My Aura sidesteps start-up obstacles, builds beauty business

Dr Hnin Leh Khin, founder of My Aura Aesthetic Clinic, first noticed the growing number of local women with rosier lips, thicker lashes and bolder eyebrows in 2012, when make-up went mainstream in Myanmar. “That’s when I knew that beauty would be big business in this country and decided that I wanted to build my career in aesthetics,” she told The Myanmar Times.

Incomes have risen and access to the internet has improved since then, and these days, many more Myanmar women are also enjoying smoother complexions, firmer jawlines and fuller cheeks. Now, affluence is rising and women from all generations are spending more on beauty treatments like botox and dermabrasion.

Riding on that trend is My Aura, which Dr Hnin Leh Khin and co-founder Dr Thiha Tun started in April last year. “After getting my qualifications in beauty and aesthetics in Thailand and Korea, I returned to Yangon and decided to open a professional aesthetics clinic with the support of my family, even though I had no existing clients and competition was tough,” Dr Hnin Leh Khin said. “We were aware of the risks but never worried that there wouldn’t be enough demand.”

That decision has proven to be a good one so far, with My Aura now seeing 180 customers per month. Meanwhile, business is growing. Patients aged over 50 want to look younger. Teenagers aged between 16 and 21 want acne-free skin. But demand for beauty treatments is highest among the emerging middle-class, many of whom are professionals and working executives. “Nowadays, everyone wears make-up. Everyone wants to look more beautiful,” Dr Hnin Leh Khin said.

Start-up struggle

Getting My Aura off the ground was no easy feat though. One of the first obstacles the start-up had to cross was securing a location for the clinic. “This is the largest capital investment for Myanmar businesses as we need to pay rental upfront and it is usually for a year,” said Dr Thiha Tun. In addition, tenants are usually held at the mercy of their landlords, some of whom have been known to raise rents by as much as 50 percent after each year.

The way he tells it, the pair looked all over Yangon city for a suitable location, from high-end shop lots at Myanmar Plaza, which were too expensive, to old apartment blocks downtown, which were not safe and suitable, before settling on My Aura’s current address at 12 Parami Road.

“Our landlord, GMP Company, is a reputable property owner, which agreed to us paying $2,000 on a monthly basis instead of upfront for a year. We felt more confident signing a one-year contract with them and we trust they won’t hike rents drastically after a year as we also had to spend around $20,000 over the course of a month to fully renovate the outlet,” Dr Thiha Tun said.

Importing the machines and supplies needed for the clinic was the other big-ticket cost. “Compared to overseas, starting this kind of business in Myanmar is much harder and costlier because we lack suppliers for the equipment and machinery needed for the beauty treatments,” said Dr Hnin Leh Khin.

Funding those costs was perhaps one of the biggest hurdles for My Aura. “We used up our savings and borrowed from our parents. For a start-up like us, going to the bank is not an option as we need to put up collateral such as property. There are SME (small and medium enterprise) loans, but to qualify, businesses must be in operation for at least two years,” said Dr Thiha Tun.

Obtaining a medical license to operate was also an issue. “Aesthetics is a very new area in Myanmar so it took some convincing and explaining to get the authorities to approve and issue a license. In Myanmar, the authorities are only familiar with dermatology, so it took at a total of six months for them to approve our license,” said Dr Hnin Leh Khin.

Betting on the middle-class

Now though, My Aura has begun generating healthy cash flows and hopes to breakeven within the next two years. Even though Myanmar consumers still require education on newer treatments such as botox, anti-aging and fat reduction procedures, demand for My Aura’s slew of facial and hair removal treatments is rising fast. Potential for growth is especially high among the younger generation who are just finding their way into the workforce.

On the other hand, competition has also intensified. Currently, there are about 50-60 beauty clinics in Yangon, “which is quite a lot for one city,” said Dr Thiha Tun. While the majority of these clinics are locally-owned start-ups, around 20pc represent overseas brands from Thailand and Korea keen to get a head start in the fledging Myanmar beauty market.

My Aura reckons its edge in the current market is a focus on quality. “We import all our products from the US,” said Dr Thiha Tun. “Also, foreign doctors are officially not permitted to practice in Myanmar unless they are registered, so most foreigners train locals to perform many procedures. At My Aura all our procedures are done personally by Dr Hnin, who is a certified practitioner.”

“The other difference is we own and operate our clinic. We are in the business for the long haul, which gives us more space and time to focus on our patients. To cover costs, some other clinics may hard sell their products or elbow their customers into buying package treatments. We don’t need to do any of that,” Dr Thiha Tun added.

Over the longer term, expansion is on the cards. In fact, My Aura has had talks with operators in China and Korea to grow the business under potential partnerships. “As investor interest in other local start-ups in this business is also on the rise, we would potentially need to expand beyond our current outlet and set up new branches in Yangon or Mandalay,” said Dr Thiha Tun.

“Competition in this business will definitely rise, but we are never worried of there being a shortage of demand. Whichever way the market evolves, every Asian will still want to look beautiful.”

Source : Myanmar Times

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