A solid business scent
Adrian Cheong, 27, of The Apothecary, is introducing something new to the Malaysian market — solid cologne. He started making and selling them here last November, and has a toe-hold in Taiwan and Hong Kong. MEK ZHIN talks to him.
What made you go into the business of manufacturing and selling solid cologne?
Men’s grooming is a booming business right now, and after a bit of research, I found this unoccupied niche in the Asian market.
Solid colognes isn’t exactly a groundbreaking product, having been introduced in America about two or three years ago and talked about as the next big thing in men’s grooming. It just hasn’t made its way here yet.
It’s a product that makes sense to me, and that’s basically my philosophy when it comes to business — that everything I do has to have a purpose.
It’s practically unheard of here, so what exactly is solid cologne?
Think of it as cologne but in a solid form. If I were to compare what it looks like to a familiar product, it would be any kind of balm or even wax.
It works like that, you just get a little on your fingers and rub it onto the spots you would normally put cologne on.
What’s in it?
No alcohol for sure. The Apothecary solid colognes use mostly natural ingredients such as beeswax and shea butter.
The only thing that isn’t from a natural source is the fragrance itself because after a little studying up on it, we found that there are some natural ingredients, like bergamot, that can increase photosensitivity. We didn’t want to take any chances, so we went with synthetic fragrances instead.
Was it hard to find suppliers and support on the manufacturing side of things?
It’s fairly easy actually because the ingredients are quite similar to those used in other well-represented businesses, such as soap-making. I learned a lot as well from people in the industry, such as my suppliers.
In fact, a supplier of mine also doubles up as my scent consultant and together we come up with the fragrance mix which matches the personality I associate it with.
What is the advantage solid colognes have over liquid ones?
There are various categories of “perfumes” in the market. Generally, the strongest ones are perfumes, and it typically lasts between eight and nine hours while the weakest ones are eau de toilette which lasts between one and two hours after application. Cologne falls somewhere in between the two.
The Apothecary solid colognes come in handy metal boxes (roughly the size of a matchbox but thin and sleek) which can be slipped into a pocket and used as scent refreshers throughout the day.
I’ve even had friends who used it as a balm right under their noses to avoid some nasty smelling surroundings which they were unable to get out of!
How do you market your products?
I use both B2B (business-to-business) and B2C business models and believe in having both a physical and online presence.
Social media marketing through Facebook and Instagram works for my brand and my budget too.
In the beginning, I had to work hard to get businesses to carry my products.
Now though, the brands which stock The Apothecary solid colognes are a good mixture of those I had approached as well as those who approached me.
In Malaysia, I’d say that Klang Valley shows the most physical store purchases, while East Malaysia is leading in online purchasing. But overall, our best markets are Hong Kong and Taiwan. (See www.theapothecarymalaysia.com.)
What are your plans for expanding your business?
We are still very much at the tip of the iceberg in terms of tapping into the market, even here in Malaysia.
Generally, people do not dislike the concept of our products but we may need to do a little awareness or education work.
I believe in creating the demand for the product which in turn will give me a leg up in getting more businesses to carry my product and make it more visible.
In five years time, I do see The Apothecary as a major player in Asia and producing a range of products apart from solid colognes.
I also want to break into the China and Indonesia markets. Right now, we are available in the markets I’ve already mentioned, as well as Singapore and South Korea, where local distributers with our products will take part in an international expo soon.
You are 27 and running your own business. What has been the biggest challenge?
Honestly, it’s quite scary and I often feel like I’m living on the edge. But this feeling pushes me to work harder.
I have also been humbled in the process, as I’ve learned that I have a lot of things to learn! One of the biggest takeaways I am gaining from the experience, though, is finding new ways to work within the restrictions of limited resources including funds.
What do you do to chill?
These days I find it fun and relaxing to just spend time with my three-month-old first-born, my daughter.
What is your favourite book?
David and Goliath from Malcolm Gladwell.