In the year 1969, Karsanbhai Patel, son of a small farmer and a Chemistry graduate, spotted a business opportunity. He noticed that detergents were sold in India only by multinational companies at a very high price. He felt that there was a big business opportunity for an economic branded detergent.
Being a Chemistry graduate, Karsanbhai Patel started experimenting in his backyard and tried to mix baking soda and few other ingredients to make detergent powder(Patel had been a lab technician and was familiar with chemicals). Finally one day, he got the formula right and started making detergent after his office working hours.
Karsanbhai Patel would cycle through the neighbourhoods and sell his detergent packets from door to door, he even gave a money back guarantee for every packet of Nirma he sold. He priced his detergent at Rs 3.50 per kg, which was almost one-third the price of well-established brand ‘surf’ by Hindustan Unilever.
The good quality of product at affordable price made the product a big success and seeing the high potential of the business Karsanbhai Patel left his government job to pursue it as a full time venture.
The product was close to Karsanbhai’s heart and hence while branding it he decided to name it ‘Nirma’ (it was the nickname of his daughter Nirupama who died in a car accident at a very young age). He also put her illustration (girl in the white frock) on the detergent packet.
In 1980s, Karsanbhai rolled out a nationwide marketing campaign for Nirma.
“Washing powder Nirma, Washing powder Nirma
Doodh si safedi Nirma se aaye
Rangeen kapda bhi khil khil jaaye
Sabki Pasand Nirma
Kam keemat ki adhik safedi laaya Nirma
Isi liye to ghar ghar mein aaya Nirma,
Seema, Rekha, Jaya aur Sushma
Sabki pasand Nirma…”
The advertisement and its catchy jingle was a tremendous success and people started asking for washing powder Nirma all over India.
Nirma went on to become the largest selling detergent brand in India replacing Hindustan Unilever’s Surf and maintained its crown for a few years before Hindustan Unilever’s ‘Wheel’ and Rohit Surfactants ‘Ghadi’ detergent took that position away from Nirma.
Although Nirma couldn’t hold on to its position for a very long time, its story will always be remembered in the Indian business folklore. It will be remembered as a story of a father who successfully competed against a multinational company and immortalized the name of his daughter.