SUT_1_mainMr Ting (left) believe it’s important for customers to have a personalised experience at their beauty bars.
Photo: Ted Chen

In the first part of a four-week series, three companies share with Aaron Tan their stories of how they expanded from humble beginnings to make their mark at home and overseas.

The Sunday Times
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September 6, 2015

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MENTION a bar and the first thing that comes to mind is revellers and party-goers hanging out over a drink or two.

A similar scene has been playing out at Kino Biotech’s “beauty bars” in department stores across Singapore and Malaysia. Instead of sipping wine and cocktails, health-conscious folks are clinking glasses of mocktails concocted from the company’s signature Kinohimitsu range of health and beauty drinks.

“We provide consumers with a personalised experience at our beauty bars, where they can try our products in the form of mocktails based on their preferences,” says Mr Ting Yen Hock, chairman of Kino Biotech, which is also known for two other proprietary brands – Activa and Xpertise.

Activa is a range of water-based treatment products for the hair, face and body, while Xpertise is slimming products for different parts of the body.

According to Mr Ting, the idea of a beauty bar arose out of a two-year business transformation initiative, which started with the company’s
top executives attending a two week design-thinking course in New York to pick up best practices in retail engagement.

Spring Singapore had supported Kino Biotech’s retail engagement strategy for the company’s appointed design consultancy to design a retail experience that would enable it to engage its target customers by examining their lifestyle needs and habits.

Customer interaction

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“We came up with the idea after visiting various stores in New York with retail concepts that promote customer interaction,” Mr Ting says.

“Even though we were doing well in the region, there were so many things we could do to engage our customers better and obtain direct feedback from them.”

Before the idea of the beauty bar was conceived, much of the feedback on Kinohimitsu products – such as collagen drinks and glucosamine formulations that improve joint strength – came from consumers who had written to the company, as well as retail distributors such as Watsons and Guardian.

The idea of a beauty bar would not have come to fruition if Mr Ting and Kino Biotech chief executive officer Chong Ka Wee had not thought out of the box when starting the Kinohimitsu brand in 1997.

Instead of producing health supplements in the form of tablets and capsules, the duo decided from the get-go that they wanted Kinohimitsu products to be tasty, easy to consume and appealing to the Asian palate.

Kino Biotech developed its first Kinohimitsu product, a detox drink formulated for Asians, with the help of a Japanese partner. While its maiden product was well received, it was not until it concocted its first collagen drink for the South-east Asian market that the business began to take off.

Recalls Mr Ting: “Our collagen drink – consumed out of medical grade bottles that prevent oxidation by ultraviolet light – was very new at that time, so our distributors didn’t know where to place our products in their stores.”

Staying ahead

It did not take long before copycat products started appearing on the shelves. To stay ahead of the pack, Kino Biotech has broadened its product
range, which now includes skin-whitening drinks, stem cell drinks, and even drinks for men that claim to improve libido and muscle strength.

Mr Chong adds: “All our products are also halal-certified, so we had to look into the source of the ingredients and make sure our manufacturing processes do not include alcohol.”

Having built up research and development capabilities, and with revenues growing by double digits each year, Kino Biotech is now ready to take its business to the next level. For a start, it plans to have 15 beauty bars across the region to complement its existing network of 5,000 sales channels by the end of this year. It will also continue to put in more resources to grow the Kinohimitsu brand, especially in China, where it has been cultivating business relationships with Chinese partners for years.

“We’re going to be bold and aggressive, and create an e-commerce platform that will bring Singapore companies in the health and beauty business to China,” Mr Ting says, adding that the company is also in talks with Chinese pharmacy chains to carry products from its platform. “We are flying the Singapore flag,” he adds.

For more information on the retail sector and stories on how retailers have built their capabilities, please visit www.spring.gov.sg/retail or email lifestyle_division@spring.gov.sg.