With an array of businesses under her belt, Cynthia Chua owns one of Singapore's largest lifestyle business. The CEO and founder of Spa Esprit Group is responsible for a diverse range of lifestyle brands with more than 100 outlets in over nine cities worldwide such as Jakarta, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, London, Shanghai, New York, Hong Kong and Bangkok to name a few.
Ventures such as STRIP and Common Man Coffee Roasters reflects Cynthia's fervent passion in the business of beauty, lifestyle as well as food and beverage. We speak to this successful entreprenuer to uncover what makes her tick and what gets her going.
ESQUIRE: With a background in banking and marketing, what made you want to open your own spa?
CYNTHIA CHUA: I dabbled in marketing in a corporate environment when I first joined the workforce and realised that it did not suit me. I love dreaming and have a dogmatic way of doing things. Since I like doing things my way, I realised it was best to start my own business. In 1996, I started Spa Esprit, a unique and uplifting day spa that was very different from other similar establishments as most spas tend to gear towards the “zen” concept.
ESQ: Has the number of people interested in personal grooming grown? Are there a lot of men that come for grooming?
CC: Definitely, on average, we see a 20 percent year on year growth in male customers. The male grooming market is so prolific that we even launched a Male only grooming store in Singapore in 2014 called We Need a Hero that has been very well received.
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ESQ: What are your thoughts on men who 'trim their bush'?
CC: It is part of personal grooming and keeping one’s self looking and feeling good. Why should personal grooming be just a female thing?
ESQ: Very true, so how does your customers vary from country to country?
CC: Customer mindset and level of familiarity to the different grooming treatments varies from city to city. There are also some cultural differences.
ESQ: No doubt there were challenges when it came to establishing Spa Esprit Group, it has grown so much over the years, what were some of the initial challenges?
CC: When I first went into the F&B business, it was really tough as it was my first venture into the food industry. I took up a massive 35,000 square foot space. I practically had to learn everything from scratch and physically squat there to get things moving. Strip is a pretty tricky brand as Brazilian waxing was a taboo among Asian women when we started in 2002. When I first started the brand, everyone said that I was crazy to provide such a service, that only Caucasian women will patronise the brand. But our topnotch treatments, paired with great media endorsement and quirky marketing campaign propelled the brand. To date, we have presence in over 10 cities across the globe, including London, New York and Shanghai and I am happy to say that over 80 percent of our customers are local men and women.
ESQ: Your advertising campaigns for STRIP are pretty witty and really breaks the norm of this otherwise taboo culture, how did that come about?
CC: Marketing & Creative plays a huge part in all our brands. Strip is a Brazilian waxing concept and the best way to communicate our offerings is by using creative and fun marketing campaigns to educate the public on personal grooming and to make waxing less intimidating. Strip is provocative and yet has a touch of wit and humour. A lot of people would opt for a clinical setup but we like to position it in a less intimidating but fun way. It’s about how you live, it’s about grooming. It’s lifestyle.
ESQ: What are some of your tips for women who are looking to become an entrepreneur in this age?
CC: An entrepreneurial mind is one that is creative in solutions. I believe that passion, rhythm and tenacity are needed to make a business successful. You must absolutely love what you do and believe strongly in it but passion is not enough if you do not have tenacity to see it through. Tenacity is difficult and staying strong when the roof caves in and having the ability to go the whole way. You have to ensure that your products, service and ambience stay fresh and relevant.
ESQ: You've made F&B ventures with restaurants, cafes and such. What made you decide to take up F&B and what kind of future lies ahead for your company in that industry?
CC: For me, beauty and food goes hand in hand. It is all about a lifestyle and something that I personally love.
ESQ: No doubt you've travelled around a lot. Can you tell us what are some of your favourite cities around the world and why?
CC: Paris is like a village in a big city. Love the little streets and the never-ending discovery of arts and food. New York is always so bustling, I always get revitalised with the energy the city gives. Recently I fell in love with Brazil. The sun, the beach, national park and the simple way of life.
ESQ: What have you learned over the decades from building up such a successful company and becoming an icon for female entrepreneurship in the region?
CC: It takes 10,000 man-hours to make a business successful so having the tenacity to squat through it is critical. There will always be people who try to put you down and are skeptical of your ideas but just trust your gut feel.
ESQ: You're based off in Europe now, do you see yourself having more ventures there and perhaps even a venture into another industry?
CC: I love stationaries and am looking to curate and customise stationaries and books. A bed and breakfast is also something that interests me but it is difficult to find the right location and manpower, as it is a big project. For me, it is not about opening new shops; it is about creating a movement, to educate and bring awareness and to start a movement that will benefit the city and the people. Take the 3rd wave coffee trend and the French bakery trend, with our brands, we not only bring you the best products; we also stoke a trend and positively impact people’s life.