NS: How did you get started in the beauty business? Was it something you always wanted to do?
PN: It wasn’t exactly a childhood dream; there were hints of an entrepreneurial streak when I was a kid – I was always trying to make extra money, and when I played games like World of Warcraft, instead of fighting, I was at the Auction House trading!
However, my official entrepreneurial journey was not planned. My mum has been a beautician for over twenty years and I started helping her out in 2009 upon graduating from SMU. Back in the 90s, she had a small facial outfit at a rented bomb shelter at the foot of a Housing Board block, called JPhiline. She was well known for her deep-cleansing facials and extraction skills, and had sustained quite a following. Unfortunately, her business closed down in 2004 due to the major economic downturn and the SARS outbreak. In 2009, she wanted to re-start her business so I made use of what my education had taught me to prepare her business plan and do financial modelling and marketing plans. One thing led to another, and fast forward, I fell in love with the skincare industry and got inspired by my mother’s passion for helping people get better skin. I have never looked back since.
NS: What did you hope to achieve when you started out?
PN: I wanted to provide clients with a place they could trust, with no hard selling. A place that offered great results and helped them achieve great skin. I wanted to run a place built on integrity and trust. That was a primary goal for me. We also wanted to spread the word of Foundation-free skin, because it’s more than just a catchy phrase. It is a commitment we make to our clients, that we can help them gain the confidence that healthy skin can provide.
NS: How has the business grown since you launched the brand?
PN: Porcelain’s beginnings were humble; my mother had her skills and her belief that great skin can be achieved by anyone, as long as they are in the right hands. But she had only one pair of hands and it was her dream to pass on her skills and knowledge to benefit more people. Which is why one of the earliest things we did was to focus on training, and this continues to be our core belief. We wanted to provide honest services and products so that hopefully one day, we could spread our philosophy and offerings for more to enjoy!
It began as a really small mom and pop store, with only two beds and a small office, tucked away on the second floor of a shop-house. We didn’t even have a signboard. We didn’t have plans for it to become a chain of facial salons. Growth was organic; we started with three appointments a day, slowly growing to eight, and then 20. The business became what it is now because I think people could see results. They liked that we kept trying harder to produce better results and service – many of our clients have grown with us over the past seven years.
By 2013, Porcelain became GST-registered and hit $1 million in revenue, and in the same year we were named Best Luxury Spa in Asia at the World Luxury Spa Awards (and we’ve been proudly keeping the title for four years). We now have a team of about 40 people and have opened our third and flagship store, Porcelain Signatures, at Tanjong Pagar Centre.
NS: How does Porcelain differ from other facial spa businesses?
PN: My personal philosophy is to build a strong foundation, and our foundation lies in our knowledge of skincare and in great products! The rest is about building trust. We do not pretend to be what we are not, so we build trust with our clients. We listen to what people want and try our best to deliver it. It is easier for us to accomplish this than the other bigger brands, as we are smaller, nimbler and more accessible. We don’t want Porcelain to be a company that is fixated on the bottom line. Education is very important; in order to really solve skin issues, we must understand the root of the problem and tackle it. At Porcelain, when you begin your treatment, we call it your ‘Porcelain Journey.’ We will have the treatment plans and recommendations all planned for you. We take the guesswork out of the picture because we have experimented, tested and experienced what it requires for you to have great skin.
NS: What are your most popular treatments? Are you constantly offering new therapies?
PN: Quintessential™ Facial (our key extractions facial) and OxyRevive™ (a perfect complementary and standalone treatment) have always been our bestsellers. New launches in the past three years, such as the Proionic™, Cryotherapy™ and Illuminate™ treatments have also been extremely well received. We try our best to research the latest technologies and methodologies, but we pick the crème de la crème to avoid over-cluttering our menu with average treatments. Every single offering on the menu is the best that we can offer in each category.
NS: What is the secret to good skin? How important is a person’s lifestyle?
PN: There is no major secret to great skin. I’ve always believed that hydration and sun protection are important. There needs to be a balance between our pH (sebum and hydration levels), which can be easily thwarted by hormonal changes or the use of wrong products. Hence, the professional treatments in-salon, and the home-care regimen is key.
We also want the skin to be able to regenerate healthily, and it boils down to cellular health. Having a healthy lifestyle definitely affects the skin – we cannot look at skin as a separate entity from our body. It is the canvas that reflects the state of our health and mind. Eating clean, drinking loads of water, keeping an active lifestyle and ensuring personal hygiene are all fundamental to great skin. But many of us need to also understand our skin goes through a renewal process, which is why monthly facials are important, to help decongest and clear the pores. We also make use of technology to achieve pH balance, improve collagen production and stimulate cellular regeneration.
NS: Is Singapore becoming a more healthy place to live? What changes have you noticed in the past five years?
PN: Singapore is a fast-paced city, and because of that, we have to learn to live with a certain level of stress. But I do think that our pollution levels are acceptable for a city, comparing apple to apple of course. There is a movement for more conscious living going on. More people are taking up Yoga, going on retreats, travelling, eating healthily and embracing positive mindsets, etc. I think it’s great. It starts with the state of mind. I’ve also learnt to take time off, to breathe, to go back to nature. It’s a lot more acceptable now to take time off than it was maybe 10 years ago, when our lives revolved purely around work.
NS: How do you relax away from work? What would be your ideal Sunday in Singapore?
PN: If it’s drizzling and slightly grey, I’ll curl up in bed binge-watching Narcos or Game of Thrones. My ideal Sunday would be to spend a lazy day at home, reading, watching TV, going for a swim and then heading to my grandma’s for dinner with the extended family. I like to clear all my emails on Sundays so that Monday can be a fresh start! That’s quite the perfect Sunday for me.
NS: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs hoping to fulfill their dreams?
PN: Dream big, start small, stay hungry and stay humble. Pay it forward and be kind with your thoughts; it will show in your words and actions. Be grateful, and never forget people who have helped you.
Images courtesy of Porcelain Face Spa