Many entrepreneurs and business owners presume that they’ve made it after a single successful venture, but Spa Esprit Group’s (SEG) founder Cynthia Chua evidently doesn’t settle with just one to define her triumphant career. The relentless 44-year-old lass began her first business foray in 1996 with a beauty day spa in Singapore, and SEG to date boasts a diverse portfolio of 16 lifestyle brands in beauty as well as food and beverage that are scattered across the globe.
Though in Malaysia we’re home to only two of her brands including grooming parlour STRIP and café Common Man Coffee Roasters, SEG has an expansive footprint covering nine other cities worldwide including New York, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore, with some of her notable projects being Singapore’s Open Farm Community, Bochinche and Tiong Bahru Bakery, and London’s multi-purpose space The Beauty Block.
We recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of this prolific Singaporean lifestyle entrepreneur, Cynthia Chua, the CEO and founder of the Spa Esprit Group, on her business endeavours, her definition of beauty and what her plans are moving forward.
1. How did you kickstart your career and then venture into other industries?
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 aimed to change the way day spas back then were. Other establishments tended to gear towards the “zen” concept. Instead, Spa Esprit injects wit and quirkiness paired with unique treatments and amazing aromatherapy.
For me, beauty and food goes hand in hand. It is all about a lifestyle and something that I personally love.
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Our latest #StripMY branch has opened in The Curve, Damansara! Isn’t it so adorbs for the #gram?! Never cookie-cutter, our stores all around the world are individually designed with stunning edgy interior concepts. With stores in Singapore, London, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok, it is only a matter of time before the whole world gets a taste of Strip! This weekend, show up at Strip The Curve to receive a complimentary wax or cash voucher! #WeWantYourHair First 10x in line get a FREE Underarm Wax / XXXX Brazilian Wax treatment, and next 11-50th in line receive an RM50 voucher each (valid for one month). Strip outlet: The Curve Dates: Saturday & Sunday, 29th & 30th April 2017 Time: 11AM – 4PM #TouchofComfort
2. What were some of the challenges you faced when getting started?
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 top-notch 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% of our customers are local men and women.
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.
Lack of manpower and people management were some of the key issues we faced as the Spa Esprit Group began to grow. Creative and efficient use of manpower is important along with having a good team of people who understand the company’s heartbeat and who are looking to move towards the same goals is key.
3. What are the brands under your belt at the moment?
Spa Esprit Group currently holds 16 distinct lifestyle brands that are divided into Beauty and F&B. This includes Spa Esprit (spa), Strip (body hair removal and grooming), Browhaus (brow and lash grooming), Common Man Coffee Roasters (coffee), Tiong Bahru Bakery (French bakery), House (restaurant), Skinny Pizza (thin crust pizza), Tippling Club (fine dining concept), Beauty Emporium (beauty treatments and products), Forty Hands (artisan coffee), We Need A Hero (male grooming), Open Farm Community (restaurant with urban farming), Ding Dong (Southeast Asian small plates restaurant), ODP (gluten-free dining), Bochinche (Argentinean restaurant), and A Wanted Man (London based cafe).
4. Why do you love being in beauty, and what does it mean to you?
Beauty is an important part of my life as taking care and pampering myself also represents loving myself.
5. Name three beauty products you love right now.
I love the apothecary all-natural Spa Esprit custom body wash as it is moisturising and is made with natural essences from the garden. I love a great rich body moisturiser that absorbs quickly into the skin as it is my secret to smooth skin. The SCO facial wash is a must for me, a great Vitamin C serum, as well as the SCO lightweight sunblock.
6. How does the future of waxing look like based on your research, trends and observations (new technologies, methods, techniques or innovations)?
The female market is more mature and at STRIP, more people are moving towards IPL semi-permanent hair removal. We also have treatments to even out the skin tone and reduce blemishes to ensure that the skin is not only smooth and hair-free, but also radiant. We should always treat the Brazilian area like the skin one one’s face to pamper it. We are also constantly working to improve our hair removal treatments and products.
7. How do you wish to empower women through all that you’ve done?
I do hope to create a more communicative platform to reach out to women who need inspiration.
8. Do you have any skincare or beauty secrets you swear by?
You should have a healthy and balanced diet loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those of bright, vibrant colours. I practice yoga daily as it helps me de-stress and maintain a healthy mind and body. I am also addicted to moisturising; it keeps the skin glowing and supple.
9. Beauty is evidently important to you. Does this mean you only go by a strict healthy diet with no nonsense?
Definitely not! I enjoy trying out new food at restaurants and I enjoy life too much to do so. With that said, I always eat well and fresh to regulate the acidity in the body as we tend to store too much acidity. I love green juice and wheatgrass green powder. It’s easy and effective. Loading up on fruits, vegetables and water is key. Eat lots of colours like yellow, green, and red like beets, they are excellent.
10. What are some local Singaporean delicacies you can’t live without?
I love Chew Kueh, Chee Cheong Fun, Bak Chor Mee and ondeh-ondeh!
11. Are there any other industries you’d be venturing into in the near future? Or, shall I say, what interests you?
Currently, I am into farming and understanding agriculture. For me, it is not just about opening new shops; it is about creating a movement, to educate, bring about awareness and to start a movement that will benefit the city and the people. Take the third wave coffee trend, the French bakery trend, and urban farming movement for instance. I want to change and improve the cultural landscape of the city, stoke a trend and positively impact people’s lives.