City Harvest Church members Sherman Koh and Mary Yong share how God led them to their thriving spa business, which now includes the newly launched Gentlemen’s Lounge at Tangs.
Many of us harbor secret dreams of being entrepreneurs, but few have the courage to make it reality. Not so for City Harvest couple Sherman Koh and Mary Yong.
Their story began in 2008, when they were both still employees of a well-known multinational consumer goods company. Husband and wife were both spa lovers and would indulge in regular massages as a couple on weekends. The massages not only helped them relax and unwind from their busy schedules, they also helped Yong get rid of water retention during her pregnancy. Both became great believers in the benefits of massages.
As fate would have it, one of the spas they frequented suddenly ran into cashflow problems and its owner disappeared overnight. This left the spa’s employees, a bunch of dedicated and experienced therapists, jobless.
Koh sensed a business opportunity immediately.
“The biggest challenge in the spa industry is to hire the right people, and here is a group of people—whom we know from our experience as customers are good at their work—and they all need a job,” said Koh.
Springing into action, Koh literally wrote the business plan for his first spa, My Happy Feet, overnight. Around the same time, Yong’s sister, who worked in Holland Village, called and informed them that a shop was available in the area.
“This was quite miraculous as I never told my sister about our plans to open a shop,” said Yong. “So, despite our apprehension about giving up our secure jobs and comfortable lifestyles, we took this as a sign from God that we should go into business.”
Fast forward to 2013, and Koh and Yong are now the proud owners of three spas across Singapore: My Happy Feet (opened in 2008 in Holland Village), Eden Spa (opened in 2010 in Purvis Street) and their latest, Gentlemen’s Lounge.
Gentlemen’s Lounge is located at Seviin At Tangs, a whole new floor on level 7 of the store Tangs Orchard. This floor houses several spas and a hair salon that caters to a middle-upper class clientele. The 500 sq ft spa offers quick grooming solutions and express wellness treatments tailored for men. These include hand and feet massages, full body and hot stone massages, as well as aromatherapy treatments. There are also specialty treatments for sportsman sore from a game of golf or tennis. In addition, customers can also kick back on comfortable armchairs to enjoy the latest blockbusters on personal TV sets, while enjoying a foot soak.
What makes the lounge stand out from other spas is its single-minded focus on its customer.
“Because of our background in marketing, we have an acute understanding of what the customer wants, and we pay attention to small details. For example, if a first time customer says he prefers warm water to lemongrass tea, on his subsequent visits, we would remember this and serve him warm water,” said Yong.
Indeed, it is the couple’s philosophy on providing good quality massages and exceptional service that has seen their businesses grow from strength to strength. Customers mainly come from personal referrals.
“We do not advertise. Our customers mainly come to us through word of mouth. Our strategy is to wow them with an exceptionally good level of customer service. We don’t hard-sell our customers either,” said Koh.
It has not always been a smooth journey for them, however. When they first started, they had to go door to door across blocks of flats in Holland Village to distribute promotional flyers.
“We did not have extra cash to advertise or hire temporary staff, so we had to do it ourselves. Along the way, we were scolded by maids and chased by dogs,” recalled Koh.
“My parents thought I was crazy – why would two graduates lower themselves to such a level?” he remembers with a smile.
But through the hard times, their faith in God sustained them. It also helped that the couple, members of CHC since 2000, drew strength from inspiring sermons and testimonials of successful entrepreneurs they heard over the years.
“Whenever things got tough, like when money was short, we would hang on to that mustard seed of faith. We believed and took to heart the Biblical verse which says that for believers, God’s word would not return to them void. We were encouraged each time God helped us overcome an obstacle,” said Yong.
Indeed, God did not shortchange them. Besides giving them the space for their first spa, He also provided a kind mentor who guided them and helped them with the nuts and bolts of starting and running a business. This greatly helped shortened their learning curve.
Yong emphasized that two key values sustained them through the hard times: resilience and integrity.
“We believe that you reap what you sow. Treat your customers right, and they will become your ambassadors,” she said, explaining their success so far.
Looking ahead, the couple hopes business will stabalise soon so they can spend more time with their 5-year-old daughter. They also plan to start a social enterprise to help ex-offenders get back on their feet and give back to society.
“We strongly believe that an ethical spa business can be a successful one. We want to be different breed of spa, to be a shining light and good example to others in the industry,” said Koh.