IT may sound like your typical business fairytale - a young lady follows her dream to open a day spa and turns it into a multi-million dollar business in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia but that pretty much sums up the story of Cynthia Chua and her Spa Esprit Group.
At last count, the group brings in an annual turnover of around $30 million with more than 30 food and grooming outlets in the region and new franchise outlets set to open in the Philippines and Dubai by the end of this year.
Its latest foray is further afield - to London where the group has identified a potential joint venture partner and is looking for space to launch two of the group's concepts - Strip (Brazilian waxing) and Browhaus (eyebrow grooming). 'I kept telling myself that after I was done with House (the group's 35,000 sq feet mega concept in Dempsey) I would stop,' laughs Ms Chua. 'But opportunities popped up and I'm not the sort of person that is good at saying no.'
She adds that the group has expanded organically with revenue growing almost 100 per cent year-on-year and now still in high double digits.
As a result the company has never - with the exception of House that had an additional investor - had to borrow money from the banks to fund new ventures, using the profits from existing royalties and shops to open new ones. Which is precisely what they are going to do for the London shop.
Ms Chua reveals that being able to expand into London is like a dream to her.
'It's what every Singaporean businessperson aims for, isn't it? To be able to expand into cities like London or New York is a sign that you've made it. Imagine, if I can open eight Strip outlets in a city as tiny as Singapore, imagine how many I can open in a country as big as England!'
|Waxing lyrical: A Strip outlet at Malacca Street. Ms Chua believes that offering quality services at reasonable rates will appeal to the British. Her foray into London in today's challenging times sums up the group's growth potential
The current economic climate does not seem to faze her, either. 'Naturally, we have to plan for contingencies when recession comes,' she says. 'It does not deter our growth but we are naturally careful about new commitments in this climate. But if there is a really good opportunity, we will still take it.
'I believe with our know-how, we can offer quality services at very competitive prices that will appeal to the British who currently pay exorbitant prices just for a wax. After all, our mantra was always to bring grooming to anyone and everyone.'
As she puts it, 'When I brought Brazilian waxing into Singapore, everyone said I was crazy, it would never take off. Now that it's a success, suddenly it's a good idea.
'I'm sure there are people who will say that expanding into London now is crazy given the economic climate but if it works out, then it will turn into a good idea again.'
The group is not going to stop there as Ms Chua reveals plans to open shops in New York (her other big dream), China and, in particular, Japan where she believes her grooming concepts will really take off. And then there is the growth potential of her F&B business, namely the dining restaurant Tippling Club and cafe 12x12.
Concludes Ms Chua: 'Now that my grooming concepts are quite well honed and growing internationally, I want to get the F&B concept down pat and when we find and fine-tune one, then who knows what will happen next?'
This article was first published in The Business Times on Oct 17, 2008.