Singapore students reap rewards from taking Korean beauty brands to Myanmar

S'pore Poly students reap rewards from taking Korean beauty brands to Myanmar

You would not expect three young men to make a name for themselves in business overseas by knowing what consumers want to make themselves look and feel good.

Riding on the growing interest in beauty and personal care in Myanmar, polytechnic students Aung Shin Khant, Pua Seng Oon and James Ang set up shop in the country's second-largest city, Mandalay, selling Korean skincare products.

The 21-year-old business administration students in their third year at Singapore Polytechnic (SP) made more than $20,000 in just a week of their store's official opening last month. They even made a profit on the first day of its launch.

They are believed to be the first SP students to have set up a successful business overseas.

The idea for their business, which they named Keeo or "care" in Korean, came from an entrepreneurship module they took in April last year. Each of them contributed to the initial start-up cost of $6,000.

After conducting market research, the team realised there was strong demand for Korean beauty products among Myanmar consumers, especially with rising affluence and the growing popularity of Korean dramas and celebrities.

JUGGLING BUSINESS AND STUDIES

Entrepreneurship is pretty tiring, but it's a journey that we got through. We learnt to manage our time well, doing work and meeting after school hours.

MR PUA SENG OON

It helped to have in the team Mr Aung, who is from Myanmar and knows the market there.

Mr Aung, whose family lives in Mandalay and parents are business owners, said: "As some people there reach a certain status, they want to look good and presentable.

"Many friends and relatives ask me to order skincare products from Innisfree and Laneige and bring them back during my holidays."

Some are even willing to fly to Singapore or South Korea to buy such products, he said.

But many Myanmar citizens are not able to travel out of the country due to strict travel restrictions, he added.

His mother helped the group to link up with business owners and friends to find out their needs and preferences.

Keeo now carries items from four main Korean brands targeted at different segments of the population.

It has products from Innisfree, which is popular among young adults and teenagers; Laneige, which is targeted at older people; Medicube, which specialises in acne treatment; and Pyunkang Yul, which makes organic products.

It also brings in products based on pre-orders and customer requests, such as sunblock for golfers.

Their lecturer and mentor, Ms Raine Anastasia Chin, connected them with Korean suppliers for their stocks.

Ms Chin, 34, who has also used Korean skincare products, has visited the country twice a year with friends in the past few years.

They would stock up on their personal supplies so often that they got in touch with suppliers and could buy products like sheet masks at wholesale prices.

Mr Ang said: "We knew of the demand from Myanmar and we had the contacts of the suppliers, so we were the matchmakers in a sense."

They are currently working to secure distributor rights for the four brands to the Myanmar market.

From June last year to the opening of their store last month, the trio have worked hard, juggling project submissions and examinations, to launch the business.

They have made several trips to Myanmar to oversee the shop's renovation. They have also hired a manager, a salesman and an accountant to manage the store.

The outlet is about 500 sq ft and located in a cluster of shophouses frequented by locals.

Fuelled by their success, the three have plans to expand the business to an outlet serving bingsu, a Korean shaved ice dessert, next to their Keeo store.

Mr Pua said: "Entrepreneurship is pretty tiring, but it's a journey that we got through. We learnt to manage our time well, doing work and meeting after school hours."

The group also split the load, with Mr Pua handling financial planning and scheduling, Mr Aung taking charge of operations and Mr Ang overseeing marketing strategies.

The trio, who will graduate next year, have also been able to relate what they have learnt in school to their business.

For example, skills in digital marketing, budgeting and start-up financing have come in handy, they said.

Mr Pua, who is also a freelance photographer, said the school provided a good foundation in the areas of economics, business and accountancy from their first year.

Said Mr Ang, whose father is Singaporean and mother is half-Cambodian and half-Vietnamese: "I want to be an entrepreneur like my dad, who was in the import and export sector. He took risks in the past when no one did."