THE soft and soothing voice of the beautician is in sync with the sound of the water cascading in a miniature rock fountain in the corner of the room.
“Close your eyes, breathe steadily ... let your mind relax,” she croons.
I’m lying flat, wearing just a cotton sarong. The beautician, the girl with the silky voice, is scrubbing my back gently. As her flexible fingers dig into my muscles and knead the tension away, I can hear piano music tinkling in my ears.
As all thoughts drift into a hazy, dreamy incomprehensible state, a feeling of total relaxation envelops my entire body.
What I am experiencing – a tip-to-toe body treatment – is what beautician Sarika Malhotra, 35, describes as the perfect antidote for women who want to feel rejuvenated, refreshed and satisfied after the stress and demands of their daily lives.
It has become a lifestyle indulgence for many (women as well as men) as more and more beauty salons and spas crop up especially in the Klang Valley.
Offering the best deals and packages at attractive prices, the beauty business has become very competitive and customer satisfaction is the key to success, as Sarika and P. Varnarathinam, another beautician, will confirm.
“Pampering yourself at the spa gives you an optimistic outlook after a long hard day at work. You feel good about yourself,” explains Sarika, who has been in the beauty business for five years.
“I would ask so many questions during my own beauty treatments that the beauticians at the salon commented that I should become one myself,” she recalls with a laugh.
Thus motivated, she pursued a two-year course for beauticians in Kuala Lumpur from 1998. Then, with some savings of about RM7,000, she set up the business in 2001 with a nondescript “one bed, one room” salon in Jalan Utara, Petaling Jaya.
“Initially it was difficult to convince women to try out my services,” Sarika relates.
“It was only after much persuasion and encouragement on my part that they agreed.”
Her no-frills salon was also a drawback for many who wanted something with “ambience”.
“I had to talk to would-be clients for an hour to promote beauty packages which cost RM800. They were sceptical,” she says.
But after five years in the industry, the club-manager-turned-beautician no longer faces such hurdles because she has gained her clients' trust and friendship.
Now, it is not unusual for clients to drop by her office suddenly or stay a little longer for a chat after their beauty treatments.
“They will also agree with my recommendations without asking too many questions,” says Sarika, who has a clientele of 200 women.
“Many of them have been with me through thick and thin and we have become friends in the process,” she says proudly.
Another reason for their loyalty is Sarika's ability to source beauty products that are not too costly and yet of proven quality.
After testing out different products from European countries, she has decided to introduce an Australian brand that uses Dead Sea salt.
“I started out with the body range and am now promoting the face range. I have received positive feedback from customers for this,” she says, adding that her family and friends are her “guinea pigs” for the product testing.
To promote the products locally, Sarika set up a distribution company called Phases Enterprise, which opened in July.
“The company was opened as a distribution centre so that other salons can procure the products,” she says.
As her business grew and stabilised, Sarika also improved the facilities in the salon and added two rooms for massage and spa treatments.
She is also planning to upgrade her therapeutic massage skills in Australia next year.
“I've developed a skill for therapeutic massage, which is in demand with my clients, so I want to brush up on my technique,” she says.
“Bottom line, the competition is tough with many salons offering the same treatments. It is really the communication and sincerity that makes all the difference in retaining your clients.”
Varna, 57, agrees, relating an occasion where she had prepared a client for her wedding in 1973 and repeating the process for that client's daughter in 2003. The bride's mother had insisted that Varna be the Mak Andam (person who prepares the bride) for her daughter.
“This is the picture of the mother dressed as a bride with me and 30 years later with her daughter,” she says, pointing to a photo on her desk.
Varna, a veteran in the beauty business with more than 30 years experience, advertises by word of mouth and she is quite content to keep her salon in Port Klang small, as she wants her clients to feel comfortable and relaxed.
She mixes modern trends of the beauty business with the traditional to meet the expectations of her customers.
“The bride always looks traditional for the temple ceremony but for the dinner I would recommend a modern look,” she says.
“I always use a combination of beauty products from the east and west to bring out the best of a bride.”
She also provides free consultation for brides-to-be.
Her strategies seemed to have worked, as she is one of the most sought-after Mak Andams among the Indian community in Klang.
She is also an expert in tying the saree, and she also does facials, pedicure and manicure, and hairdressing treatments using herbal products.
One of the tips for running a beauty salon, besides having good rapport with customers, Varna said, is to be dedicated and passionate about your work.
If you give your best in your job, your customers will always remain with you,” she says.