#EscentualMeets: Rakesh Aggarwal

Are you career-focused, driven and looking to be inspired? #EscentualMeets is your source of motivation. Every month, we reveal the grit, success and struggle stories from a selection of the UK’s leading beauty founders.

There’s only one way to kickstart our #EscentualMeets series – an interview with our very own leader, Rakesh Aggarwal. Rakesh is the CEO and Founder of Escentual, but that’s not the only title he holds dear; he’s also a son, brother, friend, husband and father. Family is hugely important to Rakesh, which is why, to this day, Escentual remains the last independent, family-run premium online beauty retailer in the UK. Here’s his story…

1. Where It All Began

“I wanted to control my destiny.”

Escentual was founded in 2000 in Rakesh’s parent’s garage. “I was in the last phase of my masters in Cardiff University writing my dissertation,” Rakesh says. “A family friend was visiting from America working on a website to sell mobile phones, and the idea came to sell beauty online… It was a stop-gap to avoid me having to get a ‘proper’ job in some ways; this was something I could control, instead of having to jump on the corporate ladder or join an organisation, and it was clear the beauty industry in the UK was large and growing; I wanted to control my destiny.”

Rakesh’s love of fragrance led him to choose the beauty sector. “I had a personal passion for fragrance and beauty with its glamour and prestige,” he says. “It felt like an exciting world to step into, and in some ways, it felt safe. At the time, very few were selling premium beauty online, and we were one of the first to approach the brands to get authorisation.”

“Escentual was an idea that I felt passionate about, and I clung to it, plus I didn’t have a better idea,” Rakesh says. But the idea quickly became a reality when the business began to grow. “When we hired our first employee (in customer services), that was a crucial moment; we had to ensure the business was sustainable so that people had the security of tenure – it was quite scary.” Fortunately, all is working out. Fast forward 22+ years and Escentual employs approaching 100 people, stocks over 6500 products, and has a 35,575 sq ft warehouse on-site – which is equivalent to the size of 118 Cardiff buses!

2. Personal Challenges

“Remain humble, grateful and always exceed your customers’ expectations.”

Speaking to Rakesh, it’s clear that he takes every role in his life very seriously, both in family life and business. He’s awake before 5 am every day so that he can fit in important quiet work and emails before the school run. Each week he meets with every team in Escentual (he even manages three of them himself) to hear their ideas and help where he can. “My personal challenge is to improve to be good enough for the team around me. I want to be good enough for them, for what they deserve,” he says. And this idea of helping feeds into his friendships, too, “If people have a problem with their business, they’ll often come over and sit with me, and I try and unpick what their concerns are and help them untangle the key issues,” Rakesh says. “I use my way of looking at complex matters to help as best I can… I really enjoy it. I don’t know if I help them solve the problem, but if they walk away more confidently. Giving them the boost to try what maybe they initially thought but were not sure about or a new approach.”

Fun fact: Rakesh’s grandfather’s key values were: quality, service and satisfaction – these words inspire his business vision over 20 years later, he said: “My grandfather moved from India to Kenya with nothing but a dream. He built the largest fruit and vegetable trader, wholesaler, importer, and exporter in East Africa. Despite the size of the business and the tradition that his children would take on this business mantle and build and grow on his legacy, he had the foresight to send all his children around the world to get degrees and establish professional careers. He always said put your heart and mind into everything you do. Nothing is below or above you. If you do a good job, you will always add value, remain humble, grateful and always exceed your customers’ expectations.”

 

3. The Future of Escentual

“We need to be the best curator, educator and inspirer in the retail beauty world.”

When I asked Rakesh about his hopes for Escentual’s future, he repositioned himself in his chair and leant forward, eager to answer. “We’re building on what we started in 2020 – establishing the Escentual brand and sharing the incredible people who do all the hard work in the business. We’re adapting so that our brand and our product mix reflect our people and heritage,” he says. “We [Escentual] need to be the best curator, educator and inspirer in the retail beauty world. We need to have the best brands in each category, both best-selling and most innovative. We should be ensuring that our customers understand how to make the most of the items they buy and can make informed choices about what they’re buying. Inspiration is about inspiring people to try new products, brands, categories, add new things, and be more comfortable and confident with themselves. That’s what beauty is.”

On the beauty industry’s future, Rakesh sees a spotlight on experiences. “There will be a focus on improving people’s access to beauty experiences and trialing remotely. For us, that’s about making beauty retailing more experiential, educational and fun rather than just replenishment. I believe there will be an increase in the physical experience of beauty and people’s ability to touch, feel, try, and how we can make that more exciting. Younger audiences will also take that into the virtual world, whether that be through avatars or similar,” he says.

And on the future of those who wish to follow in his footsteps, Rakesh has this piece of advice: “Perseverance and self-belief pay off. Stick with it and your gut. Don’t look for answers elsewhere; you know them internally.”

 

Discover More:

Meet The People Behind Escentual

Escentual Turns 20: Our Milestone Moments