Today I am meeting Cynthia Chua, one of the biggest entrepreneurs in Singapore. She invited me to Common Man Coffee Roasters, one of her most successful businesses.
As I sip a cup of the blackest Robusta roast coffee, I get out my iPad and review my research notes on this serial entrepreneur who is conquering Singapore – and the world – brand by brand. Cynthia is the founder of the Spa Esprit Group, a beauty and F&B group that has 13 brands and 82 outlets in 35 cities around the world. The group made a turnover of $ 40 million in 2010.
In the long list of brands she owns I find Strip (a waxing parlor), Browhaus (lash and brow grooming), Mask (unique facials and cult products), Qi Mantra (acupressure massage in a western environment), Beauty Emporium, (a grocery concept and treatment orientated beauty space), the Tippling Club (progressive cocktails and dishes) and Skinny Pizza (fresh pizza on a thin healthy crust)…
At this point Cynthia walks in, dressed in a stylish outfit and with a radiant smile. “It’s seems like you’re conquering the world with your brand concepts,” I tell her as we settle down for another coffee. “How have you managed to build a business emporium in less than 20 years?”
“Well, I started with Spa Esprit in 1996,” she says. “It was a day spa that shunned the traditional ‘zen’ spa concept, and gradually I expanded the business into a lifestyle empire, the Spa Esprit Group.
“I’m very passionate about creating brands that are missing in the market, offering the consumers interesting services previously lacking, or refreshing and improving the existing offerings.”
“But it seems that in the process you are revolutionizing the beauty industry, in Singapore and beyond!”
“Well I’m not inventing the wheel or anything. It’s about reinventing and improving on existed concepts. So for example waxing is not an Asian concept. But we imported it, perfected it and then brought it back to the West.”
“Tell me more about your decision to expand on to the international scene.”
“There is a global shift in economic power,” she says. “Until recently, brands from Europe and the U.S. were in the lead. This is slowly changing. A growing number of ‘next world’ brands have been claiming part of the global market share. The Spa Esprit brands have chosen the same path.”
“Have you seen a difference in the different markets you enter?”
“Different countries are at different phases of the market maturity cycle. For certain markets, it has been as much about educating people about Brazilian waxing and eyebrow grooming as it has been about setting up a business. Being a pioneer means you’ll always have to educate the market, and we educate and communicate with our consumers through quirky and creative campaigns.”