Saturday August 18, 2012
Business in a bag
By JOY LEE
firstname.lastname@example.org Photos by RAJA FAISAL HISHAN
STARTING a business was certainly not on Sharina Manmohan’s to-do list when she returned to Malaysia in search of a job after completing her degree in psychology in Australia.
But after a failed attempt to secure a job in the land Down Under during the economic downturn, and having tried her hand at a few things upon her return home including selling insurance, the 27-year-old settled on starting Nails on Wheels, a mobile nail spa providing house calls.
Sharina noted that there is a high demand for nail spas in Malaysia given the many nail spas mushrooming around the Klang Valley.
“However, we are unique because we are the first mobile nail spa,” she said.
For manicure enthusiasts, this means getting a good pampering session right in the comfort of their homes without the hassle of going through traffic and looking for parking spots.
What inspired Nails on Wheels was a long queue at a nail parlour on a routine visit to remove her acrylic nails.
“I went to the nail parlour with my dad to remove my acrylics. Yes, he happened to come with me. But I had to wait so long and my dad got so tired of waiting that he decided to do his nails too,” Sharina laughed. She added that her father has been a regular manicure client since.
“Anyway, we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could get someone to come and do this for us at home? We all agreed and we laughed about it. But then we thought, why not do this,” she said of her eureka moment.
Although she had a family that backed her all the way, Nails on Wheels didn’t come easy.
A challenging start
Nails on Wheels started out as an enterprise in 2010, but the business hit a speed bump before it had a chance to take off.
Sharina managed to pool together RM15,000 as start-up capital for Nails on Wheels thanks to her supportive family.
But barely three months of operating Nails on Wheels, Sharina had to hit the brakes because she did not have enough skilled people for the job. By then, Nails on Wheels had already secured at least five regular customers.
“We had minor hiccups because I had manpower issues. When I first started Nails on Wheels, the thought of hiring workers completely slipped my mind. We didn’t have enough people and I didn’t know much about manicuring as well,” she said.
Thus, Nails on Wheels took a backseat for a year as Sharina went about looking for workers while taking courses to improve her skills in the art of manicures and in managing a mobile nail spa.
Sharina had to fork out additional capital to incorporate Nails on Wheels and hire help. This brought her start-up cost up to RM40,000.
“It was so expensive. There are a lot of loans available for small businesses out there that a lot of people don’t know about. But thank God for my family. I got by with family funding,” she said.
Sharina currently has three full-time foreign workers with her who are certified manicurists and masseurs.
Additionally, getting the word out was not easy as Nails on Wheels did not have a physical store and lacked the visibility needed to pull in potential customers.
Like most small start-up firms, Sharina decided to take Nails on Wheels online to gain visibility in cyberspace. However, she lamented that the cost of setting up website was expensive.
Fortunately, she chanced upon an entrepreneur seminar organised by Matrade where she was coached on setting up her own site for free.
Safety is also a concern for Sharina and her girls as they are doing house calls. She always makes sure that they do not service male clients alone.
“I have been so lucky and it is really great that my family is so supportive of me throughout.
“We were on and off for quite awhile. It wasn’t easy but we are back on our feet now and we have no plans of keeping quiet anymore,” she said.
Growing an opportunity
Sharina is glad she persevered.
Today, Nails on Wheels has at least 20 regular customers and Sharina is occupied with demands for the mobile nail spa at events and parties.
“People were sceptical about this business. No one had fully tried the model here, so no one knew the success rate for a mobile nail spa.
“But people like the experience of having their nails done in the comfort of their own homes. We have to constantly be on our toes because the clients may want designs that we may not be familiar with. So we always need to improve,” she said.
Apart from manicure services, Nails on Wheels has also expanded its offering to other services such as waxing to cater to growing requests for more services.
On a good month, particularly those with festive celebrations, Nails on Wheels makes a clean profit of about RM5,000 to RM6,000.
Targeting the right clientele has helped Nails on Wheels grow as well. Most of her customers are of the higher-income group and many of them have willingly helped spread the word on Nails on Wheels.
Sharina foresees Nails on Wheels growing bigger and she has big plans for her company as more people are willing to splurge on indulgence.
Those in the manicure industry concur that there is a growing number of people who are willing to pay to pamper themselves with a good manicure and pedicure.
According to research firm IBISWorld Inc, revenue for the nail polish manufacturing industry in the US alone grew at an average annual rate of 2.3% over the five years to 2012, generating US$1.1bil in revenue.
However, nail polish forms only a portion of the manicure industry.
“We are looking at expanding as much as we can. If I can dream big, I am also looking at franchising Nails on Wheels overseas. I just need to work really hard,” Sharina said enthusiastically.
She noted that mobile businesses are growing big now as consumers are increasingly looking for convenience.
In the near future, she is looking at setting up a physical store, or a “pit stop” as she calls it, to cater to customers who need to drop in for a quick manicure while they are out and about on their business.
“I am in no rush. We want to find a good place where the rent won’t kill us. We need to be careful with where our money is going,” she said.
More than just doing business
Sharina enjoys what she is doing although Nails on Wheels did not start off as a lifelong dream.
“I am happy making other people happy. Girls get really excited when they get their nails done, so it’s always great to see them all excited and happy with their manicures,” she said.
But more than just business as usual, Sharina also sees Nails on Wheels as a platform to help equip people with certain skills to be independent.
She has written to UNHCR Malaysia to hire and train refugees as interns with Nails on Wheels.
She is also waiting for other organisations to confirm some other participants who would like to intern with Nails on Wheels.
Coming from a family that is regularly involved with charitable activities, being able to help people with Nails on Wheels is a bonus for Sharina.
“We are ready to help anybody. I think this is a very good opportunity for them and they are very interested. It’s a win-win situation. We get manpower and they get the experience. We pay them and accommodation is given.
“And they can eventually go out and start their own businesses or find a job somewhere else. And I think this is a great opportunity to help equip them,” she said.