Willie Chan literally practises what he preaches.
He is an associate faculty at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), teaching business-related subjects like Project Management, Operations Management, Risk Management, and Customer Relationship Management.
Beyond teaching, he also makes it a point to apply his theories into practice through his own startup.
He noted that traditional retail is shifting towards e-commerce, and with the demise of brick-and-mortar retail, he believes that the service economy would rapidly become more dominant.
He further predicts that some of the services that would remain resilient to e-commerce include healthcare, fitness, as well as beauty and aesthetics. For the beauty industry in particular, he feels that there is a “lack of transparency in terms of published pricing and true customer relationship management with no hard selling.”
As a former customer of other aesthetic clinics, he found flaws in their business models.
He recounted one aesthetic clinic that had no booking system, resulting in long waiting times. On top of these, he also experienced a fair bit of false advertising, hidden charges, as well as hard selling which soured the entire customer experience.
Noting these trends and shortcomings, Willie was determined to create “something different” and jointly invested $300,000 to start up Wellaholic in October 2016 with a first outlet in Lavender.
He Juggled Two Jobs While Bootstrapping His Startup
In the early days of Wellaholic, Willie was juggling his corporate job as a Director for Product Management and Marketing in a multinational corporation to ensure that the business remains cashflow positive.
I took great care to ensure that I would not weigh Wellaholic down (in terms of) cashflow. I would work on Wellaholic matters on the weekends, and only went full-time into Wellaholic in mid-2019 when the requirements of the business needed more of my time.– Willie Chan, founder of Wellaholic
“As with many startups, the founders or CEOs would need to (take) a drastic pay cut in the early stage of the business. (Moreover), we did not do any fundraising — the business was primarily funded by myself along with a few other friends,” he added.
He also shared that the “initial year was the toughest”, when they were still experimenting with different ideas. They had a fitness studio that offered classes such as HIIT, zumba, yoga and modern dance, but it didn’t work out.
Besides space constraints issues, customers were also hesitant to commit to long-term purchases because they didn’t appear credible in people’s eyes, since Wellaholic was still a fledgling startup with only one outlet.
They Only Offer Treatments That Are Proven To Work
After many rounds of iteration, Wellaholic has pivoted to offer tech-driven aesthetic services such as facials, permanent hair removal, fat freezing, body sculpting and teeth whitening.
For facials, traditional beauty salons typically offer services like steaming and manual facial extraction, but Wellaholic taps on technology such as microneedling and radio frequency to help customers look better.
Another unique thing about them is that they offer beauty treatments that are backed by science and research.
“For each of the treatment types that we are offering, there is substantial scientific research and related case studies that have been done to prove its efficacy,” explained Willie.
That said, their aim is to solve customers’ pain point of forking out money for treatments that do not work.
Wellaholic also offers total price transparency by publishing their rates online, guaranteeing the “best rates in town” with no hidden fees.
In addition, Willie strongly believes in availability — his outlets are open 361 days a year, including several public holidays.
Our key aim is to ensure that there is an availability of capacity and slots for our customers to book from, and that stems back to our mantra of developing exceptional customer service.– Willie Chan, founder of Wellaholic
They have an online booking system that allows customers to conveniently book and reschedule their treatments, which in turn helps to create data points for capacity planning.
Collecting and harnessing customer data helps to create a profile of their typical customer, which in turn helps them better customise their offerings. They also collect all sorts of customer treatment data such as date of treatment, treatment settings, as well as the staff attending to the customer.
“This is very important as the customer might visit different outlets for treatments. A detailed customer visit and treatment record would allow any new staff attending to the customer a more personalised service,” said Willie.
He adds that tracking the capacity allocation also aids them in planning their outlet expansion, in terms of the timeline and location.
To date, Wellaholic has grown to six outlets in Singapore, with locations in Lavender, Clarke Quay, Orchard, Tai Seng, Tanjong Pagar and Jurong East (their newest addition).
One trend that can be seen from their outlet locations is that they are not housed in malls with high footfall.
Willie reasoned that doing so helps them avoid the high mall rental fees, so he makes it a point to “look for affordable locations that are close to MRT stations instead.” Wellaholic is then able to pass the savings to their customers in terms of more affordable treatments.
To compensate, they invest heavily in online and content marketing to raise brand awareness and also build an online presence.
For every new customer, they collect information on how they got to know about Wellaholic (Facebook, Google, blogs, recommendation from family or friends et cetera) and this forms a useful data set that signals where they can invest further in marketing.
“We do see a very high percentage of referrals and this shows that our customers are also advocates of Wellaholic. To strengthen this, we (have) developed a membership cashback programme that’s totally digital. This allows us not only to reward our loyal customers for supporting Wellaholic, but also allows us to monitor the customer’s purchase history and his or her usage of the cashback to better our service offerings.”
Wellaholic Takes Care Of Customers For Life
Willie asserts that the key distinction between Wellaholic and their competitors is that they take good care of their customers.
Customer service is a key priority for Wellaholic. They have a 24/7 hotline and an online chat that allows them to attend customer queries and issues anytime.
Our all-inclusive packages and our Lifetime Maintain plans are offerings that are unique to Wellaholic. This demonstrates that we walk the extra mile to engage our customers, and not merely trying to make a profit (out of) them.– Willie Chan, founder of Wellaholic
In October last year, Wellaholic even booked an entire cinema and organised a free movie screening for its customers to foster a better relationship with them.
“We believe in taking care of our customers for life. For our treatments, we have a very unique Lifetime Maintain Mode, which allows customers to return for heavily discounted treatments after they have finished their initial course of treatment. As the name suggests, this Lifetime Maintain Mode is valid for a lifetime.”
With a conscious effort to offer transparent pricing and deliver exceptional customer service, it’s little wonder why Wellaholic has won the coveted TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellent for consistent rankings.
Out of 472 aesthetic clinics in Singapore, four of its outlets are placed in the top 20.
Wellaholic took about two years to break even, with revenue in the third year expected to rise by 397 per cent as compared to the first year, according to Willie.
New customer acquisition in the third year is also expected to rise by 750 per cent as compared to the first year.
As a testament to the business’ steady growth, Wellaholic has won two awards — Most Promising Start-Up and Fast Moving Companies — as part of SME100 Awards in 2019.
Moving forward, Willie said that taking the business overseas is definitely on the map — but only “when the time is right.”
As for now, they are focusing on strengthening their operational processes by developing Wellaholic as a franchise offering. In fact, their sixth outlet at Jurong East is their first franchisee in Singapore.
“We hope to make this franchise model more robust and be able to take it overseas once we are ready.”
When asked to share their business mantra, Willie proudly cited Wellaholic’s slogan, #livethechange.
“The meaning behind (it) is that we must not only dream and desire to look and live better, but (also) make a positive step to change for the better and live it. After making a deliberate step to make the change, we should continue to have the discipline to live it through to reap the benefits.”
“In a similar way, we live by this mantra. The business environment is ever-changing, and there are external factors like technology that’s disrupting businesses and new competitors are emerging everyday. To lead a successful business, we cannot be complacent and continue to adapt, evolve and #livethechange.”
This article is written in collaboration with Wellaholic.
Featured Image Credit: Wellaholic