Business

Patricia Yap: From corner shop cashier to skincare giant

BY DENNISE WILLIAMS
Observer writer

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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Speaking at the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards Foodie Seminar, Dr Patricia Yap shared with the audience her approach to business that is a formula for anyone looking to scale up, no matter where you start.

At the seminar Dr Yap shared the journey in creating the ariSulfur Facial and Body Treatment Bar with Felice Campbell in June 2012.

“For me, I started with my parents not speaking English and so I was at the shop taking orders,” Dr Yap explained. And from taking orders from customers at the neighbourhood “corna” shop, she became chief executive officer of Apex Healthcare Associates, the largest medical centre in Jamaica with more than 30 medical practitioners in three locations in Kingston and St Catherine.

Yet it didn't stop there for Dr Yap.

As a trained dermatologist, and someone who suffered from severe acne, Dr Yap decided that the products sold in Jamaica did not serve the needs of her clients that came for skincare treatment.

“Many of the skincare products are for [people with] light skin in cold regions. My patients have a different experience and so I believe that this created an opportunity.”

Dr Yap shared her launch strategy with the audience.

“When you have a product or an idea, you have to beta-test it with family and friends. They will buy anything from you one time. So that is not when you know you have a winner. It is when they come back and buy again and ask you about it that you know you have a product that will sell to the general population.”

From beta testing, Dr Yap then urged the audience to effectively define their target audience.

“My target for this product was my patient population living in Jamaica. You have to be so targeted so that you can be true to your vision no matter how much rejection and bumps you face. As creators, we are artists. You love what you do, but you need help. That is where the professionals come in because they have the expertise to allow you to scale up.”

Dr Yap explained that many people rely on friends and family to help them scale up — and that has it pros and cons.

“Friends and family don't charge you and they will take a piece of the pie when you are successful. And when you hire a professional, many times, for them it is just a job, so if you fail they just move on. What you need is an experienced disciple in your business. That is, someone who believes in what you are doing and will wait on the utopia that you promise.”

Once you secure the right people on your team, the next thing is to ensure that you have the right distribution channels for your product and adhere to government regulations.

Next Dr Yap spoke about dealing with competition.

“It is easy for someone to say Dr Yap is doing this and so I can do it too. You have to build a better mousetrap, for it is continuing beta testing and marketing to help me improve my product and capture the market.”

Interestingly, one of the professionals that Dr Yap hired insisted that all the ariLabs products have a consistent look and feel across all the products. Dr Yap said no. “You have to understand your market. My market does not read. They like colours. And so I insisted that every ariLabs product be a different colour so that when people come to the corner shop or pharamacy to buy the product, they can simply ask for the “pink box” and get my product home. What I learned from working in my parents' shop is that if a customer walks into the business place and simply asks for skin soap, the cashier is trained to sell the product that gives the store the highest profit. And that may not be your product. And so, when you invest in marketing and persons know the brand, they ask for your product directly and persons must sell them what they ask for.”

Now one may be wondering where the name ARI came from. Dr Yap explained, “When were were starting the medical centre, I wanted a name that would start with the letter A so it would be first in the directory. And so I saw the word Apex and that was it. Then when it came to the skincare line, I simply created Apex Research Institute.

“And you may be wondering where the research institute is located. It is between my ears. Don't have to pay rent just yet.”

In terms of the commitment to the Jamaican economy, it is clear that Dr Yap not only wants to serve Jamaican customers, but create jobs in the country as well. “My personal motto is 'By Local For Local', and what that means is that my family lives here and so we have a commitment to manufacture our products here to create jobs. If you have a product, you have to ensure that everyone in the distribution line makes money — the distributor, the retailer, the manufacturer, everyone. That is how you build the economy.”

Beyond that, Dr Yap encouraged the audience to protect their intellectual property.

“I received a lot of help from JIPO. And they help you to patent things that are recognisable such as the shape of the box you use, your logo, the shape your food comes in, or any other product.”

The skincare line is in constant improvement mode, and this is based on two lessons learned as she reached out to overseas experts.

“The first thing is that if you have one product, you will be allocated a small shelf space and your product will get lost. So, as you will see over the years, we have expanded to 10 different products to serve the skincare needs of the market. The second thing is that you have to teach people how to use your product. And that is what marketing skincare is about.”

Resilience is the key for entrepreneurs according to Dr Yap. “You will not believe the amount of times you get blown down. So I have developed coping mechanisms that help me take one day at a time. I am focused and I am an artist that believes in my creation. Remember, it is your money and creativity on the line.”

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