The business logic is quite simple: Find an unmet need, and then fill it. Even better: Find an unmet need that returns on a monthly basis.
That's the little formula that's fueling Arunachalam Muruganantham's thriving sanitary-pad machine business, an undertaking that's not only making Muruganantham money, but one that will improve women’s hygiene in India and throughout the developing world.
Many women living in poverty use rags, newspaper, or even mud to manage their menstrual periods. None of these work very well and can introduce infections or injuries; they also circumscribe women’s movement. Often, women fear being in public without protection from blood staining.
Muruganantham's idea for his business began when he noticed his wife with a pile of especially ratty rags and inquired as to their purpose. After it was explained to him, good husband that he was, he went off to purchase imported disposable napkins for her, no domestic product being available.
When he inspected how simply these pricey napkins were made (really, how many men deconstruct their wives’ menstrual supplies?) his response was the classic entrepreneur’s: “Hrumphhhh. I can make these myself, and way cheaper.” And that is just what he proceeded to do.
After several years of research and design iterations, he launched Jayaashree Industries. His company manufactures sanitary-napkin machines purchased primarily by women’s "self-help groups" that are devoted to launching small enterprises. The napkins produced are comparable in quality to imported pads, and at one third the cost.
Women’s groups can purchase a machine, train in one day, and immediately start producing up to 1,440 napkins per day. If financing is arranged, the groups pay the machine off with cash from sales.
The demand for sanitary napkins is potentially huge. After all, it isn’t terribly difficult to convince women who use newspaper, mud, and rags that a disposable, well-fitted napkin is preferable.
Other factors are converging to accelerate sanitary-napkin demand. Women in traditional cultures have many fewer menstrual periods than contemporary women. The vast majority of today’s women menstruate much more often due to:
- Eating higher-calorie diets. Better nutrition is associated with earlier onset of menses.
- Marrying later. Increasing girls' education has the effect of delaying marriage and postponing childbearing.
- Plummeting fertility. Family-size is quickly dropping world-wide, meaning lots more menstrual cycles over a lifetime.
- Less breastfeeding. Breastfeeding rates worldwide are only 40 percent. Lactation postpones ovulation following birth. Non-breastfeeding mothers’ periods return much sooner.
An additional driver of sanitary napkin sales is the global campaign for governments and health ministries to provide schoolgirls with free menstrual supplies. The consensus is that this simple intervention helps prevent girls from dropping out of school after menarche.
This rising generation of schoolgirls accustomed to disposable napkins is poised to become a loyal customer base. It’s hard to imagine them reverting to rags, especially since their educations and delayed marriages will raise their standard of living.