Published on 16 Jun 2022

Founding fathers: Numbers game for accountant dads behind facial chain Kskin

They own a mini hairdressing and beauty empire, but for the three founders behind quick cuts chain Kcuts and now quick facials chain Kskin, it all comes back down to numbers.

Volume is key to reach economies of scale, which might explain their 66 Kcuts outlets and 17 Kskin outlets. And at every Kskin outlet, facial services take just 15 minutes, so each outlet can serve 25 customers a day on average.

It is a habit that is hard to shake. They were accountants by training, after all.

Mr Brian Ng, 43, Mr Bernard Ng, 41, and Mr Samuel Pei, 41, met in business school at Nanyang Technological University.

Realising they worked well together, they launched their first business in Year 1 - an advertising and printing company called Bideas. The business, inspired by how student groups often needed to print banners, posters and other collateral, is still running today.

Venturing into beauty had never crossed their minds then, say the trio, who graduated in 2005.

But in 2012, they decided to do just that after their wives - who had also gone into business together - started enrichment centres. They were having a coffee in a mall while waiting for their wives one day when they noticed a vacant shop lot.

The 300 sq ft space inspired them to brainstorm ideas for their next business.

It had to satisfy four criteria: It should be a cash business, be scaleable, have good profit margins and be in trend.

Kcuts - a quick-cuts chain with a K-beauty slant, to tap the growing Korean wave then - was born. They hired a South Korean stylist to train staff and who is now chief director-stylist in the beauty group.

In 2013, they opened the first Kcuts in Fusionopolis, followed by a string of outlets in heartland malls. Last year, they opened 12. Many money-changers and laundry shops had folded during the pandemic, making more spaces available.

Besides Kcuts, they founded new hair and beauty concepts every year - including Apgujeong, a full-service Korean hair salon; Myeongdong, another full-service hair salon but situated in neighbourhoods and office areas; Aoyama, a Japanese hair salon; and James Barker, an English premium barbering concept.

Then came facials.

A business trip to South Korea in 2016 to research the hair industry opened their eyes to the profitability of the beauty industry, says Mr Bernard Ng.

They opened Hanbang in 2018, their first facial brand with a focus on Korean facial contour therapy. But it was a costly endeavour that took almost $300,000 to set up and was hard to scale.

"We were very naive. Only after we got into the beauty business did we realise how it actually works," says Mr Pei.

They thought they could bank on customers coming in each day for a $150 facial to cover their rent. "But we realised the beauty market is very package-driven."

Sales consultants were under pressure to get people to sign five-figure packages, and it bred discontent and wariness among customers who simply wanted a facial done, he adds.

The trio went undercover to other facial salons and felt "stressed" going for free trials.

They decided to launch Kskin, an express facials service sans the "hard-sell packages".

"We wanted to help people enjoy a decent, stress-free facial service and spend what they want to spend. It's going back to the original business model of facials 'times' number of customers; going back to that maths," adds Mr Pei.

After a slight delay due to the circuit breaker, they opened the first Kskin outlet in Clementi Mall in August 2020.

Customers pay for their desired service at a kiosk and get a queue number - almost like buying fast food. There are three main services ($28 each) on offer - cleansing, brightening and lifting - which can be combined at a discount for a longer treatment. Kskin Customers pay for their desired service at a kiosk and get a queue number - almost like buying fast food.

The founders are confident that a single treatment delivers the effectiveness of a full, one-hour facial.

They partnered a Singaporean pharmacist who also supplies to local skin doctors, to formulate proprietary solutions. The machines are from South Korea.

Relying on technology and skincare solutions means Kskin therapists do not need as many years of experience or massage skills, which brings down the cost of labour, says Mr Pei.

Their customers are a hotchpotch of students, busy mothers and foreign workers - almost 40 per cent are men.

The founders themselves visit for an occasional facial - when they are not interviewing staff, prowling malls for new store locations, and spending time with their children. Mr Bernard Ng has two kids, Mr Brian Ng has four and Mr Pei has three.

Fatherhood has taught them how to "show more empathy, grace and understanding" to their staff, which has helped them "manage people and situations better" as the business continues expanding, says Mr Bernard Ng.

The franchise has quickly ballooned, with another 14 outlets in the works by the end of this year.

One of the newest is in 313@somerset - their first outlet in Orchard Road. Targeting tourists, it marks the start of their plan to go international, as they hope to expand to Malaysia, Jakarta and Hong Kong in the future. Kskin's 313@Somerset outlet.

Mr Brian Ng, who handles the franchise side of the business, does not think their expansion strategy is aggressive.

"You multiply 25 customers a day by 30 days, and multiply by 80 shops - that's 60,000 customers. Even if we hit our goal of 80 outlets here, we'll be serving only 1 per cent of Singapore's population," he says, brandishing a calculator as proof.

Like they say, it is all about the numbers.

Source: The Straits Times