Mother Jenny Teng had always had an eye for beauty treatments, but not so much the business side of things.
“When it came to technical aspects such as hiring people or planning logistics, she was often lost,” daughter Pauline Ng shared.
Business graduate Ng knew that she could help, but was worried about seeing eye to eye with her equally headstrong mother.
“It made going into business together a tricky proposition.”
Everything about managing the business had to be laid out in black and white, which was what the pair immediately went about doing.
That was in 2009.
Fast forward a few months and their services were booked out 5 weeks in advance.
And by 2013, they had hit the S$1 million mark in revenue and became an award-winning brand.
Her mother initially had her own shop in the heartlands, but as she lacked the necessary business acumen, the SARS epidemic of 2004 “tanked” it.
In 2009, Teng approached her to restart the business, but Ng realised that she could help in more than just chauffeuring her mother around.
“We started Porcelain Spa so that we could both benefit from her experience and have the luxury of starting afresh.”
The early days were truly memorable, Ng reveals, recalling their infant days at a 2-room shophouse in Cantonment Road.
“We kept everything simple, sharing an IKEA desk and shelf. We paid ourselves peanuts too.”
“Everything went back into the business,” Ng says.
“My monthly salary was $800 for the first year and $1,000 the next – just like an internship salary! It was tough because my college loan was compiling interest and I could not repay it.”
This experience taught us to watch our cashflow like a hawk, no matter the business size. It shaped our priorities on spending. Nothing was for vanity’s sake, it would have to improve treatment results or client experience.”
Given both their strong personalities, there were “conflicts from time to time,” Ng says.
Some of her early initiatives were not commonplace back then, such as transparent pricing and leveraging on a suite of tech services. These initiatives ended up causing tension as they were seen as “giving away too much information”.
However bold the moves, Ng was resolute as they were “instrumental in earning trust”.
Since they began working together, Ng shares that they have come to mutually respect each other.
“She has her professionalism and experience in treatments, and I have my views on how to market and shape the business.”
The Porcelain Growth
Everything was very organic, Ng says, as they “stuck by what they did best”.
They initially acquired customers amongst her mother’s loyal clients and later through word of mouth.
Any profits were re-invested into the business as Ng launched their skincare line in 2010, hired therapists and set up Porcelain Aesthetics in 2014.
I had to adapt quickly – such as not scrimping on legal advice after dealing with employment contract issues or realising that Microsoft Excel spreadsheets just won’t cut it anymore.
Not everything that they’ve tried has worked however.
“We made the mistake of offering discounted treatments with an online partner, and they were not the right audience.”
In general, Ng also tries not to “copy industry standards”, such as selling after a treatment.
After all, “shouldn’t a spa treatment end perfectly? Customers should feel like they have the freedom to leave.”
The business might have been “built on her mother’s skills and passion” but today, they are “very different from seven years ago”.
Thanks to their “forward-looking” initiatives, the mother and daughter duo also succeeded in launching their third and flagship store – Porcelain Signatures – in the heart of the CBD.
Although Ng declined to reveal latest revenue figures since their $1M, she does say that Porcelain Signatures has given their client base a “dramatic increase”.
The Porcelain Journey
“Where we are today is the result of awesome team effort. I’ve also been very blessed to have met amazing people who have helped in one way or another.”
Today, her mother is already semi-retired and is no longer as involved in the business.
“She is now pursuing her passion in baking,” Ng laughs.
As for herself, she admits that she had never expected Porcelain to be a “forever sort of career”.
But today, she couldn’t be prouder of how far they have come.
Featured Image Credit: Pauline Ng