Spa Esprit opens lifestyle concept in London

The Beauty Block in Chelsea, London. Aside from overseas expansion, Ms Cynthia Chua says Spa Esprit Group will also focus on product development in the next two years.
Aside from overseas expansion, Ms Cynthia Chua says Spa Esprit Group will also focus on product development in the next two years. PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The Beauty Block in Chelsea, London. Aside from overseas expansion, Ms Cynthia Chua says Spa Esprit Group will also focus on product development in the next two years.
The Beauty Block in Chelsea, London. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SPA ESPRIT GROUP

Spa Esprit Group founder Cynthia Chua has taken its beauty and food and beverage labels to Europe and is looking to extend its reach to China

Entrepreneur Cynthia Chua, 44, founder of the Spa Esprit Group, is growing her brands and taking more of them overseas in the coming years.

The group, which consists of beauty and food and beverage labels such as Strip, Browhaus, Tiong Bahru Bakery and Open Door Policy, opened The Beauty Block in Chelsea, London in March.

The lifestyle concept space consists of a Browhaus brow bar, a Ministry of Waxing depilatory salon and a cafe called A Wanted Man, and is similar to House at Dempsey, which Ms Chua also owns. House consists of an indoor and outdoor cafe, a bar and a spa.

The opening of the multi-purpose space is the latest step in Spa Esprit Group's growth in London.

Ms Chua, who is in a relationship, says she chose the city as it falls under her plans to expand in Europe. Opening a cafe was also a move to plug the gap for good coffee that she noticed was lacking in Chelsea.

I feel that guys, especially, are always ostracised from beauty treatments. If girls are going for their beauty treats, the men should not feel out of place hanging around.

MS CYNTHIA CHUA, founder of Spa Esprit Group, on why she created a communal space where men and women can wait comfortably for their partners

Spa Esprit has other teams working to expand its growth in China and Asia.

The group's foray into London started in 2009 when it opened a waxing salon (Strip is known as Ministry of Wax in London) on South Molton Street. It currently has five Ministry of Wax outlets and four Browhaus stores, including the ones in The Beauty Block.

The rented three-storey, 2,300 sq ft space in upmarket Chelsea cost $2.9 million to set up.

It is decorated with a cowboy theme and is 90 per cent owned by Spa Esprit, with a local partner, who declined to be named, owning the rest.

The layered concept of The Beauty Block also makes it an ideal hang-out location for both men and women. Besides the draw of the food, which has Asian and French influences, and artisanal coffee, Ms Chua says the comfortable and communal space makes it easy for men and women to wait for their partners who are getting beauty treatments.

"I feel that guys, especially, are always ostracised from beauty treatments. If girls are going for their beauty treats, the men should not feel out of place hanging around."

She adds that a one-stop-shop is something convenient that consumers want.

"Consumers like making new discoveries. How people groom themselves now and how they eat is very different from what it was three to five years ago. They no longer need to go to separate entities," she says.

The decor of the space, which consists mostly of earth tones and wooden panels, aims to appeal to both genders. It also allows for treatments to be introduced to beauty newbies in a less intimidating way.

This strategy, Ms Chua says, has worked in attracting some men to try out treatments.

"Once, when I was in the store, I saw three women in the cafe waiting for their husbands, who were upstairs getting their eyebrows trimmed."

She says the breakdown of her clients in London is about 5 per cent men and 95 per cent women, compared with 20 per cent men and 80 per cent women in Singapore. Though there is still room to grow, she is satisfied with the numbers.

London is not the only city where the group has set up businesses.

Founded in 1996, it began with a Spa Esprit beauty day spa outlet in Singapore and has since evolved to include 18 beauty and F&B brands with more than 100 outlets in cities including New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Manila.

Besides Strip and Browhaus, which make up a bulk of the group's stores, Ms Chua also owns beauty brands Qi Mantra, which offers traditional massages, and We Need A Hero, a men's grooming salon.

Spa Esprit Group's F&B brands include Tippling Club, Skinny Pizza, 40 Hands, Open Farm Community and Common Man Coffee Roasters.

The group's annual turnover was about $90 million last year.

Though she is working to expand in Europe, she says Spa Esprit Group also has teams that are looking into continued expansion in China and the United States.

"China is a big market for us. It is a market that we will be targeting for the next two years," says Ms Chua, who adds that the group plans to expand its beauty footprint and introduce certain F&B brands to the country, which has high potential for growth, starting with restaurant Open Door Policy in Shanghai.

She adds that more F&B brands will be brought to London and Berlin, Germany, another country she would like to explore.

There are also plans to focus on product development in the next two years. The group is working on a line of products made from plants harvested from the Beauty Farm, which is located on the rooftop garden of Raffles City.

Potential products include flower teas, calendula soothing creams and aloe vera gel, for use in Strip and Browhaus here. These are scheduled to be launched in the third quarter of the year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'From a single outlet to more than 100 worldwide'. Print Edition | Subscribe