SME Tech

Taking the beauty biz straight to customers

Mr Yang Cheng (in blue) and Mr Jason Wang are co-founders of the Sure Beautyplace application. (From left) Mr Douglas Gan, Ms Kuik Xiaochi, Mr Meters Ang and Mr Choy Peng Kong, founders of the Vanitee app, which has seen over 1,900 customers use it t
(From left) Mr Douglas Gan, Ms Kuik Xiaochi, Mr Meters Ang and Mr Choy Peng Kong, founders of the Vanitee app, which has seen over 1,900 customers use it to complete transactions since its soft launch in April. The app lists over 300 beauty artists, of whom 90 per cent are individuals.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Mr Yang Cheng (in blue) and Mr Jason Wang are co-founders of the Sure Beautyplace application. (From left) Mr Douglas Gan, Ms Kuik Xiaochi, Mr Meters Ang and Mr Choy Peng Kong, founders of the Vanitee app, which has seen over 1,900 customers use it t
Mr Yang Cheng (in blue) and Mr Jason Wang are co-founders of the Sure Beautyplace application.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

App developers have entered the local beauty industry to provide peer-to-peer services

Peer-to-peer apps that match individual users to each other to exchange goods or services have seen explosive growth in recent years.

Car hire service Uber and property rental portal Airbnb, for example, have cashed in on the trend. The latest sector to try harnessing the power of the peer-to-peer economy is the beauty industry.

Several recently-launched smartphone apps in Singapore, such as Vanitee and Sure Beautyplace, aim to connect individual beauty service providers, such as hairstylists, manicurists and make-up artists, with customers. These apps not only allow users to see write-ups, pictures and reviews of these professionals, but to also check their schedules in real-time to make bookings and arrange house calls.

While beauty-service booking websites such as LookBooker and BookQuickly have been around for months, they catered only to salons or businesses, and not individuals.

This new wave of apps focuses on bringing together clients and individual service providers, much like how Airbnb connects with private home owners, not hotels.

GAP IN THE MARKET

In the tech scene, most guys don't think even about programming for beauty, and there are not a lot of (female) programmers.

MR DOUGLAS GAN, one of the four founders of the Vanitee app

Vanitee has seen over 1,900 customers complete transactions via the app since its soft launch in April. It has over 300 beauty artists, of whom 90 per cent are individuals, and 10 per cent are salon-based.

Mr Douglas Gan, 32, one of the app's four founders, said the beauty and wellness industry is an untapped market for app developers. "What attracted us to the beauty industry is that no one is touching it. In the tech scene, most guys don't think even about programming for beauty, and there are not a lot of (female) programmers," he explained.

Vanitee's user base is female-dominated, with less than 5 per cent of both the customers and service providers being male.

To engage a beauty artist through the app, users can explore one of six categories, including Nail, Make-up and Brow and Lash. Listings can be filtered by location and popularity.

After viewing the service provider's schedule, users can select a service and time slot, and make payment directly through the app with a credit or debit card.

While Mr Gan confessed he was clueless about the beauty industry before he made it a business, it is evident that Vanitee is now a project of passion, and not just profit.

The app's focus on individuals over big salons stems from his wanting to give a leg up to smaller businesses, which do not have the resources and know-how to market themselves aggressively.

"If we focus on the shops, it will be about things like the business, the place, and the price," he said.

"But when we focus on the individual, the tone changes. It's about building a personal connection. It's about an artist's background... maybe she's doing this as her main source of income. And by supporting this, the four of us on the team really feel something."

Another app that connects beauty artists with clients is Sure Beautyplace, which was launched just two weeks ago. Currently, there are about 70 salons and individuals listed on the app, which has been downloaded over a hundred times.

One of the app's three co-founders, Jason Wang, 28, said that such apps could benefit professionals who want to enter the industry, but are deterred by the high cost of starting a business. "Rentals are increasing, and setting up a shop is expensive," he said. "They can sign up with the app as individuals, and that's a way of cutting out rental."

One beauty service provider who is keen to try out Sure is Ms Yvonne Goh, 53, who has run a one-woman show at Facial Body Care at The Adelphi mall for over two decades.

She said such apps could be an alternative to traditional advertising methods. "It doesn't cost anything, and if by chance a new customer comes in, then it's bingo for me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Taking the beauty biz straight to customers'. Print Edition | Subscribe