Interview with Jumi, owner of the Melomist Spa
Perfect Beauty Expert
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Jumi Lee, I am from South Korea. My journey in the beauty industry started 16 years ago with a course in aromatherapy. After graduating I became an aromatherapist in London. Consulting patients about essential oils was a very deep and holistic practice. Later I realised that something is missing. And I decided to take another course, this time in ‘Beauty therapy and Health studies’ at London College of Fashion. After which I felt that I am ready to move on and an opportunity brought me to Hong Kong. My position was manager in well known day spa. After few years then I was striving for some more so I decided to study at The University of Hong Kong taking a ‘Spa Management’ course. The path eventually led me to become the Manager of a leading hotel’s spa chain and culminated into my own spa Melomist Beauty Expert.
What were the learnings from the hotel spa experience?
A lot! As a therapist I know all about beauty, I am good with treatments, that is something I am confident in. But when I moved to a managerial position, my daily task became numbers. I had to report our figures every day and also needed to present the profit and loss report. I had to ask questions endlessly, be shameless and repeat over and over "I don't know". Made a lot of mistakes, but I survived.
Oh my, this experience must be super useful for you today, when you have to run your own spa.
Yes, this working opportunity exposed me to all the insights of running a spa. I also managed staff there, beauticians. Some of them didn't speak good English, I learned to be creative in my approach to staff, flexible in ways to reach the desired result. I managed customer relations as well, which is always a challenge.
So tell us about your business.
This is a dream come true. Many years ago, I decided to study overseas, back then I was asking myself what I am going to do when I am old? It came down to " let me have some skill which can feed me for a long time”. I have been in Hong Kong for almost 9 years and always in the spa business so I know many people in and out. I first thought about opening a spa some years back, but it wasn't the right time yet. I kept thinking. It's a fun business to plan, I was dreaming about it in all the tiniest and smallest details imaginable! But one day I found this place (showing around her spa ). I came, I saw it and stood here thinking," this all makes sense now". I know the size of my business and the space was perfect for it - manageable.
So the decision was quick?
Yes. It's luck, it is also intuition. But also I know my business. When I liked this space, I knew exactly what would be happening around here. I imagined every detail, even practiced giving directions on how to reach to this place. With a business like this it’s all about location and location.
So when did you decide to open your spa?
When I saw this place (showing around). I was always thinking about it (opening a spa), but when I looked around, I knew, “that's it, I am doing it”.
So what were the next steps after you decided to start?
Signed the contract. Looked for contractor. I invited 3 to show them the place. They gave me their quotes. I chose the cheapest one (laughs). It was fun to choose designs. I have already something in my mind what tone of colour and how it should look like in terms of customer point of view. So I did a lots of Googling, always on Pinterest. Apart from that at this stage it wasn't much for me to do. But of course, there were some parts which went wrong and we had to fix them along the way. I am flexible in my cases but certain things that I do not compromise.
What was the most challenging part of starting your spa?
Dealing with banks. That's something I've never done before, I had no idea. So I had to ask for help from people I know. Ffiles could have helped you with that :)
What was your biggest motivation ?
It was very clear. My inspiration and motivation was to provide higher then textbook level of service. I wanted clients to receive real value for their money. Our philosophy is Safety, Hygiene, Comfort and Result. These 4 different elements have to be present in every treatments we provide. Even if we do it hundreds of times over and over again. The space is designed to ensure the 4 pillars of our philosophy can be provided. The philosophy I created is very important therefore when I train girls, I brain wash them (laughs). We always practice, do little role plays, create imaginary work situations to ensure that the high standard of service is always maintained.
I speak with my staff about service all the time. We all know service but what level of service is a key question. You need to understand your client. Service comes from your heart. It's not from your head.
As a client of yours, I can say that it's always a perfect service I receive.
What is the most challenging part in running your own business?
It is difficult to physically bring a client, to be honest. Some days we are surprisingly busy, but others not so much. Customer service, treatments, training staff and even accounts I am confident at, but I have never been on the marketing side. But now I have my hands full. I am not a big user of Facebook and Instagram, but it's something I have to do now. This is something I would like to outsource.
Speaking of clients, who were your first clients?
My Korean friend. She lives here. I begged her to come. She came with her daughter, 3 years old. She didn't have to, but she bought 5000 HKD package. Now I call her every month "come for treatment". It was very kind of her. I would never forget her kindness.
You have a very interesting service menu, how did it came together?
It starts from the product we use. I had to do a lot of research to pick a brand to use. I read and then tested, tested and returned. Searched and tested again and again. Finally I choose Ultra-ceuticals, they are well known brand in Australia and famous world wide. These products have a strong research base. They are trustworthy. Doctors were creating these products with a good theory in mind, and it got supported with serious studies. I also know all the common brands used in Hong Kong spas, I wanted to be slightly different.
Also I chosen the Native essentials. It is a local brand, it has a strong aromatherapy base products. All ingredients are hands picked in the qualified regions. As aromatherapist myself, I strongly believe in the philosophy of aromatherapy, as well as quality. Its also good to support the local brands. Native essentials has an amazing quality, so why not. It was a bit risky to introduce to clients but I believe in this brand quality so I am not regretting to have this in my products line.
So once I chosen the brand, then company representatives do product training for my staff. It was only the product training I requested, the treatments I create myself. Each treatment has special protocols, which I personally created. Then I train my therapists according to the protocols to follow a unique treatment. They all happily do it, we are doing well with treatments and clients are also enjoying it. Many of clients already mentioned to us how different our treatments are from others. They love the uniqueness of our treatments.
Of course, you have to study and understand the product, but its not all. I divide products into different skin conditions. Each indicator points to different skin conditions. In Hong Kong clients often look at the menu and they decide themselves the treatment, often based on price. This is one point I wanted to avoid.
The clients of course can choose treatments themselves , but we always double check if it is suitable for their skin condition or not. All our treatments in similar categories are priced similarly. Therefore when we start suggesting a different treatment, clients won’t feel like we are trying to up - sell, if the suggested treatment happens to be more expensive. Honestly speaking, there is a little cost variation in similar types of treatment.
Good to know! Was it easy to get spa supplies?
I went to China at least 15 to 20 times to get some basic spa supplies, like cotton. Anyway what you buy in Hong Kong is almost always from China. I thought I will buy in bulk, and it will be cheaper, but with all the trips I’ve done, not really.
So looking back, would you’ve done it again? I mean traveling to China for cheaper suppliers, since looks like economically it makes little to no sense?
Yes! There are many different types of cotton and cloth, different tools, which I didn't want to order based on pictures. Just by touching and looking you can’t know the quality, you need to use them. As a result girls are using the best quality items, even simple cotton.
It’s not something that just happened. I failed several times to bring the best product, I was asking girls for feedback, how does it feel to use items. We finally found the ones we liked. If I didn't spend the time back and forward, and would've got simply the cheapest one, we would not have had the best result. To elaborate on this, if cotton has lots of lints, it will give my girls difficult time. So I was looking for a lint free one. We tried 5-6 different cottons to determine which has the least lints. Then we all agreed to current one.
This is one of our philosophy - the best result. For that I need to listen to my girl’s opinion as well. It really isn't worth to cut the cost if it will give them a hard time working.
Its my promise to my business that we are focused on better than textbook service standard. Never close your eyes on little things, as an owner and operator, its your job to make sure that the highest standards of quality and hygiene are always met, every time.
You can always tell when a place is built with care.
Going back to your big challenge, which marketing tools did you find to be the most successful? Which methods worked the best for you to acquire new clients?
We decided to go slowly, but surely. Some friends recommend us to their friends and now they are promoting us. So its 100% word of mouth. They love it here, they feel homey and they are happy to come back.
Also, did you hear about BloomMe?
(laughs) You are the only person who doesn't know BloomMe. Client who is having her nails done as we talk says “we know BloomMe”. Miss Rachel, (pointing at the client who is having her nails done while we speak) is a lovely client of ours, I got her form BloomMe so it is a successful tool. She is coming very often, she loves it here, now she is permanent here. Miss Rachel nods her head in the sign of agreement and adds that she tells her friends about the place.
So its the app called BloomMe, its last minute slot open app which offers services at discounted prices. It is a very effective app, there are other similar, but not as good and well known as this one. We tried using different, but people mainly come from BloomMe. It is also very easy to operate for both us and clients.
Are their any other tools?
I looked into some magazines, but it is way too expensive. That is actually my mistake, I spent a lot of money on set up and didn't leave some money for other things. Also the first 2 or 3 months were very slow and I had to invest a lot to operate.
Did you try using Groupon?
I was thinking about it and met Groupon people. It all takes time, Also Groupon charges commission a lot, from the discounted price and their fees you don't get much income, just people, if you are using a Groupon you must have a strong sales person in front otherwise spa gets filled with less profit margin clients who just become one off then simply you lose more than earn. I am still considering it how to market it properly.
As a client, I think, that Groupon means, hard selling the package. That would've been the only reason, why spa’s go to Groupon. You don't get money, only an opportunity to sell packages.
Thats our other weakness here ( laughs). We are not hard sellers. Myself and lovely Estella ( pointing at the receptionist), we recommend. We stand on the customer’s side, if they say “no”, we don't push. I believe, if they like it here, if the service is good they will come back. If you stand from clients’s side, you recommend. Some people may buy, others would feel uncomfortable. We have packages, we recommend them. For example, clients who come from BloomMe are looking for discounted price. We recommend them that our packages deal is then BloomMe and they can benefit. We are not hard sellers as I said, when the client leaves we say “ I hope you enjoyed and see you again” and hope that they will come back. Maybe we have to be a little more aggressive ( laughs).
What did you find to be the most difficult part of running your own business? Which challenges did you come across?
I wish myself had more flexible time. I am here every day ( laughs). I hardly get days off. You have to be on your mobile 24/7. My mind is always on. Now I decided to charge my mobile in the living room so I don't have to wake up with buzzing.
I also have a limited number of staff. Once business is fully operational we could add more staff. So headcount is very important. Myself as one headcount is manager, therapist also receptionist also cleaner. If I am not here one day, a lot of people missing. But again its my own, so I can always decide when to have a day off. When i worked for somebody else, I had to get approval, but now I inform my staff, that’s different.
When I opened my own business I screamed “yesss”, I don't need to get any approvals. I approve everything. 100% risk on me”. I like taking risks, I work hard and I play hard. Give me risk and I will take it. I like controlling, rather then being controlled. Every single decision is on me. Of course, I discus with my girls certain things, but critical decisions are on me.
Now I don't need to produce 20-30 e-mails back and forward to get approval. I read once, think ‘ok, that’s make sense” and decide. This kinds of things make me feel powerful and independent. I control myself.
Since I take 100% risk, there are many sleepless nights. And if you are looking at the numbers, and the numbers are not so good, then you literally shaking. These things make you tough. Opening and running your spa is an amazing experience, I don't regret it. I wouldn't go back to be paid.
What is that you love the most about what you are doing?
At the moment, I am the first one to come here (spa), when I open the door, it feels like “yes, this is where I belong”. When I spend time with girls and customers, when we receive the phone calls and I feel that something is happening here, its a great energy, I love it.
I am very happy to see the girls following a protocol we put out on day one. I want to keep that. In any type of business, the moment we don't care, the moment you will see things falling apart. I tell my girls, if we are always here, we will become furniture here. Our eyes are not sharp anymore. We can become too comfortable. So I always tell them to keep their eyes sharp, to see things from client’s perspective.
I am contented that the clients give us very good feedbacks, I see them being happy. I want them to be comfortable here. Every time they come in, I want them to be comfortable. We know what our clients like. I know who likes tea and we bring her tea, another client loves new magazines, so we have one ready for her when she comes. Another clients hates aircon, so we turn it low on her side. We have to know what our clients want. When client feels nice, I feel nice.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of having your own business?
At the moment, advantage is that decisions are all on me, but equally the disadvantage is that the risk is all on me. Right now I don't have much time for myself. But the vision is totally different. If I work for someone else 13-14 hours a day I won’t be happy. But I am happily spending time here. Sometimes I even don't feel like I am working. I feel no obligation, I don't feel like I do too much. On Saturday sometimes I want to sleep in, but then I want to come here to see who is here. I don't want to miss out on seeing my clients, see how they are.
Financially you have to be cautious. When we just opened and there were no people coming, I started texting people, “hi how are you? Come and visit my new spa.” I was desperate, I knew people can reject me. In fact many simply ignored. It is a big chunk of my heart, I was sending messages, knowing that there might be no reply. That was a desperate moment, but at the same time its a very good practice for me to stay firm. There is no moment of shyness in moments desperation. When you are desperate, you are ready to take the step forward. When you work for someone you will not feel that kind of desperation. No-one would fire me, I can only go bankrupt. Being your own boss is different level of life experience.
What is the biggest lesson you learn running your own business?
Be strong. I am very expressive. When I am happy, I am happy, when I am down, I am down. But as an owner you have to manage your emotions a little better. I am learning.
Also, don't expect too much from people. The moment you start doing it, you will get disappointed. The moment you don't expect too much you will appreciate more. It’s my practice everyday.
What would you recommend to someone who is debating whether to start their own business tomorrow?
Ask yourself, do you really have a passion? If its going to be your business, do you know a lot about it? Make sure you have a great passion and you know what you are doing. Make sure you know the goal and you’ve chosen your philosophy. Why you are doing it? How will you do it? You have to have a very clear vision what you will have in your business, what is going to support you every day? Make sure you have savings you can use in critical times. Also the most important things is believe in yourself. Face the reality but do not lose your believe.
What a lovely story about hard work and continuous learning.
Thank you for your interview and I am sure that your story has empowered many aspiring female entrepreneurs to try hard and even harder to make their dream come true.