Wellness industry bounces back

As customers return for beauty and wellness treatments, players are tapping new trends and technology to adapt to the pandemic

It used to be an indulgence once or twice a month, but lately, Ms Susan Lim has been going for weekly massage sessions at a parlour in Ang Mo Kio Central.

The frequent visits happened after the circuit breaker, when she found a masseuse she trusts near her home in Ang Mo Kio. The $75 90-minute sessions take her monthly massage budget from $80 a month to around $300.

But it is still affordable, says the sales manager of an electronic components company. Suffering from chronic back pains, she has spent the last few years trying massages at various places.

The 45-year-old would also go for rub-downs in Malaysia, China, Bangkok and Batam when on holiday. “Now, I’ve found a good masseuse – it’s near my house and it works for me. I go often because of convenience,” says Ms Lim, who works from home more these days.

“I’ll keep going until my body starts to feel better, or when my budget needs to be cut down.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, the pandemic, the massage industry here is humming along nicely, after being badly hit when Covid-19 first surfaced in Singapore.

Wellness and beauty services, which were suspended during the circuit breaker, have since resumed – although operators must observe safety guidelines.

Now with more people facing aches and pains working from home and with borders still closed, many are turning to local operators to get their massage fix.

A check with several establishments shows demand for wellness treatments is slowly but steadily picking up, though not entirely back to pre-Covid -19 levels.

While some of its former clients did not return after the circuit breaker, tuina massage clinic Ji TCM Health and Wellness in Ang Mo Kio Central has new ones to make up for it.

“Some of them used to go to Malaysia and Indonesia because it’s more economical, but now they can’t,” says the clinic’s operator Ang Chong Peng.

 
 

He has also had new customers tell him their posture working at home worsened, as they lack “the right tables and chairs”.

Business, meanwhile, has been brisk at massage operator Natureland. Founded in 2012, the chain has seven branches islandwide and will open its first premium outlet at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) next month.

Managing director Fion Wu says: “During the circuit breaker, even though our operations were halted, we still maintained our full staff strength and provided training for them to get ready for the new norm. Thanks to our loyal customers and good staff, our business has recovered after the circuit breaker.”

Wellness industry trends include a growing consumer preference for flexibility and convenience in services, personalised experiences and higher expectations of in-salon experiences, according to the Beauty Services Alliance.
 

At a beauty services industry event last month, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling pointed out that there remains a strong local demand for beauty and wellness services even during the pandemic.

Speaking at the launch of the Beauty Services Competency Framework (BSCF), which aims to build a skilled workforce and ensure consistent service standards for the industry, she said: “People still want to look good and feel great. In fact, given the current travel restrictions, more people are having to look for spa and beauty services locally.”

CHANGING CONSUMER PREFERENCES

New trends impacting the beauty industry have emerged in this time. Like with the retail and food industries, there has been a shift towards embracing technology for wellness operators.

Other trends include a growing consumer preference for flexibility and convenience in services, personalised experiences and higher expectations of in-salon experiences, according to a press statement from the Beauty Services Alliance, which launched the BSCF.

Players have been quick to catch on. Two digital platforms – mobile massage app Theraply and beauty booking portal Tropika Club – sprang up in the last seven months to give consumers a more seamless experience when they want to get a wellness fix.

In July, Natureland Care acquired medical aesthetics chain The DRx Group, which offers a range of skin and body treatments. The “marriage” of the brands paves the way for a new realm of aesthetics and wellness. The Natureland Premium outlet at MBS will be the first to  offer both DRx facials and Natureland massage treatments.

A patron of DRx “since its early days”, Ms Wu says: “Since 2018, we were exploring the aesthetics business as a possible diversification that has synergy within our group.

“In every crisis, there will be some interesting opportunities in the market. Organic growth and expansion planning were possible for us because of our prudent management during the good times.”

Mr Frank Thong, chief executive of The DRx Group, predicts that more in the industry will follow suit. Such mergers allow the entities involved to benefit from one another’s customer databases, as well as shared resources and joint marketing exercises.

“One can expect to see more massage spas offering beauty services.

The DRx Group and Natureland naturally share many strategic and operational capabilities,” says Mr Thong. The DRx Group, founded 21 years ago, opened a new clinic in the East Coast area this month, one unit away from a Natureland branch.

This will help cater to consumers who prefer to travel less these days, to get their grooming fix all at once, says Mr Thong, predicting “reduced shopping frequency and a preference for trusted brands” as other significant changes in postCovid-19 consumer behaviour.

“For us, being able to offer more at one encounter by two prominent name brands, sets new standards that would ultimately benefit the local wellness and beauty industry, and consumers.”

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2020, with the headline 'Wellness industry bounces back '. Print Edition | Subscribe