JOSHUA LUNG

Joshua Lung has been running his own business since 1996. Going from an F&B to Telco business before carving out his niche in the spa and wellness industry. His spa business covered 5 different locations in Singapore and is planning to expand into more locations locally with a franchise plan to expand overseas as well. Joshua believes that making a profit should be second to the primary purpose of any business, which is to first satisfy customer needs.

Business Profile:

Healing Touch was established in 2001 by Mr Joshua Lung. Healing Touch has five more outlets in Singapore: Alexandra Road, Novena, Upper Thomson, River Valley and Tampines branches. Healing Touch offers spa and beauty services and is regarded as Singapore's most recommended spa on Facebook with about 40,000 likes and 2000 customer recommendations on their Facebook Timeline. It is the silver award winner of Cosmopolitan Singapore spa trekking report 2013 for the "Best for value" category. Healing Touch was also the exclusive wellness and beauty spa sponsor for the Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant 2013.

Interviewer's Comments:

Joshua made me realise that self-belief, humanity, willingness to challenge yourself to the next level is very important to succeed in entrepreneurship. Besides being passionate in his work, he is also a business coach on top of running five Healing Touch outlets in Singapore. His optimism, risk-taking mind-set, the ability to trust, coach and empower his staff and people to succeed in their businesses has inspired me greatly. He has showed me that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it and work towards your goal. Courage, action in the presence of fear, doubt, uncertainty and risk is important to success. It is stories like Joshua's that inspired me to write about the importance of cultivating a 'risk-ready ' mind set in Stop Playing Safe. He made me believed that a 'growth mind-set' is essential to success in business and personal development and that it's opposite, a 'fixed mind-set' stifles our ability to adapt and thrive.

Interview:

1)   What is the nature of your business?

We are into spa business, we offer body massages, beauty and facial treatments to our customers. Healing Touch provides therapeutic massages by a team of more than 70 certified therapists in five different locations in Singapore. We are committed to good service with no hard selling. Healing Touch is Singapore's most recommended spa on Facebook. With over 2,000 reviews on Facebook, Healing Touch is well-known for its sincere service with no hard selling, dedicated and skilful therapists at affordable prices to knead your worries away. Healing Touch outlets are located at 354 Alexandra Road, Alexis Condo, 70 Thomson Road, 199 Upper Thomson Road, 5 Tank Road and Tampinese CPF building.

 

2)    When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Both my parents are civil servants and they frown upon risk-taking. So I have never received any encouragement from my parents to be an entrepreneur right up till now. They will always advise me to be careful and not to take risks. My dad would go to the extent to plant fears in my heart to make sure I don't make mistakes with my life. As parents, they love me and care for me so I understand they intend for my good.

The first time I wanted to be an entrepreneur was in 1993 (at age 27) when I attended a personal development seminar - "Money & You". My trainers were Blair Singer and Robert Kiyosaki who later wrote the best selling title, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad". To the Money & You trainers, everyone should be a business owner. I was deeply inspired by Kiyosaki's teachings. At one point in the seminar, I felt the fears in my heart melt away and told myself! will conquer my fears and make a difference to my unhappy life.

It was in 1994 that I quit my corporate job and ventured into a life-time of entrepreneurship. I started working on low basic pay, high commission sales job in the foreign workers recruitment business. I struggled for the first 9 months but began to see very good rewards after that. The following year, I became completely commission based and also set up my first business, a F&B (steamboat) business in 1996. My intention of starting a business is not to operate it myself but to have the business operate on its own through a good management system run by employees. However, I soon learned that my interest was not in running a F&B business and due to personal reasons, I re­located to Shanghai in 1998 and left it entirely to my staff to operate it and later sold it.

While I was in Shanghai in 1998, I started my second business, a Voice over IP telco business, terminating wholesale voice traffic from the USA to China. It started becoming very profitable after one year but later became very tough because more and more telcos are coming into the market and expanding their capacity. Calling rates dropped so much that it became almost unprofitable for many telcos. One of the lessons I learned then was that when choosing a small business to start, it is better to avoid businesses that require a huge start-up cost or where technology will rapidly change the competitive landscape. My VOiP business folded in the year 2000 when my biggest client, a US Telco went bust along with many other Telco's including Worldcom (World's second largest Telco at that time) due to the capacity glut and I was back to Singapore searching for another business opportunity.

 

3)    What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?

Many people choose to start business in an industry where they had many years of working experience or where they love the work of the business. I am in neither of these 2 categories. I chose the spa business almost purely out of business reasons.

By 2001, I had been through 3 different trades: foreign worker recruitment trade, F&B and VOiP business. I thought hard about what kind of life I want to live. What is required to succeed in the business of my choice? I didn't have any expertise so what business can I go into? To me, the foreign worker recruitment didn't offer the stable income stream I was seeking. F&B has lots of perishable inventories to manage and I personally found it tiring to wait on tables. And the VOiP type of business is extremely price sensitive. Customers would abandon you for 5 cents cheaper alternative and you need lots of capital to compete on price. While I was in Shanghai, I liked to visit one of the blind massage salons so I pondered what it takes to succeed in a spa business.

I reasoned that spa services are highly personalised and customers are less likely to switch shop if they really like your service. So the business should be lesser price sensitive and you compete mainly on service. Good service depends on good management skills. That means it's a level playing field. I thought I shouldn't be too bad on managing people. And you don't need a lot of capital to start a spa. I could see that people are living more stressful lifestyles and can afford to pamper themselves. So I started my first spa outlet along Upper Thomson Road in October 2001. We were the first spa I massage salon along the entire Upper Thomson road near Sin Ming Road at that time. Now there are at least 10 in the same area.

 

4)          How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.

I accumulated some savings from my previous businesses. I actually started 2 businesses at one go. The spa business I started had a bubble tea take-away kiosk at the shop front. The reason I did that was because I was not sure whether the spa business would be profitable and also because the bubble tea craze was at its height at that time. So I thought it was a good idea to have 2 sources of revenue in one location. I was wrong. Looking back, the way I start a business is to just start and hope for the best.

I was better prepared for the bubble tea business than the spa business. When the bubble tea kiosk opened, I still did not have any staff working in the spa and I was not even sure what services to offer, how the treatments will be performed and how to offer them and at what price. I had no idea what the Marketing Mix should be.

Two weeks after I started my bubble tea business, another bubble tea cafe was set up just across the road and soon, more and more bubble tea outlets started sprouting up in the same vicinity of shop houses. Sales of my bubble tea businesses plummeted to a point I knew there was no way I could depend on my bubble tea business to survive. It took me about 2 months to realize that. Besides, the ice blending process was quite noisy and disturbing to my spa customers. The only way to survive is to focus on the spa business. I had to close the bubble tea kiosk and convert the shop fully into a spa.

 

5)         What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?

At that time when I closed the bubble tea kiosk, I only have less than 5 massage customers a day. I still have not found a winning formula. I don't have an offer that attracted prospective customers. And we had very few walk-in customers. It's like you built something and no one wants it.

Hiring therapists was the next challenge. I was not familiar what other spas are paying and frankly speaking, I had never received an oil body massage before up the point I started the spa. So I had no idea what type of therapists I want to hire. So it took me many months of trial and error to figure out who I should hire and how much to pay them and many more years to learn how to manage therapists. There are so many stories I can tell you about my experience working with Therapists. I know this is one area that many spa operators face challenges with. I literally learn to overcome these challenges by going through them.

 

6) How did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges?

The first challenge I urgently needed to overcome is to bring in customers. I figured out along the way that the winning formula will be to offer good massage in a cosy environment at highly competitive prices. I tested with charging different prices to see what the right price was. I run classified advertisements on Newspapers and learned I need to distinguish us from the sleazy spas that are also advertising on the same space. I also put up display sign outside my shop front to attract walk-in customers. Soon I managed to offer the right marketing mix and saw customers responding and sales growing beyond the monthly overheads. The business started becoming profitable after the third month. And because we offer about 50% of sales as commission to our freelance but full-time therapists, I was able to quickly recruit a team of experienced therapists to work for me.

A year after I started, I had about 8 body massage therapists. But a major setback was just around the corner. Just less than 3 minutes' walk from my spa, another spa opened. The spa was very nicely designed. A few of my therapists left to join them when they opened. My competitors had been quietly and regularly visiting our spa to learn how we do business and secretly poaching my therapists to join them. Those who did not join them also left for somewhere else. In fact, all my Singaporean therapists left. I was left with 2 work permit holders. From this setback, I learned to be more careful with managing the culture and morale among therapists. I learned the need to formulate clear policies on managing freelancer therapists so that they feel secure and treated fairly in the company. 2 years later, history repeated itself. My 2nd outlet along River Valley Road.had about 9 therapists after 1 year in business. One of my Thai therapists poached more than half of my therapist's team to start another spa next door. They would stand outside the shop and "welcome" our customers into their shop. Those were very trying moments for me. What I did not expect was very soon after the new spa started, my ex-staff who joined them started leaving it one by one. One of my ex-therapists even pleaded with me to take her back. By the end of their first year, only the 2 partners (both my ex-staff) remained but they eventually broke partnership a few years ago. Over the years, the next door spa remained my competitor. What I least expected was their therapists kept leaving them over the years to join me without me ever speaking to any of them. I guess not less than 15 therapists from next door joined me over the years. Some joined my River Valley branch while others went to other branches. Why? In terms of compensation, we are on par. Perhaps our business has been stronger, especially in the last few years. But from what my therapists told me, they got scolded quite often by the bosses next door so I think human resource practices matter a .lot. There are no quick fixes to solving HR challenges. As employers, not only we have to offer competitive compensation, we need to provide our staff with a safe environment where they feel they are treated fairly and enjoy working hours that suit their lifestyle. Currently, we have more than 100 staff in our organisation and are still expanding.

Another major challenge I face in my business has to do with branding. Branding is not just about having a nice logo. It is about finding your unique position or voice in the market and to be perceived favourably by consumers and stand out among a sea of competitors. The problem grows when the industry becomes more and more competitive. Many aspring entrepreneurs know the spa industry is saturated but there are still new players coming in because barriers to entry are low and the demand is still growing. When consumers can find many similar offerings competiting for their spendings, there will be downward pressure on prices which will eat into our profitability. So the challenge is to offer unique and better value for customers without sacrificing profitability and having a growing reputation among your target audience.

It was only in 2007, 6 years after operation that I changed our name from "The Tradition of Massage" to "Healing Touch". Again this was more of a trial and error learning process for me. You can say that I renamed our brand out of no choice. First, almost none of our customers can pronounce our name correctly. Most of them will call us "the traditional of massage" or just "traditional massage". Then by 2006-2007, everywhere is full of traditional massage this or that. Many of our customers who were recommended by their friends to look for us were confused when they went looking for us because there were a few "traditional massage" around our area. That was how I started on the re­ branding project to create a distinct brand identity that will fire up our growth.

The thing about branding is you cannot do it half-heartedly. It has to be complete and meticulous. Whatever images or copy-writing we used had to be consistent throughout all touch points with customers whether in the shops, online or offline. What customers experience and what they hear about Healing Touch has to be consistent. The re-branding in 2007 failed to bring in better sales. So in a last ditch effort to transform Healing Touch, I ventured into a full scale re-branding. I renovated both outlets in January 2010, changed our logo, web site re-designed, marketing collaterals re-designed and started online advertising. It worked and sales started climbing, reversing years of decline despite a 20% price increase. From then on, we started our 3rd outlet in 2011, 4th outlet in 2012, 5th outlet in 2013 and upcoming 6th outlet October this year.

In our case, re-branding does not stop here. We are now re-positioning Healing Touch to be an organic spa, offering massages, slimming and facial treatments with organic and purely natural plant extract ingredients. We are also curently developing our product brand - Spa Eternity to provide our customers a wide range of body and skincare organic products. And by the end of the year, we should be franchise ready.

 

7)          When was that moment you realized the business would work and support you?

In the first year of business, I can already tell the business would work and profitable enough to support my family. But it was only after 8 years in the business that I was really convinced that the business will sustainable for a long time.

 

8)         What are some of your proudest business achievements to date? And why are they so important and meaningful to you?

My business was on steady decline from 2004 onwards till 2009 due to stiff competiton. To turn it around successfully and grow it past $5 million turnover this year is my greatest acheivement to date.

 

9)          What are some business ideas you have implemented that created great results in your business? 

Rebranding my business produced the greatest results for my business. Our Facebook strategy to attract customer testimonials and prospective customers also worked very well for us.

 

10) In your opinion, what is a good and ethical business? How do you think this helps you in you r company/business?

I always tell my staff not to hard-sell or pressurise customers to buy products or packages. Customers will buy if they see good value in what you offer. We need to respect and honour customer's decision and not pressure them into buying something they don't want. We developed a culture of no hard selling and became well known for it not only among customers but also among people who work in the industry. I think this is an important aspect of ethical business conduct. Customers should not pressured into buying anything. Worse still, after they buy a package, they encounter all sorts of difficulties booking a treatment.

And because we are really serious about this no hard selling policy and consistently practice it, many of our customers compliment us about this on our Facebook and gave us a good reputation. Ethical business practice have certainly helped our business.

 

11) What is your company vision and mission? How do you convey these to your company staffs and team members?

Company vision and mission should be communicated to staff in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them. Therapists will not be interested to know I have a vision to make Healing Touch the biggest spa chain in the world.

Whatever our vision and mission, policies and compensation has to be aligned with where the company is heading. And management has to walk the talk and be consistent in what we do with what we say. Only then will our people follow us.

To be frank, I only started having a compelling vision and mission for Healing Touch this year. We have been offering very similar offerings as our competitors and I run it like a small business the traditional way all these years since 2001.

There was a very important time in December 2009 when I was rebranding Healing Touch and at the same time taking drastic steps to make the company more competitive and profitable. One of the changes I implemented was to marginally reduce therapist commission rate because I realized I had been over-generous in our compensation scheme. That was a risky move because therapists influence one another and they have herd behavior. So I held meetings with all my therapists and spoke to them on the importance of the company to be more profitable so that we will be strong enough to meet with rising costs of business. But I assured them that because of a 20% price increase on our main offering, their overall earnings will actually rise after 3 months.

Thankfully, our sales went up despite the 20% price increase and our therapists saw their income rise. So we did not lose any therapists even though we marginally reduce our therapist commission rate. It is human nature to resist changes and most staff will gravitate towards their comfort zone. If we have a big and challenging vision that require our staff to make a lot of changes, we need to help them understand that if we do not change, the changes and competition going on outside the company in the industry will beat us. As their leader, I will have to help them see our winning strategy and rally them to accept changes for a brighter future.

My new vision to rebrand Healing Touch to an organic spa and franchise our brand around the world is a big vision. Most staff will not be able to see how that would benefit them. To align our existing operations to the new vision and rally the whole team around it is my next big challenge. I will soon be holding meetings around our branches to share with them my vision and rally them behind it.

 

12) How do you promote learning within yonr company? What are the training opportunities that you provide your staff?

Most of our training is conducted within the company. When we have enough staff, we will send all our front desk management staff to at least one external training a year. We recently hired 2 full time trainers, a spa trainer and a beauty trainer to provide in-house training to our team of more than 80 therapists. We are developing training tools like training manuals and training videos to better scale our training capability.

 

13) How will you describe your working relationship with your customers, suppliers and service providers?

We have customers who support us for many years. Up till now when I visit our first branch at Upper Thomson Road, I still bump into customers whom I personally served from the counter many years back. So I think we have many loyal customers who highly recommend us to their friends, families and associates. Generally speaking, our customers are happy with our service and customer complaints are rare. We maintain good relationship with our suppliers. We do not delay payments. We pay all rentals on time and as soon as we receive supplier invoices, we will process payments.

 

14) How do you differentiate your business from your competitors? Please provide specific examples. 

We have established a reputation of consistently providing good massage throughout all our outlets. This may not sound great or unique but because few spas can consistently offer good massages performed by different therapists, this is one of our competitive edge. 

We are also known for charging very reasonable prices and no hard selling. Again this may not sound great but many spas have above $100 list prices. They would entice new customers with highly discounted prices and then pressurize them to sign up for a package. Customers find us unique since we did not put up these guerrilla marketing gimmicks.

Another area we differentiate from our competitors is by the use of technology. We have been providing our customers real time online booking through a web based software which they have access from our web site for the last 4 years. Customers are able to book their appointments online 24x7 and received confirmation from email notification immediately after they complete their booking. None of our competitors in the same price segment provide such service. Only a very handful of spas in Singapore provide this service as it require the spa operator to manage their therapist availability in a highly precise manner.

We are currently developing a web based software that will integrate E­ commerce, real-time online booking, CRM and POS on the same platform. This online platform will enable us to manage inter-franchise settlement among different franchisees around the world in a secure manner. This will form a strong infrastructure for our franchise network around the world in future.

The ultimate differentiation I am working towards is to be a truly organic spa where all the products we use to serve customers and sell are organic, agri and free from chemicals. All our treatments (including facials and slimming) are natural with non invasive methods yet can produce results better than what machines can do.

 

15) How do you think your business have made a positive impact or contribute to the community that you serve? For example: creating jobs for Singaporeans or underprivileged; upgrading the skills of employees; improving livelihoods or lifestyles of customers?

We are still a small business and have little capacity for CSR work. But I personally believe strongly in giving to those in need. So far, we have done two sponsored spa retreats for the elderly; seniors cared for by the senior citizen activity centres from Thye Hua Guan moral society. In those sponsored spa retreats, we chartered buses to transport seniors from Thye Hua Kwan senior activity centre to our spas. We sponsored them with free massages and free food and then send them back to their activity centres. That was our way of caring for the community at large. More recently in June this year, we conducted a public massage workshop held in Bishan Park for the Parkinson's society where we taught their members how to self-masage and also teach the care-takers how to massage those they take care.

 

16) What are some entrepreneu rship qualities that you need in order to be successful in business? (e.g. Educational Qualification, work experience, family influence, attitude, etc) 

I have never done well in school. I failed my English during "O" levels and repeated my secondary 4. Eventually I could not get into a local university and did my undergraduate studies in Economics and business with SIM on their UOL external degree program. My business degree did not help me find a high paying job. Subjects on Economics, Accounting, Marketing, organization behavior and theory and etc. did help me better understand some of the issues I face in running my own business. I think it is important for someone who aspires to start their own business to at least have some fundamental education on Accounting, Marketing, Management and Economics.

I would say having a positive attitude and a strong determination to pursue your goals is the most important quality to be successful in business. Unlike academic exams where there are model answers, there are no model answers in business. In fact I think that to succeed in business, you must come up with different answers from the "model" answers. You have to be different to succeed in business. So you will most likely face a lot of resistance from people around you who are supposed to support you when you are actually moving in the right direction. Because they think you are taking too much risk or what you want to do cannot be done. A strong determination and self-belief is what you need to overcome all the resistance and obstacles.

Another important attitude is to take responsibility for whatever results you are getting. Only when you take responsibility will you be able to make changes and achieve better results for yourself. It is always very easy to blame someone or situations when things go wrong but if others or situations are really responsible for your failures, that also means that you have no control over success or failure in your life. One important lesson I learned on management is from Edward Demmings. I learned from him that when something goes wrong in your organisation, do not immediately look for a person to blame. More than 90% of the time, what went wrong is due to a system problem and not a people problem. And I am responsible for that system or the lack of it. So I have always accepted responsibility for whatever setbacks I faced in life. Only then will I learn from my setbacks and bounce back.

 

17) Can you share some of the more significant events/incidents that affected or shaped your business philosophy and the way you conduct your business? (i.e. SARS, new competition or shifts in market behaviours and trends, etc.

It is competition. Competition caused me to lose most of staff twice. Competition put pressure on my pricing. My work is primarily around beating the competition. We are in a very resilient business. Whether it is during SARS or US Sub Prime or Euro crisis, there is still good demand for spa services. We face a tight labour market but there are still thousands working in the industry and new people coming into the industry. If we rise on top of the competition, we will be able to manage whatever challenges the industry is facing.

 

18) Where or who do you get your business ideas from?

My business ideas come mainly from my competitors, fellow entrepreneurs, vendors and also from personal intuition.

 

19) With the changes in the market today, do you think it has become harder or easier to succeed in business? Why do you say so?

I think all the changes happening due to market forces like the internet, social media, globalisation etc. are actually very positive for aspiring entrepreneurs. There are indeed more business opportunities now than the past. What I think is making it harder for businesses to thrive is to indiscriminate government regulation. I support government regulation but it is the way how the regulations are being implemented that I question.

For example, the spa industry is a tightly regulated industry. To open a spa, you need a police license. But due to many vice related complains, the government will stop issuing new licenses in certain zones. Meanwhile, the sleepzy spas continue to operate with an existing license. Ifthey get closed down by the police, they can still transfer their license to another sleezy spa. Some new sleazy spas will still open and remain for a long time without a license.

However, when a professional spa like ours Healing Touch with many years of good record apply for license in that restricted area, our application gets rejected. In this scenario I described, indiscriminate governement regulation is actually not helping good businesses to grow. The way they implement regulations defeats the intention of the regulation. I believe this happens to other industries as well.

 

20) What are some entrepreneurship qualities that you have which has helped you come this far? 

I believe a positive, solution mindset, strong self-belief and resilience has helped me. Most importantly my Christian faith:"!can do things through Christ who strengthens me" and "God will work out all things for my good".

 

21)   Who or what motivates you?

I think I am competitive by nature. Competition motivates me. When I see other spas stronger than us in some ways, it will motivate me to improve our offering. I am also motivated to keep improving. When I hear concepts and teachings about improving, I will get motivated to learn to make it work. I am basically self-motivated and will take action to make things happen when I learn how to do it. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Jack Ma, Steve Jobs are some of the entrepreneurs that have inspired me. They inspired me with their passion, business strategies and their philantropy.

 

22)    What does entrepreneurship means to you?

To me, entrepreneurship is one of the greatest word created in a dictionary. An entreprenuer creates enterprises and jobs according to his beliefs. He dares to pursue his vision and gives whatever he has to realize them. Entrepreneurship offers the opportunity to be who you want to be and the freedom to do anything you want to do (provided it is lawful).

Another entrepreneur who deeply inspired me is our country's founder, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Most would not consider him an entrepreneur but if we see Singapore not just a country but also a huge economy and an MNC, then Mr Lee is the man who engineered Singapore's rise to be one of the most successful enterprises in the world.

 

23)    What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business?

I think a simple business plan helps a lot for any start-up entrepreneur. But do not plan too much into the details because things almost never work out according to plan. You need to trust that you know what to do or who to tum to when things go wrong. What's more important is to have a general sense of direction, be clear about the problems your industry is facing, what your industry needs and the competitive forces at work.

Beyond that, I would advise that you do not calculate your risks too much. The more you calculate what you stand to lose if you fail, the less likely you will get started. Follow your heart. Be a little naive, trust your intuition and take action.

 

24)     What are some of your business values and what would you like to pass down to others, particularly the young generation?

I would like to change the wrong perception that many people have about business. A lot of people associate business with evil and greedy people who are unscrupulous about adding more zeros to their bank account. And you have to sacrifice your life to run a successful business. It does not have to be that way. Business is about adding value. Businesses add value to customers, partners, vendors, the community at large and the environment. Business is not sustainable when you rise up by exploiting and deceiving others. When we see businesses last for decades and are still growing strong, we can be sure they must be doing something right. So to succeed in business, our focus should be on how we add value to others and grow profitably in a sustainable manner. When you approach business this way, you will not end up all stressed up, worried and have sleepless nights but have peace and live a good life.