There's no doubt that beauty is big business, here and around the world. The magazine The Economist says it's currently a $ 160-billion-a-year industry worldwide,spanning every product and service from make-up, skin and hair care and fragrances to cosmetic surgery, health clubs and diet pills.

All this spending isn't done in in vain, as being good-looking "confers enormous genetic and social advantages," The Economist adds. Among others things, attractive people are deemed to be more intelligent and better in bed; surveys say the beautiful ones earn more and are more likely to marry. Charles Darwin, he of the evolutionary theory, underscored this when he wrote in his autobiography that the human species has a "universal passion for adorment," often involving "wonderfully great suffering."

Suffering or not, Filipinos pamper themselves as much as any other race, and are also adept at beautyfying others. so it was but natural that Pamela Santos and Dr. Claudine S. Roura capitalized on these realities to launch their own businesses just recently.

Lifestyle into Business
Despite a full-time job and a limited start-up capital, Santos has still managed to turn her lifestyle into a business, Spoil Me Nail and Body Studio- a "mobile spa" that offers nail and spa services right at a client's home or office.

Santos, along with her mom and sister, is a frequent customer of nail salons and spas.

"It is a regular bonding time for us," she says. "I used to try almost every new nail salon to see which one provided the best service. I also love having regular body massage and scrubs, Because of this, I though of having my own spa, and probably savings a lot from not having to go to other spas every week and spending a lot of money every visit."

She transformed this fondness for relaxation and beauty into profit by launching Spoil Me, which provides a complete spa experience at affordable prices since all materials needed are brought to a client's home-bed covers, towels, massage pillows, foot tubs, and aromatherapy scents.

Rates of spoil Me's services range from P 70 to P 1,200. They also pamper kids 12 years old and younger with their kiddie manicures and kiddie hand and foot spas.

Service appointments can be booked either through a phone call or a text message. This is exactly the reason why Santos created this mobile spa in June 2009 instead of a regular day spa. she explains: "A mobile spa is deal for those who cannot run the spa business full time. It requires very little supervision. All you have to do is to have someone accept calls and dispatch the therapist to the clients."

Learning into Enterprise
While Santos deals with pampering the body, Dr. Roura is an expert in reshaping it. A dermatologist by training, her calling card now is advanced liposculpture-the most advanced form of liposuction, which Filipinos are already familiar with.

A dermatology and cosmetic surgery graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, Roura residency at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila. In 2005, she won a grant to study in the United States under the Dr. Walter de Groot Phlebology Fellowship of the American College of Phlebology, and later became a fellow of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

But when she turned from her studies in the Us, Roura still practiced in local hospitals, which she thought "was not a place for cosmetic patients; they're not sick." So she and two partners put up Contours Advanced Face and Body Sculpting Institute in November 2008 using, Roura says, "an eight-figure capital"- at the Paseo de Magallanes Complex in Makati City." I decided to put my studies to work,"she adds.

Building a Client Base
Building a pool of regular clients is one of the first problems Spoil Me mobile spa encountered. Santos explains: "Since we are a mobile spa, we highly depend on calls for bookings and service appointments. It was a struggle at first, and we really had to do varoius marketing efforts like regular texting of friends and relatives, distribution of flyers to residential and commercial ares, and placing of marketing ads in busy streets."

But with all these efforts, Spoil Me has slowly built a pool of more than 60 clients who regularly call in for service appointments. Within four months of operation, Santos and her brother RB. who co-owns the business, recovered their startup capital of P80,000.

Spoil Me's Primary expenses included initial stocks and materials, transportation costs, and the training and salary of therapist and technicians. Santos also put a premium on researching the offerings of other spas, which helped her decide which specific services she would eventually offer.

Santos is focused on growing Spoil Me's clientele in their service areas of Quezon City, parts of Manila, Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela. They are aiming to add more services like waxing, threading and other kinds of massage like hilot and ventosa. The siblings are also looking into opening a new branch next year, which would cater to the sourthern Metro Manila, particularly the Ortigas area in Pasig and the Cities of San Juan and Makati.

Contours, meanwhile, get 80 percent of its clients from abroad, taking full advantage of the Philippines' position as a top medical tourism of destination, Roura says," Mostly they are Americans, but we've had everything (every race) from black to white," she adds.

Although word of mouth helps lead local clients to her, Roura says she attracts clients mainly through the website, through which she offers five "medical holiday" packages complete with a stay at a five star hotel, a city tour or out of town trip, airport transfers and hotel to clinic transfers. The packages are inclusive of Roura's fees and that of her staff.

"Specifically, if the patient is a first timer to the procedure and to the Philippines, we can house and hotel them and arrange for pickup, all at contracted rates," Roura says.

Showing her Web savvy, Roura says she maintains the website and personally answers every e-mail sent to her. She is also learning SEO (search engine optimization) to help make her site come out on top of Google searches, and admits the Internet is still the most cost-effective way of getting the word out about her business.

August was a "ghost month" for Contours as it coincided with the summer vacation of Americans and Europeans, but Roura says business went well from January to June."Even in July we were doing good." she adds, nothing that cosmetic businesses usually pick up during the "ber" months and peak from February to March.

Bright Futures
Overall,business has gone well enough that Roura says she has brought out one of her partners, also a doctor, and now owns 70 percent of Contours. A silent partner holds the remaining  30 percent, she adds.

Both Santos and Roura believe their businesses can only grow further with the beauty industry booming in the country and around the world. Roura says:"The hardest part of a business is making it run. We (in the beauty indusrty) work in a very price-sensitive market. On my part, compared to "regular" lipo, Vaser liposculpture is more expensive, but there's no denying this is a very lucrative business."

Santos, meanwhile, has faith in her coun trymen. She explains: "Filipinos are known to be patronizers of beauty and wellness businesses, because we love to treat and pamper ourselves after a day or week of hard work and stress. It is also our simple way of rewarding and spoiling ourselves, as well as a bonding moment for most couples, friends or families." By Michelle Cortes-Luciano and Jimbo Owen B. Gulle.

While there are scores of liposuction clinics around the country and doctors who can perform the procedure, Dr. Claudine Roura is proud to say she is the only cosmetic surgeon in the country to date who specializes in Vaser high-definition liposculpture, using a special ultrasound machine and a method developed by famed Colombian plastic surgeon Dr. Alfredo Hoyos.

Like "regular" liposculpture removes fat from a patient's body, but the surgeon also "re-sculpts" the overlying skin above the area where the fats was removed. This improves the defintion of the muscles underneath the skin and fat and makes it appear that more fat was removed than was actually extracted, which is usually less than 10 pounds (five kilos), says Roura.

Liposculpture is deal for peolpe who are already physically fit but want greater definition of their muscles, in contrast to regular liposuction that aims to trim away fat to make a patient slimmer. Roura says the procedure "can change the perception about liposuction and  should be viewed as an adjucnt to a fitness program, and not as a failure to treatment."

Location has played a big part in Contours' success, says Dr. Claudine Roura.

Before setting up shop, Roura says prospective clients would shy away from seeing her when they learned she practiced froma clinic at a hospital in Las Pinas City, which they deemed was too far south of Manila. But getting a location in Makati her clinic occupies 200 sq m at a building inside the Paseo de Magallanes commercial center, which is near EDSA and South Superhighway and thus accessible solved that problem.

In the future, Roura says she would like to expand Contours to locations in Pasig, Quezon City and upscale Alabang. But she has tempered these thoughts for the meantime owing to the hands-on nature of her work.

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