During the Phase 2 Heightened Alert last July, businesses that require mask-off activities – like beauty establishments – could not continue facials and make-up services.
Rewind to the Circuit Breaker of 2020 (April to June), non-essential businesses in Singapore were ordered to shut and that also impacted sales for spa and beauty firms like Porcelain Skin.
The facial and spa business has come a long way since the onslaught of the pandemic which hurt the business significantly.
“There wasn’t predictability and there were unexpected disruptions which affected staff morale and business planning. It has been a turbulent two and a half years for all business owners as we try to navigate the choppy uncertain situations,” said Pauline Ng, Co-Founder of Porcelain Skin. She holds the role of Managing Director at the company and oversees the business side of things.
“Sales dipped significantly but we were very thankful for the government grants and customer support which allowed us to continue operating without retrenchment nor prolonged pay adjustments,” she said.
To help businesses, government handouts were provided to help them tide over the period. This included rental relief and salary support for workers.
Since the easing of Covid-19 restrictions earlier this year, things have been looking better for Porcelain.
“We’ve seen an improvement in terms of turn-ups and bookings since the reopening,” said Co-Founder Jenny Teng, who focuses on training staff and treatments as Director Aesthetician. “Appointment slots are filled up with a two-to-three-week advanced booking required for peak-hour slots. It has reverted to slightly pre Covid-19 days. We are still tracking the sales figures closely to ensure we can meet the budget this year.”
They used to earn S$1 million in revenue
Before Porcelain, Jenny had her own beauty shop in the heartlands, but the SARS epidemic of 2004 “tanked” it.
Not beaten, Jenny approached her daughter Pauline to restart the business. With the decades of technical beauty experience Jenny had coupled with Pauline’s fresh enthusiasm, they founded Porcelain Skin in 2009.
They started in a two-room shophouse in Cantonment Road, and even shared an IKEA desk and shelf.
While they watched their cash flow judiciously to build on their reserves, Jenny and Pauline managed to build their business little by little. In 2010, they launched their skincare line.
By 2013, they hit the S$1 million mark in revenue and became an award-winning brand. In 2014, they set up Porcelain Aesthetics. From two staff, they expanded to 50 in 2017.
Through hard work, the business grew to three Porcelain Spa outlets: Porcelain Origins (Paragon), Porcelain Signatures (Guoco Tower), and Porcelain Face Spa (Cantonment Road).
How Covid-19 threw a spanner in the works
“The pandemic affected the business most when our spas closed for three months,” said Pauline, referring to the Circuit Breaker period.
The firm made full use of the time to roll out training programmes and further enhanced its digital products like Virtual Skin Education.
The programme allowed clients to learn everything about their skin through a one-on-one session with their Skin Educators. The educational course provides a series of three learning modules to help customers learn how to better care for their skin from home.
“Virtual Skin Education is something Porcelain created during Circuit Breaker to reassure Porcelain clients that we are still there for them and their skin while they dealt with face mask sensitivity and other skin issues due to the pandemic,” shared Jenny.
“Porcelain has always provided this service physically (known as the Skin Discovery) but since Covid-19, it has expanded to take on a new form. It is a new service touchpoint for us to connect and educate our customers,” she added.
The business also worked on its Porcelain mobile app such as interactive features for customers to stay updated about the spa’s developments and created perks like exclusive discounts and in-app exclusives.
Customers can book appointments on the go and receive reminders for upcoming appointments. They can also purchase and read reviews of Porcelain Skin’s facial products and track all purchases and past visits.
The app also contains lifestyle and skincare stories for users to pick up skincare tips.
Innovation the only way to survive
Innovation was a key reason that allowed Porcelain to endure the crisis.
“Fortunately, Porcelain was already on the path of digitalisation, hence the transition to cloud systems and online programs for our internal staff was smoother than most,” said Pauline.
“Before Covid-19, we already started embarking on digitalisation efforts – creating the first smart spa concept store at Paragon to integrate an omni-channel experience. Thankfully we have managed to build a robust back-end system which allowed us to immediately unplug from the headquarters (HQ) and move into work from home format when Covid-19 conditions worsened,” Pauline said.
The team’s willingness to move with the times is a key factor in the business’ adaptability. “The team is also very plugged in digitally and they were open to integrating new solutions over the last two years. We enhanced our website’s user experience, created virtual alternatives to our staple skin consultation service, and encouraged all interactions and communications to be done via our mobile app,” she said.
“The pandemic brought the team closer, with individuals showing their resilience to overcome adversity and doing their best to consistently support each other.”
The onslaught of Covid-19 accelerated efforts to build new revenue streams to keep the business going – like e-commerce. “Apart from our own e-store, Porcelain Skincare is now also available on popular online marketplaces like Lazada and Shopee,” said Pauline.
The skin philosophy
Pauline thinks that the selling point of their business is that they put customers’ needs first.
“We have always believed in helping people (men and women) have the confidence to embrace imperfections and to help them get healthy skin from within by solving the root of the problem,” she said.
The company’s philosophy is to help customers gain confidence in their own skin, regardless of gender. This gender-neutral concept attracts modern males who want some pampering.
“Although skincare is a predominantly women-centric industry, we have about 20 per cent of male clients who believe in the same philosophies. We will continue to work towards being a gender-neutral brand and skincare solutions that are suitable for all,” said Pauline.
Another reason why the brand has sustained over the years despite the pandemic-induced setbacks is its efforts to maintain quality over quantity, suggests Pauline.
“We have always strived to maintain quality over quantity. A long-time favourite of the brand would be our HA+ Hydrating Serum from the Essentials range. Our newer launches such as the RevitalEyes Concentrate and Bio-DNA Defence Aqua Gel have also been up-and-coming favourites amongst our clients.”
Although Jenny still has a say in the business as Director Aesthetician, she semi-retired seven years ago and is more hands-off in the business now. “In the early days, my mom handled the treatments and training while I handled all other aspects of the business. I was able to earn her the trust to take over the reins even over the technical aspect of the job.”
Hopeful about post-pandemic new normal
Porcelain’s HQ is currently at 10 Raeburn Park with an office that holds about 20 HQ staff and the team is cautiously optimistic for things to return to normal.
“We are hopeful as consumer sentiments are more positive with the news of opening up. However, we are also dealt with (like many others) tough situations of rising costs, manpower shortages, and supply chain issues. It’s going to be a bumpy recovery,” said Pauline.
Sharing some wisdom to other businesses on “how to survive a business during a pandemic”, Pauline said: “The willingness to grow, adapt and be nimble with keeping up with the times is critical. Having a clear values-driven business vision and mission which is clearly communicated throughout the organisation is important as well.”
“It is also about putting the right people in the right positions and building a team that can operate effectively with a high level of autonomy. We invest heavily in our people. All that said, the most important aspect is to know your customers, listen to them and evolve your business around them.”
Featured Image Credit: Porcelain Skin