Down but not out.
That was the four-word mantra of Joshua Lung, 51, who in 2001 saw his tech service venture go down as a secondary victim of the dot-com crash.
Yet the two-time entrepreneur – his first firm was a F&B foray which he subsequently sold – wasn’t done with business. Less than a quarter after winding up, he had charted out a new direction for himself.
“Being a generalist myself, I didn’t have much experience in different areas, and I didn’t have much working experience as an employee,” says Lung. “I was looking for a business model, definitely, but one with low inventory… Learning from the previous firm, I wanted to stay away from sectors which were too vulnerable to the fast changes (in technology). That’s why I ventured into the spa business.”
Today, he’s the founder and CEO of one of Singapore’s most successful homegrown beauty chains, Healing Touch, which offers slimming, massage and facial treatments. It’s due to open its eighth outlet at Hotel Rendezvous in the coming month.
The even-handed boss
Lung’s evident levelheadedness was instrumental in building up what is now one of Singapore’s most popular spa chains, which came with its own set of challenges.
The rampant poaching of talent, for example, plagued Healing Touch’s early years. “One of my therapists started a new spa next door, with one of my frequent customers, in fact,” Lung recalls. “She tried to bring everyone over. More than half the team went; my top therapist among them, along with quite a number of good staff.” Filling the vacancies and retraining set the business agenda back months.
Yet the fairness of his leadership gradually turned into a pull factor in an industry rife with favouritism and internal politics, and recruiting earnest and good-natured staff became a breeze.
“The management doesn’t scold our staff, we don’t make unreasonable demands, and we try to keep the working hours flexible. We also have a very fair way of assigning customers,” says Lung, that last measure translating to even workloads across the board. “I just kept doing what I felt was right, and somehow after a year, new therapists from (the spa) next door began to leave and join us.”
The secret ingredient
To figure out how Healing Touch differentiated itself in the booming industry is a simple matter of browsing their Facebook business page, which boasts close to 50,000 “likes” and an inexhaustible list of positive reviews (some by ardent fans who post regularly).
A recurring theme is how there is no hard selling of treatment packages – a major peeve among spa-goers, as a pushy therapist can sour the whole experience.
“We place the customers’ interests as the top priority. That seems like common sense in any industry, but in the spa business, what it really means is to not hard-sell,” Lung says. “Some businesses even do away with fixed prices on their packages, and instead allow and encourage their therapists to charge what they will – all in the interest of profit. It is very strange that such practices are allowed. I think it’s very unethical.”
Furthermore, Lung explains that hard-selling introduces unwelcome pressure on both therapists and customers alike, who in the long run feel the need to “escape” to another establishment.
“And so, they escape to Healing Touch,” he chuckles.
The next frontier
After the opening of the eighth outlet in early May, expanding within ASEAN is next on the table, reveals Lung. He projects closing the first franchising deal in Indonesia by the end of 2017.
“Within the ASEAN, a top Singapore brand already has some influence,” says Lung. Healing Touch recently earned the Influential Brands accolade in 2016, attesting to its popularity among the millennial generation. “While Indonesia already has many massage establishments, there is a niche for us… as we offer slimming and facial treatments as well.”
As for continued growth in Singapore?
“Singapore’s tough, the toughest part is always the manpower concern,” says Lung. “In any case, we’re going with the government’s push for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to venture outside (of Singapore) as well.”