Nisha Dhalani is in the beauty business as a tribute to her late husband, Ramesh Dhamanmal. She set up a salon in loving memory of him as he shared her dreams
1/16/2019 3:00:01 AM
|written By : Nithya Subramanian|
“It takes strength to make your way through grief, to grab hold of life and let it pull you forward,” said Patti Davis, American actress, author, and daughter of former President Ronald Reagan.
Nisha Dhalani is doing just that. About nine months ago, she lost her husband, Ramesh Dhamanmal to cancer, a man around whom her life revolved. He was not just a caring husband, but her best friend who literally brought the world to her feet. “My husband was a man who knew how to live life to the fullest and a great partner. We spent such good times together in each other’s company, travelling, enjoying good food and being happy,” said Dhalani.
So it has taken this fifty-three year old a lot of courage to overcome that grief and embark on a journey that both she and her husband dreamed about. She started Nisha Beauty Centre in October, a passion that she held on to for many years. A trained beautician, Dhalani was a freelance beautician for more than two decades, but never really started her own salon. “My husband would always tell me that in 2018 you must open a beauty parlour, employ a few girls and manage it,” she said. “Now I am realising his dream.”
The Indian beauty parlour business is quite popular in Singapore, but concentrated in the Little India area. Hence starting one at Roxy Square made business sense considering there are many Indians living in the eastern part of the island.
The beauty business is, in fact, one of the most robust industries in Singapore. An analysis last year by consultancy RNCOS showed that the country’s beauty industry is set to grow by a compounded annual rate of 5 per cent between 2016 and 2020. Euromonitor 2017 also said that beauty and personal care registered stronger current value growth in 2017 compared to the previous year, partly as a result of stronger growth within Singapore’s economy. Yet another report by Mordor Intelligence revealed that small salons contributed heavily to the industry. The market which was earlier women-centric has started concentrating on male grooming as well, resulting in a large number of unisex salons, opening opportunities for business expansion in the segment.
With such a positive outlook, India Se Media spoke to Nisha Dhalani on her vision and plans for her entrepreneurial venture.
India Se: Tell us a little about your childhood and formative years?
Nisha Dhalani: My childhood was very good, I am a Sindhi who grew up in Calcutta. I studied at Calcutta Girls High School. My father had a business there – though he was played out by his brothers – he was still a good father, a simple man. We are four siblings – three sisters and one brother. I was the oldest child.
India Se: When and how did you move to Singapore?
Nisha Dhalani: In the summer of 1987, when some of my father’s friends came to Singapore, I too came along with them to visit my aunt (mother’s sister) who was married and settled here. They ran a restaurant called Joms at Market Street. I was here for three weeks and that’s when I met my husband. He was my cousin’s friend and both used to work with the Melwanis. So, it was an arranged marriage. He was a Singaporean with his entire family living here. Though we had a 10-11-year age difference, he convinced me to marry him. He was 33 and I was 21 then. He told me, “I am marrying a girl from another family, so from now you are my responsibility.” My mother was a little upset as he looked older, but we had already registered our marriage so that I could apply to be a permanent resident. There was nothing my mother could do. In October we had a traditional gurudwara wedding.”
India Se: So how was life in Singapore during the early days?
Nisha Dhalani: My aunt was a little old-fashioned, so my husband and I could not meet or talk much. But I got used to Singapore very fast. He got into the tailoring business – opening a shop at Orchard Plaza. While he was extremely hardworking, we did enjoy travelling and would be out of the country quite often. But as a result of his absence from the shop, in 2013, his earnings suffered.
India Se: How did you get interested in the beauty business?
Nisha Dhalani: Beauty is my passion. When I was in India, I used to go to salons, where I keenly noticed how the beauticians did threading and other services. Then, I would tell my father that I wanted to open a beauty parlour of my own. When I came here, and shared my idea with my husband, he told me that we have a business and enough money. So why do I need to work?
But I persisted. One day, I asked if I could go to work in a parlour. That hurt him, as he felt he had not done anything for me. So, he asked me to do a course for which I had to travel to Tuas. We would take a cab from Singapore to the border and back which would cost us $5. The course was for six months, but I got my certificate in three months. I am a fast learner. Even when I go out and eat, I can easily replicate the dish. After I finished the course, I asked my husband if I could go out and practise. He told me, ‘No’. He said that he would give me the money, I could look for a place, and then employ one or two girls and start my own business.
But then, when I spoke to some friends, they told me that having my own salon would take up a lot of my time. Since I was so close to my husband, it would take time away from him. That’s when I thought about freelancing. I said that I would work from home and would only go to my client’s house if they really couldn’t come over. I started freelancing in the late 1990s.
After a sharp drop in his earnings, he was totally shattered. When all the investment and effort you have put into the business goes in vain, then you are shattered. So, for six months he was at home, depressed. I would go for my appointments, but it was scary… I was afraid of losing him.
After six months, I started prodding him to go out and work. I told him that I did not need the money, but you have to go out and do something. He did wholesale business, took some courses and finally found a part-time admin job. He would work from 6-10 pm. So, when I was back home, he would not be at home… that was difficult.
But after some months, he said, ‘Enough, by 2018, we should start living for ourselves… buy a small pool-facing condo apartment, travel a lot. Meanwhile, you set up your own salon and run it by appointing a few girls.”
However, things were not meant to be that way. By 2017, he started losing a lot of weight. After Valentine’s Day dinner, he was very happy but that night his elder brother passed away.
From March onwards, he started losing weight. In June, we did colonoscopy, but the report was clear though he had pain. Doctors were not able to diagnose properly. Then I wrote to the Ministry of Health requesting a CT scan. I demanded that the result be given quickly. In end-July, I was informed that he had pancreatic cancer.
A year later, he passed away. It took me a few months to get over my pain. I moved house and then asked my agent to look for a shop in Roxy Square.
India Se: What made you pursue this dream?
Nisha Dhalani: By opening a salon, I felt that I would be occupied as well as meeting people, which would alleviate my pain. Also, this was my husband’s wish that I wanted to fulfil. I felt that Roxy Square was a good location as there are many Indians living in its vicinity, but there are no Indian parlours. Though this mall has many salons offering various treatments, none of them offer what we do. There is nobody who can do Indian facials or threading. I do believe that Rome was not built in a day, but I am confident that I will grow.
In just two months, I can see interest developing as people from other ethnic groups also walk in. I have Chinese customers who like Indian facials. I now feel that I have to make this a success and reach the peak.
India Se: What special services do you offer?
Nisha Dhalani: Facials are right on top, but my hot oil massage for hair is also very good. In a non-Indian parlour, they apply oil and put you under the steamer, but our beauticians also massage your neck and shoulders. This is a relaxing therapy, so massage is quite important. The hair is washed and blow-dried only after that. Similarly, even for facials, we massage the back, reaching to the waist. We also know the relaxation points on the head – which is the correct way of doing a facial. When you wax, too, you have to be careful. I do not like to take shortcuts and always believe that customer is king.
My products are of good quality, some sourced from India. I use brands like VLCC apart from Wella and L’Oréal.
India Se: Have you started any packages? Do you also offer bridal services?
Nisha Dhalani: From January, I will start offering bridal make-up, have a henna artist, and do nail art too. I already have trained beauticians to handle these.
I believe in offering good service. You can’t see a client walking out dissatisfied. There is a theory that the customer is always right. Service is the most important aspect of this profession, so we will do our best to keep customers happy and thus force them to return to our parlour.
It has been only two months since we started, so we have a long way to go. But I am confident that we will do well. There is no looking back.
India Se: What about your rates? How competitive are these?
Nisha Dhalani: I am in a place where there are many parlours, but Indians are very price-conscious, so we have taken that into account. Some people have said that the price we charge is low, but that’s what I have decided on.
India Se: What do you think of competition in the Indian beauty parlour sector in Singapore?
Nisha Dhalani: The market is very competitive, but as I said, I am lucky there is no other Indian parlour here. I could have taken a place in Serangoon Road, but I didn’t because of overcrowding. The rents here are also reasonable. Having said that, there are also many freelancers, who add to the competition. After years of experience as a freelancer myself, I believe that a parlour offers a better environment. Here you have your beauty products and equipment all in one place. It is all within arm’s reach and hence the quality of work is certainly better. Also, there is more respectability when you work out of a salon or parlour.
India Se: Where do you see yourself in the coming years?
Nisha Dhalani: This was my husband’s dream, so I will do whatever it takes to make this a success. I do hope to expand Nisha Beauty Centre to other parts of Singapore, but this place at Roxy Square will always remain very close to my heart. There is only one way from me from here and that is succeeding in this venture.