Roshini Galappatti - Prevention is better than cure
Her reason for establishing Vitawell came from a personal need; she could not find quality vitamins for her playful five-year-old. This strong-willed mother then made it her mission to bridge the gap present in the market for such products.
Five years since the inception of Vitawell, Roshini has actively lobbied select nutraceutical brands from across the world and has established partnerships and secured exclusive distributorships with some of the most renowned nutraceutical and wellness brands. Sri Lankan consumers are now able to make a conscious life decision to live healthier and happier lives due to the quality vitamins and supplements sold and marketed by Vitawell.
Tell us more about your reasons for initiating Vitawell
Vitawell is the end-product of a personal requirement protracted to cater to others with a similar mind set and product requirement. Due to my own personal requirement for such products, I identified a gap in the marketplace. While there were offerings in terms of vitamins in the Sri Lankan marketplace, their quality, authenticity and country of origin were not assured. As I had a five-year-old at the time, I was determined to give him only the best and would stock up on vitamins each time I travelled abroad! Surely, I wondered I couldn’t be the only who was facing this issue. Thus, Vitawell was conceived.
Can you reflect on the process of brand procurement?
At first, I toyed with the idea to start up an online store. However, we wanted our interaction with the consumer to be more personal, long-standing and it was obvious that for this to be realized we needed a physical presence and so our bias turned towards a retail network. 2013 began by procuring partners; my pursuit took me to Australia, where I first approached Nature’s Way, Australia’s largest vitamin brand. But they were lukewarm as Sri Lanka wasn’t on their map of potential new markets. However, we convinced them to believe in the potential, and in 2014, Vitawell became the exclusive distributor for Nature’s Way, Kids Smart, Naturopathica, Skin Doctors, Redwin and Promensil in Sri Lanka. The first store soon opened the following year.
In terms of brands, where does Vitawell currently stand?
As I wanted the store to have a good representation of products, we procured two more reputed, specialist brands from the United States, Bronson Labs and Futurebiotics. I also began discussions with Vitaco, a firm that represents the New Zealand based brand sports nutrition brand known as Balance. With these partner brands on board, we have become the exclusive distributor for them in Sri Lanka, thereby successfully replicating the nutraceutical/vitamin store concept found in developed countries. The focus is really to secure brands that are specialists in their field and not OEM producers. So any product we sell is a product that is freely available and sold in their market of origin.
Why did you decide to source from Australia?
At Vitawell, we stand for authenticity, quality and efficacy. We are focused on delivering these attributes, again and again. Personally, we are convinced that Australian products are superior because the Australian nutraceutical and supplementary foods market is stringently controlled by the Australian Therapeutic Goods administration. Their registration and quality control process for such products is among the most stringent in the world today.
Would you say that these products are for a niche market?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. For one, our products are not just for fitness-oriented individuals. In fact, they are for the whole family. From a five-year-old to an 85-year-old, we offer a right product fit. It is a niche only because of the price point. We are hopeful that as income levels rise, these products will become more affordable to everyone. As we progress to a middle-income economy, and as lifestyles change fuelling a spike in non-communicable diseases, we have to make conscious lifestyle changes. One key element is to be more active, take your daily essential nutrients and be on top your health game by opting for more natural, preventive mechanisms as opposed to curative healthcare.
With a venture as unique as this, what were some challenges associated with it?
It has been tough. Consumers were used to the same age-old brands. The concept of taking a vitamin daily as an essential routine was not present among Sri Lankan consumers. We strive to inculcate this into the minds of everyone as I truly believe that it can do wonders! At the end of the day, good health relies on proactively taking care of yourself, rather than waiting for one to fall ill in order to seek medical help. There is still a lot to do in the area of consumer education and awareness building on the benefits of natural health alternatives.
How do you go the extra mile to build a positive customer experience?
We have an in-house nutritionist at every store. They continuously seek customer feedback in order to gauge the efficacy of products and advise if a change of routine is required. Additionally, a specialty pharmacist is also present in order to advise customers on possible drug interactions if they are currently taking any prescription medication. These two roles are a key element of our customer service model. This has been well received by many customers.
Were you subjected to any gender biases or stereotyping?
I wouldn’t say that I have such experiences as prior to this venture. I was in advertising and that is an industry that is very receptive towards female talent. Women actually have a very different leadership style, and I believe that empathy and emotional intelligence, go a long way in how you define your personal and corporate life.
Any words of wisdom for the next generation of female entrepreneurs who seek to give life to an idea?
Don’t be spooked by the potential issues you may face. I would say to just go with it, and don’t overthink it, either. Take it one day at a time and eventually, you will get there! Of course, you must also strike a good balance between your work life and your family time. I personally spend 90 percent of my time with my family, thanks to the amazing and hardworking team at Vitawell and the ability to multi-task thanks to technology.