Me & My Money

Putting faith and effort in beauty and wellness

Parlour Group MD believes in people and education, and wants to help her franchisees succeed

Now that her beauty and wellness business has grown by leaps and bounds, Ms Wendi Chan would like to help individuals who are keen to be her franchisees as well as other start-ups.

Ms Chan, the managing director of Parlour Group, told The Sunday Times that it took three years before her business stabilised and became profitable.

From one beauty centre in Singapore, the Parlour Group has expanded to 15 outlets across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines, and is worth $8 million to $10 million.

The group comprises brands like Pink Parlour, which specialises in hair removal, nails and spray tan services, and Parlour Supply, which distributes whitening products and waxing supplies.

The group has more than 100 staff around the region and an annual turnover of about $5 million. Next year, it plans to expand through acquiring other chains and individual salons outside Singapore.

Besides its salon and franchise business, it also offers training courses to help those who are keen to set up their own salon businesses.

Ms Chan, 44, graduated with a bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University in 1996 and worked in merchandising and branding for several years before starting Parlour Group in 2005 with $250,000.

Her hubby Derrick Seeto, 44, is her partner in Parlour Group and they have four children aged four, 15, 17 and 19. The three older children are from her first marriage.

Formerly an Australian, Mr Seeto became a Singaporean in 2013. He is president and franchise director of the Parlour Group.

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A I grew up in a modest family and lived with my parents - who were civil servants - and three siblings in a HDB flat. My parents taught us to study hard, find a good job and not to take risks.

We were always taught the importance of saving for bigger, important things like a roof over your head and a good education. Holidays were a real luxury and I did not get on a plane until I was 14.

My parents were not well off but worked and saved hard to put all of us through university, with two of us pursuing overseas degrees in California and Manchester. They were also the only people who believed in me when I started my business and loaned me money during the start-up phase. I have repaid them many times over, so I guess it was good investment on their part!

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A To be honest, I was brought up in a very "safe" environment where any form of investment outside of property, insurance and fixed deposits was considered too risky. It was my husband who introduced me to unit trusts.

Outside of financial investments, I invest mainly in people and education. It is important to keep learning and innovating. I attend courses regularly, say two a month, to be aware of the changing landscape and to learn ways to run the business.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I do not invest in stocks. These days, I look out for start-ups and talents with drive and invest with them in their business while giving them advice and business knowledge.

We have invested in two start-ups. One is, focusing on meeting the beauty needs of global travellers, and the other focusing on providing growing businesses with access to world class mentors through

We are looking at developing one as a long-term investment income and the other exiting though listing in the United States.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A A large portion of my investment is in properties here and overseas. My hubby and I own three properties in Singapore, three apartments in other parts of Asia and three parcels of land in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The parcels of land were bought as an investment under our company and my husband's father in East New Britain Island. His family has lived there all their life. We plan on building a destination spa and resort in the future. Other plots are for land banking.

Some of the properties are fully paid up and the rest are financed through bank loans. Except for our home here, the rest are being rented out while one will be completed in March next year.

In Singapore, we have an office at Novelty BizCentre and a freehold penthouse in Pasir Ris.

The average annual rental returns for property averages 5 per cent to 6 per cent. My foreign property return - which is our focus - is much higher for the last four years, compared with that of Singapore.

A small portion of my portfolio is in unit trusts and bonds. Unit trust returns are around 7 per cent while bonds is a low 2.2 per cent, but I am doing this just to put some extra money aside with less risk. Most of our investments are in South-east Asian funds like Schroder Southeast Asia Fund.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I will continue to invest in educating myself. Today's ever-changing business environment requires us to constantly look into restructuring and continued innovations.

My immediate investment will be in the growth of my business. We are working on restructuring our business portfolio to acquire other physical salons, enhance technology and other digital assets.

We are in the midst of finishing our latest digital project, which will be launched in 2018. It will not only change the way we run our business but how our industry can operate in general.

My latest project is starting our tanning franchise under, the leading competition tanners (for body building and physique competitions) in South-east Asia, and, which dabbles in online swim and resort wear for the USA market.

We are also launching an exciting new app for our industry that will address the concerns of cannibalism and the current-loss making business models today's providers offer. We understand the struggles of today's salon business and we hope to address them while providing the value-added support they need.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A During my last pregnancy and after the birth of my youngest son, both my husband and I were semi-retired for a good three years. We were travelling a lot to places to experience different cultures and food.

Two years ago, we decided we had enough of it and decided to come back into work full-time.

I haven't actually thought too much about retirement lately as we are in overdrive mode with our business and the renewed drive did come from the few years of rest.

However, I do foresee myself living a nomadic life to experience different weather, cultures and food, although we are already doing this.

My favourite countries to live in include Spain and Australia. The rest of my time will likely be spent in America, the Philippines and PNG, where we are planning to build some beachfront projects so as to enjoy the slower pace... something that we do need every so often.

It is also a place where not an ounce of material wealth that we know of in our society matters. It gives us a new perspective and keeps us grounded.

I have never put a number to my retirement age, but I don't think I can ever be out of work either since I am always having new ideas and visions. My husband jokes that I can never retire simply because I have such big ambitions and a never-ending list to achieve. All I can say is, thank goodness for the Internet.

In terms of monetary concerns, I believe that as long as you have enough money put aside for medical and insurance, the retirement amount to me is relative to where you want to live and the lifestyle you choose. I hope to raise enough money after retirement to build schools for underprivileged children and to provide shelter for trafficked women and children. This will be my retirement project.

Q What tips would you offer to women aspiring to be entrepreneurs?

A My advice to all women entrepreneurs is to embrace basic hard work and have the determination and a clear vision of where you would like to be.

Set a clear goal for yourself and your business and move towards it, and of course, keep learning and innovating.

One of the best things any entrepreneur can do for herself is to find a good mentor. This will ease her learning curve.

It is important for us to surround ourselves with like-minded and positive people who are willing to share their experiences and knowledge and vice versa.

Q My home is a .........?

A A freehold 4,200 sq ft four-storey semi-detached house with six bedrooms in Upper Changi.

Q I drive.....?

A A white Audi Q7 bought in 2012.

Worst and best bets

Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

A A red Ferrari 458 bought in 2012 for $850,000 and sold recently for half the price we paid. Driving the car once a month is not a sound investment. But it was a joy to drive it when we had time. The last few years we have been travelling too much to enjoy it.

Q And your best investment?

A My best investment is no doubt my business and it is still growing in the region. We typically make profits within 12 months of operation in Singapore. For our overseas, self-operated shops, it takes between three and four years due to the lower prices in our service offerings and high capital investment, with the exception of our franchise business.

My overseas properties have appreciated between 15 per cent to 20 per cent in value and the rental yields are decent.