Community Spotlight: Amy Bourke | Skinfitness
Skinfitness was one of our very first brands on board when we were still in alpha mode. We thought it was appropriate to kick off our first member spotlight by chatting with Amy about her experience of stumbling into partnerships by accident and building a new business in a foreign country.
Please tell us a little bit about your background before launching Skin Fitness.
My background has been predominantly in retail. Back in Australia, before moving to Singapore, I worked for the luxury department store chain David Jones, and I was with them for about eight years. I absolutely loved my job. It was really fun retailing all sorts of different categories, everything from beauty to fashion, food, menswear and homewares.
I ran stores for them in both Melbourne and Sydney and then moved into an executive role in commercial operations. It was a great career and I was quite sad to be honest, to leave that when we had to move. When I arrived in Singapore, I took some time off to study and I completed a master's of business administration which helped me work out what my next steps would be.
By the end of my studies, I had decided that I definitely needed to now go out on my own and felt that I had all the tools that I needed to take that leap so I founded a business called SkinFitness.
How did you get from retail and commercial operations to founding a skincare business?
Luckily I knew from retailing so many different categories, what the best business models were, so it was purely a business model decision first. Skincare and cosmetic businesses if done well are basically bullet proof. I saw this through the global financial crisis when sales were really tough, those particular categories still boomed. Women are not going to change the makeup they wear or the skincare that they use, it's an absolute last resort for them to stop spending on these essentials.
So, that's essentially why I chose beauty and skin care and I also saw a big gap in the market here. Businesses like SkinFitness are very popular in Australia and in the US they're almost on every corner. When I moved to Singapore, I just couldn't see a concept that was similar to what had worked so well in other parts of the World, so I started to really dig into what it would take to put a skin care brand together.
A lot of research went into it and then we launched!
Starting a business at any time can be very challenging, at what point in the journey did you know SkinFitness was going to be a success?
Yes, you're right there!
It is very challenging. It was such a big step, even though I knew retailing so well and I knew the category well, I was in a foreign country. I really didn't know how people were going to relate to the brand. So at the start, there were many sleepless nights and even a few tears. But then we focused predominantly on customer experience and really just making sure that everyone that walked through that door had a sensational experience and it started to work.
I think the moment where I felt that success was ahead was when I started noticing on Facebook groups when people would write, Where do we go for a great facial? At the start it was all my friends supporting me, jumping on and saying go to SkinFitness haha. But then as we started to get a reputation they were strangers recommending us. They were referring to our business and saying wonderful things which was really exciting to see.
I knew that if I could keep that up, it would continue to spread and we would see success. And it was around that time we started to break even and even made some profit.
Out of all the different marketing activities we had tried, it actually came out with the best ROI.
That's fantastic. So you've been doing collaborations with other business owners for a while now. How did you get started doing that? And why are you so enthusiastic about partnerships?
Yes, so, at the start, to be honest, I hadn't thought of it as a natural strategy. I did what most people would usually do, you think all right, I'll advertise on Facebook, Instagram and Google adwords. I spent a lot of money on that at the start however I just couldn't see the return coming through. Customers that were coming in through those avenues, they wanted a discount or introductory offer and it was sort of a cold relationship.
It was also expensive to continually target those types of customers, but then it was actually through a bit of luck, one of my friends who has a wine business here suggested I give her a bunch of complimentary facials for her to give to customers who purchased tickets to her wine tasting event. That way she would have a way to incentivise her customers to book tickets and I would pick up some free advertising and exposure to new clients. Even though our businesses are completely unrelated, the promotion was a huge success. Out of all the different marketing activities we had tried, it actually came out with the best ROI. Some of the clients I picked up from that event are still loyal customers today that regularly shop with us which is really lovely.
So, the very first time you tried it was successful.
Yeah, absolutely. I can't remember the exact numbers now, but it was something like, I don't know, it was 10, 20 times that of Facebook and also much better customers. People were coming in because they had found out about our brand through a brand that they already loved and trusted. And that's a very different experience from seeing an ad whilst scrolling through Facebook. Also because we gave them a gift at that event, when they came in they felt very special.
We also made sure that our teams really focused on those customers as a priority. The message to our team was if someone comes in for free, that doesn't mean that they get less of a job. We actually work even harder with them because we want to convert them into customers and it worked brilliantly. Then when I'd had that success with that particular partnership, I started looking at where my customers shopped in businesses that are not competing with me and how I could work with those business owners to get my product in front of them.
And from realizing that the penny dropped, I stopped all other marketing, all other paid marketing except partnership marketing and that’s been the main force behind how we have now grown to over 3000 clients today.
I can't remember the exact numbers now, but it was something like, I don't know, it was 10, 20 times that of Facebook and also much better customers.
That's amazing, is there one particular collaboration, apart from the first one of course, that really stands out?
Yeah, I had a lot of success with some of the business networking groups here, so I collaborated with a lot of events, dinners, talks and presentations. I found that sponsoring those by giving out door prizes and giveaways, was a great way for me to get in front of literally hundreds of customers that were perfectly in my demographic. I made sure the events that I chose were where our customers would be. We did several of them and got our brand visible throughout the presentations, on the invites, and then our product physically into new clients hands. We found new clients all over the place from these events that as a result came into SkinFitness and became great new clients of ours.
So, I understand that moving to a foreign country and starting a new business wasn't enough of a challenge for you. You've also decided to kick off a new venture that you've been working on furiously recently as well. Can you please tell us where that came from? Why take on a second startup while still building the first?
Yep, that's a very good question.
It's, well, a bit crazy to do that, but we just stumbled across a much bigger opportunity. The skin care business has been incredibly successful, and our original plan was to franchise that which may still happen, but there are also only so many hours in the day. We simply found a much bigger problem to solve hence starting up a second start up. How that came about was when we were setting up SkinFitness, we had to set up the technology we needed to run our business which proved to be far more difficult and expensive than we had initially imagined.
In this day and age, everyone is a technology business first. You've got to have online bookings, a killer website, e-commerce, email marketing, CRM and the list goes on. All of those tools took us a long time to work out and research the best ones to use and then to put them together was a bit of a nightmare. In the end of our set up for SkinFitness, we were using 12 different saas products to operate which was really not effective, it was expensive, difficult to train and just did not work well. We then spoke to other business owners who were also frustrated having to suffer the same type of process and we decided that we would do something about it and actually build a business operations platform for small businesses.
It has all of those tools that I just mentioned in one easy to use, affordable product and the product is called ZING. It’s been a hell of a ride getting the product built and to market, but now we are lighting up salons all over Singapore and the business owners love it! We've also just signed up some locations in Australia and even our first US customers.
That's fantastic. I know it's still very early days, but can you see yourself utilising partnerships and doing collaborations with ZING?
Absolutely! We are already working with different affiliates, people like business coaches that are teaching small businesses how to run their operations more effectively. That all starts with what technology tools they are using so ZING is a perfect fit. Also other companies that incorporate businesses where we are able to work with them to present ZING to businesses who are just getting started and are naturally looking for a software solution.
Another benefit of partnerships which is especially important when you're a startup, is it's basically a no win, no pay situation. If you don't get a response from the partnership, it's not like you’re shelling out huge amounts of marketing dollars and hoping that you'll get the traction, so it’s a great way to test potential client acquisition sources.
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