

“Since my childhood, my parents would tell me about the benefits of this soap. There are many soaps, but only Mysore Sandal Soap has retained its original fragrance and standard,” he says.

The 36-year-old, Head of Student Recruitment at Western University College, UAE, subscribes to the tradition and heritage of the brand. He finds a strong cultural association with the soap as it offers him the comfort of home on foreign shores.

Closer home, in Kochi, 76-year-old Anantha Narayan Bhat cannot stop narrating stories of how the soap was a premium for his family. “Mysore Sandal Soap was a luxury for us during my college days. We used to initially use only Hamam. But then I started going for camps and I would like the smell of sandalwood since in the temple also we use a lot of sandalwood. I started getting attracted to this soap,” he recalls.

“It’s true. Every time, we went over to stay at our grandparents’ place, while growing up, he treated the soap like it was a thing of luxury. He would always tell us that it’s a privilege to bathe with Mysore Sandal soap,” chips in Bhat’s 22-year-old grandson Raveendranatha Pai, who now lives in Pune.

Kochi, back then, Bhat says, would have a lot of smuggled goods comprising sprays, perfumes and all the FMCG products. “There were a lot of sandalwood-based soaps too. But, we knew Mysore Sandal was made using 100 percent sandalwood oil, so we would buy it only at authentic exhibitions that would be hosted in our city once in a while,” says Bhat.

Mysore Sandal soap uses 100% sandalwood oil. (Supplied)

Mysore Sandal soap uses 100% sandalwood oil. (Supplied)

It’s this shared sentiment of the soap’s scent that has retained the love for it, in the case of 59-year-old Chennai-based Radhika Madhavan too.

For this ex-banker, the fragrance of Mysore Sandal Soap memories is still as fresh and bright as the Bengaluru sun outside right now.

“Sandwalwood fragrance was a craze during my growing up days. Not only that, one bar of soap always lasted longer than most other soaps in the market” she reminisces. What was also impressive for Madhavan is that the brand never changed the shape or size of the soap, ensuring it catered to the affinity that customers like her felt towards it.

Madhavan admits that her generation did have other popular options too including Cinthol and Hamam. She would switch between them and Mysore Sandal. “We didn’t want to try the new ones because of the cost and quality. We also had Margo. But, if by mistake the lather went into the mouth it would be bitter!” she laughs.

Yet, she continues to hail for Mysore Sandal Soap.

Also Read: The dos and don’ts of heritage management in Tamil Nadu

Online reviews rave about TFM

When I tell Managing Director Prashanth that reviews on Google and e-commerce sites are filled with appreciation for Mysore Sandal Soap’s high-quality TFM (Total Fatty Matter), he doesn’t seem surprised. “The TFM of our soaps is 76 percent, which is very good. Usually grade 2 soaps have a TFM of 70 percent and grade 3 are at 60 percent,” he informs.

But consumers aren’t usually aware of elements like TFM. Then, how does one make the right purchase?

“Most supermarket aisles and shops have a range these days. From anti-ageing to skin-glowing soaps, there’s a lot of choice. But Mysore Sandal Soap has all the natural characteristics that consumers look for in their daily routine of skincare,” says Prashant.

Crediting the use of 100 percent sandalwood oil in their soaps, Prashanth assures that their line of soaps offer the perfect features for all kinds of skincare.

Also Read: How to make heritage site visits in South India an inclusive experience 

Rewriting history

It is perhaps this customer commitment to the brand’s legacy and value that Prashanth is determined to uphold. And this is why his intention to mitigate resistance and enhance excellence and efficiency finds a new streamlined approach that resulted in a positive shift in numbers. He assured the workers of health insurance and facilities, and other benefits once profit is made. November was their month, indeed.

Workers on the shop floor are now lauding his changed management practices. “You brought a shift in our mindset. We are growing, we are getting incentives. You are pro-people, you are supporting us. You brought in a sense of belonging,” are the chants he hears from them.

It was also the support of Minister MB Patil that accelerated the process of this accomplishment for the brand, he notes.

Prashanth, however, is unfazed. Success, he knows, is not everlasting, but what is eternal is the values that he sprinkles at the workplace. He hopes to push the numbers up by March.

“My next aim is to ensure the company has a turnover of ₹2,000 crore. I want to achieve this through diversification of our products. I want to make our soap available in every household. Every government employee, children, everyone should use and be able to appreciate the quality of our soap,” he asserts.

While the popularity of brands like Mysore Sandal Soap waxes and wanes, it is perhaps leaders like Prashanth who have their feet on terra firma to ensure that the trademark scent always has the signature of the right vision and values.

Also Read: Chennai’s iconic Crowne Plaza bids farewell after nearly four decades