NOT JUST SKIN DEEP
"Through certified skincare products, Corenna Liu hopes to help people look good and feel confident about themselves"
When Corenna Liu first moved to Singapore in 1987 from her hometown Putien in the Fujian province of China, she spoke barely a word of English. In order to secure a foothold here, she signed up for English classes. Juggling studies and shift work in a German technology firm left her with an average of five hours of sleep every night, resulting in the development of various facial skin problems.
Fortunately, Liu met a classmate who happened to be in the skincare line. She sought treatment and started to implement a skincare routine, which improved her skin condition tremendously. “The improvement helped me gain back my confidence, and that was when I realised that skin issues aren’t just skin deep; they can cause some people to lose confidence in themselves,” Liu offers. “Having learnt from that incident, I wanted to bring to all women better skin and a sense of confidence, which also means a happier family environment.”
For a while, Liu offered her facial services to friends and customers out of her own home while still holding on to her position as sales consultant at Mode Circle, until 2001 when she left to set up Beaux Ex Bellus Trading, her first beauty trading and service centre. Derma Floral Beauty Academy was then established the following year. The latter saw a rebranding exercise in 2003 as well as a trademark of its product packaging. To further improve the quality of its offerings, Liu established an R&D department in 2004 with doctors and professors to conduct research on cells and skin, with a focus on using natural ingredients. The business expanded to a second outlet at Jurong East in 2005, adding to its first at Rochor.
In 2006, Liu purchased two units at Boon Lay Tradehub21 with a total floor area of 3,000 square feet, devoting the space to research, develop and manufacture her products.
December 2007 was a milestone year which saw Excel Cosmeceutical Industry established as a private limited company, enabling the company to specialise in the manufacture and wholesale of beauty and skincare products. DF2, the company’s series of products, was introduced in 2008, followed by MY’S and BioVita in 2009. Another series of products called Stem Cell was launched in 2010, adding more variety to the business’ product line.
Last year, the company was recognised at the Singapore Prestige Brand Awards, marking another chapter in the company’s growth. But Liu is not one to rest on her laurels. “In my mind, we are far from success. I would rather say that we have improved a lot,” Liu shares. “All these years, we have been improving our products and services as well as obtaining the relevant licences, permits and certifications.
As soon as everything is in order, we will truly be ready to grow. The fact that we can obtain the licences and permits here in Singapore where safety and quality control is extremely stringent speaks volumes about our controls, processes and products.”
Excel’s products are made in-house. Ingredients are imported from various suppliers and the company’s in-house R&D team is responsible for the development of the products, which are then manufactured at its own factory. To keep abreast of the latest trends and developments, Liu constantly travels to Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia and China, among other countries. “My findings offer different perspectives, which allow me to develop more ideas on development and innovation of our products and services,” says the 53-year-old.
Assisted by her husband Koh Lu Siong, who left his job to join her in 2002, Liu oversees all aspects of running the business, from strategic planning of the company to employee training. Koh spends much of his time in Malaysia, where the company also has a production facility.
Liu says her mission for the company is simple: “To create the best products to bring to all women, to all our partners in the industry, to improve the industry at large, and to give people greater confidence in themselves.”
As part of expansion plans, Liu hopes to take Excel to China, where she is currently applying for permits and licences. If everything goes well, she hopes to find trade partners and wholesalers with whom she can partner to sell the company’s products to stores.
When asked what has taken the company to where it is thus far, Liu puts it down to sound business practices and trustworthiness. “All these years, we’ve done little to no advertising or marketing, depending instead on word-of-mouth referrals or long-time customers who bring their daughters,” she says. Adhering to strict guidelines and protocols has also earned Excel reliability and credibility. “When we first started out, we ran into a lot of problems. It was a very arduous journey but when we finally got approval for our products and processes, it gave me great satisfaction and made a lot of things much easier. So now we really treasure every little bit of what we have.”
Liu currently oversees a team of 26 in Singapore (and about an additional six in Malaysia) but with expansion plans in the pipeline, she is looking to increase that number. “I have a lot of confidence in growing the business, especially in China,” she says. “We are able to give them products that no one else can offer. Yes, I expect there will be competition but we have quality products that cannot be beaten, and with our sound business principles, partners and customers can rest assured that they will be treated with integrity, honesty, trust and sincerity.” Excel also supplies to brands in other countries as OEM products.
Looking back on the company’s progress, Liu says that she has no regrets, and is thankful for every opportunity that she has been given. “Because of what I’ve gone through, I am more stable and measured in what I do,” she says. “I invest a lot in my own learning, which I think is the proper way to go. My three kids are also very supportive of me and I never have to worry about them; they are my best assets!”
The most important lesson she has learned, she says, is that there is nothing insurmountable. “After you have taken the long and winding road, you know that there is no hurdle you cannot overcome.”