From a One-Woman Show to 21 StoresWritten by Melody C
Cheryl Gan’s homegrown aromatherapy brand HYSSES is a business with 14 stores in Singapore and 7 in Malaysia. She talks Hive Life through her journey.
Singapore-based Cheryl Gan stumbled across her entrepreneurial dream in 2007 while at a tradeshow in Thailand on a personal quest for all-natural aromatherapy products. A fateful meeting with a local supplier propelled her into a providential partnership, and together, they forayed into Thailand and Singapore’s then quiet aromatherapy retail scene with their brand Mt Sapola (now named HYSSES). Now, it’s a booming industry thanks to the open conversation on self-care and mental health as more and more people turn to essential oils and aromatherapy techniques to better their psychological and physical well-being. Cheryl talks Hive Life through a story of success she puts down to the “right opportunity, right time, and right place.”
Cheryl pumped about SGD 30,000 of her own savings to establish her brand. It was a pleasant surprise when the company broke even in less than a year. Within a decade, the company had expanded into a fully-fledged business with over 100 employees. Then known as Mt Sapola, Cheryl took the decision to split with her partner in Thailand in 2017, rebranding her side of the business in Singapore as HYSSES, meaning ‘arts from the village’ in Chinese, and striking out on her own. “We had to evolve to form our own brand identity and expand the business domestically and internationally, with greater product offerings and choices,” Cheryl explains of her decision.
HYSSES’s dedicated focus on natural ingredients has run throughout all its iterations, as seen in their extensive range of products for the face, body and home. Ingredients such as peppermint, lemongrass, yuzu, eucalyptus, and rose are sourced directly from farmers overseas, whilst all products are developed in their R&D lab in Singapore. “The world of aromatherapy is largely unexplored and unregulated,” says Cheryl. “Almost 95% or more products in the market are a synthetic fragrance with chemicals that have either have no testing or minimal testing. This can be detrimental to our bodies when entered into the bloodstream. Our mission is to bring to people the very best of nature from seedling to scenting and naturopathy skin care solutions. We only use the finest natural botanical ingredients and 100% pure essential oils in our products. Aromatherapy is no longer just meant for home, and natural products are not a fad,” she explains. “Our range has widened to fill the gap where skincare nurtures beauty from skin deep.”
Becoming an international retailer and manufacturer for premium holistic aromatherapy solutions with over 25,000 local customers in its database wasn’t something that happened to Cheryl overnight. For those trying to achieve such success, she advises, “Don’t think about the profits first, but the value you can bring to customers and the legacy you can bring for your business.” With this in mind, she learned how to helm HYSSES through trial and error. When she opened her first shop in Tanglin Mall, she lacked even a warehouse to store her products, often labelling them in the parking lot. A one-woman show running marketing, manning the shop and being the human resources person meant it was hard to keep on top of things. “I did not have employment contracts, and as a result, I had employees who stole from the shop because it was so easy to take things,” she says. Now that she’s set up proper systems and structures, as well as a good team, she is free to focus on strategic development. However, that journey is still not always smooth-sailing. Just a couple of years ago she entered the Taiwanese market with her first shop, only to close it shortly after poor management.
However difficult it is for any startup in Singapore, Cheryl says that looking overseas is essential thanks to its tiny population of 5.6 million. “In order to sustain growth, a Singaporean company has to expand internationally which will expose the business to unforeseen uncertainties in different regulatory requirements and consumer behaviour.” She is now looking towards Europe as her next stop. “Our dream is to bring the very best of both Eastern and Western aromatherapy into homes worldwide. Good decisions will never be made unless you step out of your comfort zone.”