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Global and Local Brands Vie for Market Share at Malaysian Beauty Show

While not the largest of the ASEAN markets, Malaysia balances a sizable population with a relatively high per-capita GDP, a combination that has made it all but irresistible to many of the world's leading cosmetics and beauty brands.

Photo: Crowning glory: Beauty is big business in increasingly image-conscious Malaysia.
Crowning glory: Beauty is big business in increasingly image-conscious Malaysia.
Photo: Crowning glory: Beauty is big business in increasingly image-conscious Malaysia.
Crowning glory: Beauty is big business in increasingly image-conscious Malaysia.

At this year's Beauty Business Malaysia, it was more than apparent that, despite many brands being notoriously keen to take a homogenous approach to the countries that comprise the ASEAN bloc, it always pays to bear in mind national idiosyncrasies. Similarly, in order to maximise sales opportunities, it seemed that many of the exhibitors at the Kuala Lumpur-hosted event – previously known as Beauty Professional Malaysia – were also well-aware of the weighted import of population sizes across the region, which range from a comparatively compact 430,000 (Brunei) to a hugely expansive 265 million (Indonesia).

In the case of Malaysia, despite being home to 32 million people, it is only the sixth-largest country in the 10-strong ASEAN bloc in terms of population. As a consumer market, however, its appeal is bolstered by the fact that it has the third-largest ASEAN GDP overall and, even more significantly, the third-largest per-capita GDP.

In terms of sales of beauty-care products, global brands currently dominate the Malaysian market. Offering something of a window of opportunity for domestic and regional players, however, the country's consumers are notoriously price-sensitive. Indeed, this seems to have fuelled the ambition of domestic manufacturers, many of which are keen to step-up their export levels across China and Southeast Asia, with current overseas sales totalling some RM1.25 billion (US$314 million).

Against this backdrop, it was perhaps unsurprising that both domestic and overseas businesses were well-represented at the show. Among the latter, Australia's Architects of Skin was quite up front about its plans for Malaysia and beyond.

Based in New South Wales, the company produces a proprietary range of anti-aging, weight loss and hair restoration treatments and views Malaysia as the potential hub for its wider expansion into Asia. Outlining its priorities, Chief Executive Stephanie Sherlock said: "This is our first show in Southeast Asia and we are particularly interested in distribution and franchisee opportunities, especially in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

"We have already spoken to a number of potential partners here, but none of them had really researched our brand. Despite that, they were clearly enthusiastic about high-quality western brands and were looking for products and treatments that met Malaysian consumers' desire for new experiences."

Although only founded three years ago, the company already serves 1,200 clinics in Australia and the US, as well as seven in India. It is planning to attend its first mainland China trade show this summer.

Among the local companies looking to take on the international markets was Perak-headquartered Ace Cosmetics, which produces a proprietary range of skin-cleansing creams, oils and masks. Expanding upon the company's strategy over the near-term, Sales Manager Albert Chin said: "We see clear growth opportunities in Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia and we are also looking to move into the Philippines, which we believe is set to become a major growth market.

Photo: Frontline Cosmeceutical: European sophistication.
Frontline Cosmeceutical: European sophistication.
Photo: Frontline Cosmeceutical: European sophistication.
Frontline Cosmeceutical: European sophistication.
Photo: SpaVeda’s proprietary Urutan range.
SpaVeda's proprietary Urutan range.
Photo: SpaVeda’s proprietary Urutan range.
SpaVeda's proprietary Urutan range.

"We are also investing in R&D and technical training and support, areas that we see as essential to our future growth. With customers' needs changing and competition getting tougher, we believe three things are particularly vital if you want to achieve lasting success in this sector – immediate results, ease-of-use and no invasive elements."

Facial enhancement by non-invasive means was also being championed by Ashleigh Ivory, a Singaporean company that sources premium beauty and lifestyle products from the US, UK, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia. It was in Kuala Lumpur to promote its Black Diamond Beauty Roller, a small portable roller that smooths the complexion, while simultaneously applying a Fuji Shiitake anti-aging serum.

Introducing this new addition to the company's range, Managing Director Cassiopea Yap said: "This is the first time we have brought this particular product to a show. It's perfect timing as we recently signed a deal with Singapore Airlines that will see the product offered to all of its regular passengers.

"Designed with women particularly in mind, the roller – which is about the size of a disposable razor – refreshes tired and puffy eyes, while also clearing facial lymph node blockages. It is natural, chemical-free and non-invasive, which are all essential attributes for those seeking safe skincare treatments."

Also looking to appeal to jet-setting women was Frontline Cosmeceutical, a domestic business based on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. To that end, its stand was drawing the crowds with its offer to "Win a trip to Europe", a fitting incentive given its status as the sole Southeast Asia distributor for a number of European beauty brands, including Casmara, Selvert, Ten Science and Eve Taylor.

Explaining the company's choice of overseas partners, Chief Executive Irene Chong said: "International beauty brands, especially European brands, have a sophisticated appeal for Malaysian consumers. On top of that, deals and incentives are also important, as local buyers are very value-for-money minded, while also particularly open to the more innovative kind of products.

"In order to satisfy both requirements, we have just introduced Casmara's Purifying Monodose skin treatment, which features Cosmetic Drone technology. This will be available via both our Malaysia and Singapore operations."

Clearly aware of the dominance of European products, Pyranmis, a Dubai-based fragrance producer, was under no illusions as to the challenge it faces in order to get a foothold in the Malaysian market. Keen to convey the sheer volume of scents and treatments now being sourced from the Middle East, however, General Manager Ziad Odeh said: "Many UAE perfume brands are now looking to Southeast Asia for new opportunities. Many people aren't aware that there are more than 700 perfume factories in the UAE, making it one of the largest fragrance-exporting regions in the world.

"At this particular event, we are showcasing our mass-market male and female fragrances, which largely sell through supermarkets, as well as a more luxury portfolio, which we typically channel via department stores. While we usually only attend large beauty shows – and this one is relatively small – we are here because we are looking for a local distributor. We already have one in place Singapore and we are now looking for representation here, as well as in Indonesia and Vietnam."

The show also offered a timely opportunity for home-grown spa brands to promote their Urutan massage products – a concept launched by Malaysia's Ministry of Tourism and Culture in December last year as part of a bid to create a signature Malaysian spa experience. Ultimately, it is hoped that the range will compete effectively with a number of more established offerings, most notably Balinese and Thai massage products.

One of the key proponents of this unique local concept is Hana Halim, Vice-president of the Association of Malaysian Spas and the Founder of SpaVeda, a Kuala Lumpur-based spa consultancy and training company. Explaining the thinking behind the concept, she said: "Urutan massage is a 90-minute treatment that combines a Malay herbal foot soak, Chinese qigong breathing exercises, Indian head massage and reflexology, which together represent Malaysia's unique cultural mix.

"To date, it has proved quite challenging for those spas looking to launch the concept, not least because of the cost of training therapists. It does, however, give Malaysia a distinctive massage branding, which is important for the tourism sector."

At the show, SpaVeda was also showcasing its own take on Urutan natural aromatherapy oils, a range it is hoping to introduce to the wider ASEAN bloc and beyond. Outlining the progress made to date, Halim said: "I've been speaking with an investor from the Philippines, who is interested in taking the concept and our products and I am also looking at a number of other countries, including Russia and China."

Photo: Malaysia: Keen to establish its own distinctive massage and spa style.
Malaysia: Keen to establish its own distinctive massage and spa style.
Photo: Malaysia: Keen to establish its own distinctive massage and spa style.
Malaysia: Keen to establish its own distinctive massage and spa style.

Beauty Business Malaysia 2018 took place from 26-29 March 2018 at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The event featured 160 exhibitors from 14 countries and territories.

Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Kuala Lumpur

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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