We as a country have seen a huge change in terms of what the people’s preferences are. Today, most major skin-care brands, clothes, and car brands are active in India. The average consumer has become much more aware of the fact that quality matters over quantity.
One can thank the Internet for this as people now research anything before they buy it. Although in the past few years our preferences and eye for quality have improved in most aspects, when it comes to cleaning products, we still choose to follow what others do.
The entrepreneur that we are connecting with today explains to you the sheer difference in quality. Soni Shah, Founder of Raaso Cleaning Products Pvt Ltd., is an entrepreneur who already has a pretty good experience in the market as an Investment Banker before.
Her brand of cleaning products and especially Sovi and Tydi Bowl are all eco-friendly products that only use Vinegar and Baking Soda to help you elevate your cleaning routine. All the products from the company are clinically tested, cruelty-free, and friendly to the environment as well.
Team Sociobits connected with Soni Shah to know what difference her product has to offer, her beginnings, and where she sees her company in the next five years.
Team Sociobits: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Soni Shah: I was born and brought up in Siliguri, which is this beautiful and picturesque city on the foothills of the Himalayas. I did my schooling in Siliguri, then came to Mumbai for my higher studies. I worked in finance and investment banking for almost 10 to 12 years, then I joined my family business. So we are into Tea and real estate and a few Fast-Moving Consumer Goods(FMCG), in Siliguri and Nepal. I did that for a few years before I did my MBA from INSEAD.
After graduation, I started an import-export business. I used to import home products from China that I would then sell to retailers and distributors in India. That was my past before I started this venture of cleaning products, so that’s a story up till there.
Team Sociobits: How did you come up with your Company?
Soni Shah: It’s interesting, previously I used to use the traditional cleaning products that were available in the market. My sister, who is also a clean freak like me suggested that I should use Vinegar and Baking Soda in addition to these products. I thought of giving it a try, now you must be familiar with the dust that accumulates in the areas that your broom can’t reach, for example, behind a fridge.
I used these two things and the result was very effective. So I started thinking about launching cleaning products that use these two ingredients, baking soda, and vinegar. It was not an easy task as we were the first ones to do it in India. Even globally there are very few companies that use vinegar and baking soda extensively or specifically. It’s mostly just a part of the formula.
For us, we used it as the main cleaning ingredient. There was a lot of trial and error along the way, I worked with a senior professional from BSF and together we created these products. We also have third-party verification of our products so we make sure that we have the JMP certification. We manufacture it on our own, it’s a proprietary formulation.
We also have the hazardous chemical analysis reports so that if tomorrow someone asks me whether this is harmful, I can have the reports to show them. Our products are all bio-degradable and don’t use any of the traditional acids like phenyl or chloride.
Team Sociobits: Any specific reason behind choosing cleaning products?
Soni Shah: There are two reasons, one is that when I came across these two ingredients and saw the result they got me, it gave me the motivation to create something along those lines. I also saw that as I was facing this problem, people around me like my mother, sister, and even friends were facing it, where they wanted better cleaning products. If you look at India and the brands that we have right now, they are all legacy formulations that have been there for 30-40 years now.
The dirt, dust, and hygiene issues you come across in India might not be things you will observe in other western and developed countries. You need specific solutions to tackle these problems.Soni Shah, Founder, Raaso Cleaning Products.
These were created by large multi-national companies for markets that were not India. The dirt, dust, and hygiene issues you come across in India might not be things you will observe in other western and developed countries. You need specific solutions to tackle these problems. Another reason is that if you think about this sector as compared to food and cosmetics, you will only know a handful of brands.
If I ask you to give me names of biscuit brands, then you will know so many of them whereas here there are very few brands and I asked myself, why is that? This is a product which you use every single day of the year, you might sometimes change what you are eating or change your cosmetics but you will clean your house with the same products.
I think that this market is untapped and the reason behind this is that, this sector has always been very unorganized. You will also come across several copies of national and international brands, the same blue bottle or yellow liquid. There isn’t a proper national brand in the eco-friendly space. I will also like to point out that citronella, tulsi, and neem are not cleaning ingredients.
There are a lot of misconceptions in the market that citronella or lemongrass are primary cleaning agents, but no, they are just used as fragrances and extracts. They have certain anti-bacterial properties to them which keep away the flies, which vinegar does too. I thought to myself where is the cleaning ingredient then? It made me take this path.
Team Sociobits: You put great emphasis on vinegar and soda as good cleaning agents then why is nobody else doing this?
Soni Shah: It’s not like these ingredients are not used at all, baking soda is used, it’s sodium bicarbonate and you will see it in a lot of formulations for cleaning as well as food and cosmetics. Vinegar is a little difficult to work with as it has a pungent smell. A lot of companies for this reason are skeptical of using it. Even when I started I used to get all sorts of comments like it smells pretty pungent, so it took us a year just to finalize the fragrance bit.
This is a product which you use every single day of the year, you might sometimes change what you are eating or change your cosmetics but you will clean your house with the same products.
We did a lot of trials and errors, we were trying to look at a combination of fragrances wherein the property of vinegar stays intact. We were clear in not compromising on the percentage of vinegar that we were adding. But we wanted to make sure that the fragrance masks the vinegar smell. Initially, we had this concern but now a lot of people appreciate the smell of the products.
You obviously do get the occasional, oh it smells funny, to which I say that I specify on my product label that the vinegar smell stays only for a few minutes. Vinegar is an excellent deodorizer, if you use it in monsoon for mopping your surface or floor cleaner, you will notice that the moisture which you felt lingering in the environment before is not there anymore.
This is the reason why a lot of people ask me how my house doesn’t smell musty and I tell them that it’s the vinegar product that we use on a daily basis.
Team Sociobits: You said that it took you one year just to work on the fragrance, so when did the company exactly start?
Soni Shah: We had a company incorporated under the name of Raaso Cleaning Products in 2018. But that was done to get cleaning supplies from the Philippines and China. I wanted to import a few cleaning products from China so I started my company. For these products, we did the Research and Development in 2019, we did a pilot launch in 2019. Formally we launched with Big Basket, Grofers, and Amazon in 2021.
During Covid-19, we were selling in physical markets, so we were not available in online markets. We had a few physical markets in Mumbai as well as Siliguri, my hometown where we were selling these products in 2020. By 2021, Big Basket, Grofers (now BlinkIt), and Amazon had onboarded us. In 202 even these companies had shut down before things could normalize.
Team Sociobits: How was the shift been moving online? Did it help?
Soni Shah: Of course, because a lot of people were shopping online. The hyperlocals, the Big Basket’s, BlinkIt’s, and Dunzo’s of the world were doing extremely well in bringing the products quickly to the customer’s doorstep. I was pretty focused on the physical distribution because you cannot make this product as expensive as personal care products. We had to keep our products in a particular price range and even after being eco-friendly, our products are 30% cheaper than the competition in this space of bio-degradable products.
Team Sociobits: Could you tell us specifically about your products and what are they offering?
Soni Shah: So we started with three products, which were the floor cleaner, toilet cleaner, and dish wash gel. Out of these, to date, dish wash gel is our best seller. It has a high customer retention rate as well as great reviews. The glass cleaner also took a fair amount of time as I was very keen on launching an alcohol-free glass cleaner. When you are cleaning any glass, you want the glass to be squeaky clean and smudge-free. This is why people use isopropyl alcohol in a glass cleaner to give you a smudge-free experience.
We actually started with baking soda. We used baking soda for our glass cleaner and somehow I was not happy with the results. I was also not very keen on adding vinegar because of the pungent smell but then I remembered that a certain percentage won’t have that smell and it will give you excellent cleanliness. Our glass cleaner is always sold out on Big Basket and BlinkIt.
The usage is low comparatively because people don’t generally clean their glass surfaces every day. The acceptance that this product got was phenomenal. We also made sure that our packaging was not similar to our competitors and that it stood out, so that too has attracted people. Ours is a concentrated formula, a little goes a long way.
If our competitor’s products would be finished in 15 days then ours would take 20-25 days. We believe that you don’t need a lot of products, whatever is required in a certain quantity should be used. We are actually most excited about our line of products which released on 30th June, where we launched three extremely innovative products.
We also made sure that our packaging was not similar to our competitors and that it stood out, so that too has attracted people.
We have the laundry detergent which is made in such a way that it is safe for both pets and babies. We also have a stain remover which we have developed in my house, I was not happy with the stain removers you would find in the market. My personal favorite would be the laundry booster which will come in very handy for you in the monsoons.
It removes any sort of odor and because it’s a bleach alternative too, it brightens your whites. It works particularly excellent with kids’ and infants’ clothes, nappies, school uniforms, and socks that accumulate a lot of dirt. This booster is something that you use along with the laundry detergent to give you that extra bit of cleanliness.
Team Sociobits: As compared to your competition in the market, how do you manage to keep your products eco-friendly at a cheaper price?
Soni Shah: When I started this company, I had the same concern because I felt that products that had phenyl or acid in them were in the customers’ minds and they didn’t want to shift. For the customers, these products just worked. One of the first products that I came up with was a toilet cleaner because I was personally not happy with what the market had to offer.
I was amazed at the cleanliness that I got using my company’s toilet cleaner. A lot of my existing customers have shifted from traditional brands to us because they realized that these brands were very harmful to themselves as well as the environment. These customers were also not happy with the market offering.
If you just do a simple Google or Youtube search about vinegar and baking soda, you will come across thousands if not lakhs of videos talking about their cleaning properties and a lot of people around the world are using them. Places like Europe and America have cleaning vinegar available on their shelves. We know that Americans are big on DIY, they like to use vinegar and baking soda to create different mixtures for cleaning.
One of the first products that I came up with was a toilet cleaner because I was personally not happy with what the market had to offer.
We Indians are not like that, I would personally not take the hassle of DIY, so I thought let me give them a product like this because it’s literally being used everywhere else. We are not very aware of the ingredients which are used for cleanliness, it’s not that natural ingredients don’t work, it’s just that you need a formulation that elevates the cleaning properties, which is exactly what we have done with our formulation.
Vinegar is excellent in any kind of cleaning done with hard water. In India, we mostly come across hard water which comes from a well and other sources. Vinegar really cuts through hard water and makes it compatible to use. The traditional cleaners won’t work well with hard water or a dusty environment, our product does that easily. Vinegar and Baking Soda are very versatile and potent.
Team Sociobits: Generally with cleaning products people tend to use the same things for decades as it is handed down to you, how do you plan to break through and introduce your product here?
Soni Shah: What you said might have been true a few years ago but now the demographic profile of India as well as other countries is vastly changing. We have one of the youngest populations in the world and that too digitized. You have so many people who have smartphones and they shop for everything online. It’s not just restricted to a certain section of people now, the digitization has reached the grass-root level.
If we talk about the acceptance of our product, I would like to go back to what I said in the interview earlier about why there is not enough choice for the customer, and why do we not have any options?
Of course, even my family uses a certain product, but now customers are becoming inquisitive about what’s out there. It won’t take long for us to look at cleanliness in a serious manner similar to how people have become very aware of the food they eat and the cosmetics they use. They know that post-Covid we need to make sure that our homes are sanitized and they are disinfected.
In our products, Vinegar is a disinfectant, it actually kills germs and bacteria. It’s a deodorizer, it helps to get rid of any odor. If you take your refrigerator, for instance, it has various vegetables and cooked as well as uncooked food in it, there is a certain odor that stays in the fridge. I would tell my customers to just fill a little bowl with my floor cleaner and keep it in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes, after which the smell will be gone.
You have to explain to the customer the utility which a product, which is what the customer wants rather than picking up something which has been advertised a lot. We use the digital medium to get the word out and people get attracted to our packaging, which is the first step. They click on it, whether they buy it or not, they still want to know about it. In the ads that we run we make sure that our USP is defined and people understand why we use the ingredients that we use.
I know that a lot of men and women would spend a lot of time researching personal care products or food but not in this segment. I’m just happy that I’m able to educate people and create awareness about the same.
In our products, Vinegar is a disinfectant, it actually kills germs and bacteria. It’s a deodorizer, it helps to get rid of any odor.
Team Sociobits: You also talked about how you are offering the same products almost 30% cheaper than the competition, how do you manage that?
Soni Shah: We are available online through our platform but I don’t want us to be limited to just being a D2C (Direct-to-Consumer) brand. I do hope to be present in the physical market, the modern retailers, and the supermarkets. This is the reason why our pricing is such that, if we were to launch in the physical market, we will not be exorbitantly priced. Our fulfillment cost will be low as well.
We spend 100 rupees per bottle, my minimum shipment weight is around 2 and a half to 3 kgs and we spend around 100-200 rupees to fulfill that. But when I send it to hyperlocals or a general store, I would spend about 10-15 rupees on average, per bottle. I give a lot of discounts on these platforms because I don’t incur as much cost in terms of sending the product over. I give a lesser discount when I have to ship the product personally, basically where there are a lot of shipping charges to be incurred.
Team Sociobits: What are you planning next with your brand?
Soni Shah: First and foremost, we are excited about the launch of our laundry line. We are also listing with a few supermarkets so that’s in the works. We have reached out and are in the final talking stages with a modern retailer as well as a regional player in this space.
We also plan to revolve our content around educating people as to how they should clean their homes. Many people complain to me that they are not able to get a smudge-free experience when it comes to the glass cleaner. When I ask them about what they use to clean the glass, they say cloth. One should use a newspaper for cleaning it in the best way.
We are also suggesting to the public, tools that they should use. We plan to co-brand with manufacturers to make cleaning tools so that people know what should be used with what.
Team Sociobits: Where do you see your brand 5 years down the line?
Soni Shah: As it is one of the top brands in cleaning and hygiene in India. Sovi itself stands for Soda and Vinegar. All our brands are registered and trademarked so we don’t have any problem in the future with anyone contesting their names. Sovi is very close to my heart so I hope five years down the line, we are not just popular in India but hopefully on a global scale as well.
Sovi itself stands for Soda and Vinegar.Soni Shah, Founder of Sovi and Tydi Bowl
The product line of Sovi and Tydi Bowl promises to change the market for good. It will help introduce key components of cleaning to the market and is also easy going on nature as well as your skin. We will be eager to see this shift in the consumers about a line of products they probably didn’t even think about.