In the highly competitive skincare industry, new brands and products pop up almost every other day, so moving quickly is vital for a new entrant, said Mr Wilson Goh, managing partner of The Face Inc.
That was why the home-grown skincare company has embarked on an exceptionally ambitious expansion journey across Asia since it was set up in April 2015 with the aim of offering affordable products.
In less than two years, The Face Inc has established a presence in eight markets - Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China - selling its 16 proprietary skin treatment products in more than 1,000 retail stores.
In comparison with its large rivals, sales may be modest to date but the firm has succeeded in creating an extensive regional network in a short time.
"In this industry, there are constantly new brands and new products. So we want to make sure our products do not get weeded out by competition," Mr Goh, 37, told The Straits Times in a recent interview.
QUALITY AND AFFORDABILITY
A lot of people here who are in need of quality skincare end up buying products from aesthetic clinics, dermatologists, because they can't find what they need on the shelves. We wanted to get rid of that kind of affordability and accessibility issue.
MR WILSON GOH, managing partner of The Face Inc, on his firm's aims to bring affordable skincare products to the market.
"We had it planned since day one - the idea is to grow very fast, to achieve scale. Doing that will allow us to access a lot of advantages, be it in terms of product cost or marketing," he said.
After all, the skincare industry is traditionally dominated by giant corporations such as Procter & Gamble, which owns Japanese prestige beauty brand SK-II, and Unilever, alongside a number of smaller Japanese and Korean firms.
Mr Goh said The Face Inc aims to plug a gap in the market for affordable, yet high-performance, skincare treatment products.
"A lot of people here who are in need of quality skincare end up buying products from aesthetic clinics, dermatologists, because they can't find what they need on the shelves," noted Mr Goh, who left his job as chief operating officer of a non-surgical aesthetics firm in 2015 to set up The Face Inc with his business partner, a dermatologist.
"We wanted to get rid of that kind of affordability and accessibility issue. So the products we offer are very similar to what you might get from a dermatologist - a personalised set of prescriptions - but probably at a fraction of that price. It's about bringing the doctor to you."
The Face Inc has an intelligent online skincare consultation system that offers customers a personalised diagnosis of their skin concerns before prescribing the appropriate treatment products. Close to 800 different treatment protocols and permutations can be derived from the 16 products, Mr Goh said.
Expanding the company's footprint across the region, where each country has its own set of rules and regulations, has not been easy. For example, entering the market in the Philippines took about six months, during which the firm had to get through six different government agencies just to have its products registered.
To help ease the process further, The Face Inc enters each market by partnering retail companies with brick-and-mortar stores, such as Guardian or Watsons.
"Choosing established stores like Guardian and Watsons helps to give credibility to a new brand like ours. Customers trust that the retailers have done their homework and that they sell reputable brands, not dodgy products," said Mr Goh.
The company, which has nine employees and turned in its first profit in December 2015, raked in close to $2 million in revenue last year.
The prospects, Mr Goh noted, are rosy. This comes as the Asian beauty and skincare industry, valued at about US$130 billion (S$185 billion), continued to grow from strength to strength despite the challenges in today's global economic landscape, with demand bolstered by a burgeoning middle class, particularly in China.
"Whether or not the economy is doing well, people still need skincare. They may just switch to more affordable alternatives and start looking for value-for-money products," he said, adding that The Face Inc has another brand, Science on Skin, catering to users who are more cost-conscious and who prefer convenience over a more rigorous skincare regime.
In line with its growth plans, Mr Goh said The Face Inc eventually hopes to start making and selling men's skincare products, although it will first take time for the market to develop and mature.
He added that the company has lined up plans to expand into Thailand, Japan, India and the Middle East this year. The bigger goal for the next three to five years is to set foot in 40 countries, including those beyond Asia.
"We are also definitely looking at opening our own flagship store in Singapore, hopefully by 2018. It won't be just a retail store, but one coupled with spa services."