Keeping going: Singapore’s Suu Balm stays optimistic despite COVID-19 retail impact

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Suu Balm donates 1000 products to COVID-19 frontline workers. ©Suu Balm
Suu Balm donates 1000 products to COVID-19 frontline workers. ©Suu Balm

Related tags: derma beauty, Singapore, COVID-19, e-commerce

Singapore-based Suu Balm has taken a hit from the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but remains positive about the future, especially in the online area.

Suu Balm offers a range of award-winning moisturisers and washes designed by a senior dermatologist of National Skin Centre, Dr Tey Hong Liang, to meet the needs of people suffering from skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.

The brand, which has been growing steadily around the region, has seen sales take a hit during due to the movement restrictions in Singapore and Malaysia.

Good Pharma Dermatology, the company which owns Suu Balm had been enjoying an uptick in sales before COVID-19 hit.

“January, February and March were three of the best months we've ever had in terms of sales so at that time people were still out shopping and buying,” ​said co-founder John O’Shea.

Singapore entered its ‘circuit breaker’ period from April 7, which saw the temporary closure of retail outlets and workplaces not deemed essential.

“Somehow we've managed to keep things going. There are still people going into Watsons and Guardian, but it’s fewer people,”​ said O’Shea.

Fortunately for the SME, it has seen its online sales growing in Singapore from 5% to approximately 15%.

“We still sell more through retail channels and hospitals, but it was fascinating to see the immediate impact of people shifting online,”​ said O’Shea.

He added: “If we were relying on another type of retail that had been closed, we’d be in huge trouble. You can certainly grow online but it’s not necessarily that easy to suddenly switch. It also depends on who your customers are. People may or may not be comfortable with [shopping online].”
Currently, the brand is available online on its website and e-commerce platforms Qoo10, Shopee and Lazada.

The reality of the pandemic has brought discussions about strengthening its online channels to the forefront.

 “We were so dominated by physical retail stores before… This has pushed us to look at online more closely. We know there's a lot more we can optimise from this,” ​said O’Shea.

Unfortunately, the firm has not been so lucky in Malaysia, where O’Shea believes the stricter movement control orders caused its business to dip.

“In most parts of Singapore, you can still walk to a supermarket. In Malaysia you got drive to get to places. We noticed that sales, even with pharmacies open, have dropped a lot and online did not pick up as much as Singapore. You can see how the strictness of the lockdown also has an impact.”

Despite the mixed-bag, O’Shea remains positive about how the company has been tackling the challenges.

“Overall, thankfully we are still able to sell, and we've been able to keep our whole team. We have a good team and we want to keep them. We know things will come back, maybe in a slightly different way with more people buying online than offline, but that's fine.”

Helping hands

Even though the company has been facing challenging times, it has found time to give back to the community.

In February and March, the company’s employees distributed 400 Suu Balm moisturisers to healthcare workers in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the National University Hospital in Singapore.

Most recently, the firm donated over 1000 tubes of Suu Balm washes and moisturisers to frontline staff at Singapore EXPO, which is currently being used as a care facility for COVID-19 patients.

Incidentally, it is also where Dr Tey, Suu Balm’s creator, is currently helping to look after COVID-19 patients.

“Dr Tey called and ask if we could send over some samples and I thought we could do better than that, so we sent over some full-sized products for the frontline staff,” ​said O’Shea.

He added that the firm initially wanted to donate product to the patients at Singapore EXPO but encountered logistical issues in doing so.

Currently, it is waiting to have those issues sorted out and hopes to be able to send over more products to the facility.

“Meanwhile, at least we were able to help out the frontline staff and Dr Tey has been able to pass back some anecdotes that his colleagues are thankful for having a gentle wash and cream to moisturise the hands because they are in bits after all that sanitising and washing,” ​said O’Shea.

He added: “These people are facing significant risk during their work and we're pretty lucky not to have to. The least we can do is give a little something to help them take care of their hands.”

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