SINGAPORE — For Jasmin Tay, the founder of beauty salon chain Perky Lash, starting her own business was a methodical journey that took 10 years.
Still, despite challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems her step-by-step approach is paying off.
Launched in 2019 at the precipice of the pandemic, Perky Lash started out of a S$50 per hour rented bed in Bugis Cube, where Tay offered her services as a freelance beautician while holding down a full-time corporate job as a marketing manager or an established local beauty chains.
Perky Lash currently has four outlets across Singapore. Although the business was initially impacted by the pandemic-induced lockdowns, it is now a profitable venture that raked in a net profit of some S$500,000 in 2022.
Childhood dream to start a company
Tay said he had always wanted to start his own company since he was a child, taking inspiration from his father who used to run a textile business. As a young girl, she developed a passion for beauty services in her pre-university days and knew that she wanted to build a career in the industry.
However, Tay wasn’t confident enough at the start to pursue her dreams. She opted instead to gradually acquire the necessary experience, skills and funds first. That set her off on a 10-year journey through the corporate and freelancing sectors while remaining steady in the beauty industry.
She started her first job as a receptionist at a beauty parlor just after tertiary education, and afterward worked at various other beauty companies. She eventually switched to a marketing role and climbed her way up the corporate ladder to become a marketing manager.
“Once I picked up the skills, I felt that I was more ready to explore my own things,” said Tay. She supplemented the experience gained by taking up short beauty courses including those offered by SkillsFuture Singapore and traveling to Malaysia for training at an academy.
In 2017, Tay decided to test the skills she learned by offering eyelash services as a freelancer. She would take appointments after working hours from the rented bed in Bugis, seeing an average of four to five clients per day at her busiest, and back-to-back appointments on weekends.
“I did a little bit of advertising on social media, I got my friends to try, and after that, it was just word of mouth. The point was to gain more experience and polish up my skills,” said Tay.
Her moonlighting endeavors lasted about six months before she decided to quit her corporate job to go full-time as a freelance beautician. While she had to give up a monthly salary of about S$6,000, Tay said she found the courage to quit after seeing her clientele grow and knowing they were happy with her services, despite the shortfall in income. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that Tay had just given birth to her second child around that time.
After over a year of full-time freelancing, Tay had accumulated enough confidence and more importantly capital, to execute her business plan. The plan was to expand aggressively and increase capacity, as capturing foot traffic in busy areas was a key business strategy. She used S$300,000 to launch the business – 70 per cent of which came from Tay’s own savings while the remaining 30 per cent came from her husband.
The first Perky Lash outlet opened at Nex Mall in Serangoon in April 2019. The mall was chosen given its high footfall, but the company struggled to gain traction initially.
“We were only seeing like three to four customers a day. I started off with five staff, but the number of customers that we had was not sufficient to feed everyone. Some left because it was not sustainable,” said Tay.
Believe in yourself… It may take years, it may take months, but one day, it will work.Jasmin Tay, founder of Perky Lash
Tay’s marketing experience allowed her to understand that it took time to establish a new brand, and so she was determined to carry it on. In February 2020, she launched the second Perky Lash outlet in Bugis. But two months later, the pandemic-induced lockdown began in Singapore, forcing retail stores to shut down.
“It was tough. No income at all and we still had to pay rent, although government subsidies helped,” Tay recalled. While Tay retained most of her staff, she had to let some go as they wanted to return to their home countries.
To make up for the loss of income, Tay turned to Facebook Live to market and sell her lashes.
“We didn’t want to lose the connection to our customers, so we started streaming and offering customized lashes, or falsies, for them,” she recalled. “But of course, sales were still slow. I did what I could, as I didn’t want to shut down for two months and didn’t do anything. Because once we opened up, we may have lost our clients.”
As businesses gradually reopened, the restrictions in place meant that Perky Lash could only operate at half capacity. Plus, with most people working from home during this period and going out less frequently, Tay said that people were spending less on beauty services. Still, Tay persevered.
No more beauty packages
It is common practice within the beauty industry to operate on a package-based mode. The post-pandemic shift in consumer behavior prompted Tay to rethink her approach to selling and move away from the package-based model. She came up with a “fixed-price concept”, which allows customers to pay per use and does not involve hard-selling packages.
“The feedback was mostly positive. But of course, there’s also a downside because we do pre-payment since we are charging a fixed rate. We did this to lower our no-show rate. Because of the lower price that we charge, we cannot afford to have no-shows,” Tay explained.
“Some customers couldn’t accept this. They didn’t like the idea that they had to pay before they did anything. So we lost this group of customers who didn’t accept our policy,” said Tay.
Slow progress, but profitable now
Looking back on her journey, Tay says that she has no regrets about the way it all turned out.
“I like the fact that I started freelancing before embarking on my own journey because I feel that the experience gained is very important. My husband actually wanted me to skip the freelance part and just went for it, but I held the brakes. I didn’t ‘I don’t want to do it until I’m more confident,’ said Tay.
What’s her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Believe in yourself. You need to trust that whatever you’re doing is correct and just keep going. Once you’re out there, you will know whether you can do it,” said Tay. “It may take years, it may take months, but one day, it will work.”
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