Sunday Guardian Editor
Beauty is big business in T&T. Just ask Dr Rachael Eckel, director of The Skin Health Institute. Eckel and others in T&T are cashing in on the billion-dollar beauty industry existing globally.
In just a short space of two years in operation in T&T, Eckel's business has emerged the highest ZO Skin Health Inc selling/dispensing clinic globally. United States-based ZO Skin Health Inc develops and sells innovative skincare solutions globally.
Compared with the next highest ZO Skin Health dispensing clinic—a large multidisciplinary team with multiple doctors and prescribers established for many years in Arizona, US—Eckel's single physician-led practice in T&T outsells them by more than 25 per cent.
According to Blake Ray, Eckel's partner in business and everything else, the Arizona clinic has been open for 25 years with a full complement of doctors.
"At ZO Skin Health's annual distributor meeting in January 2018, they looked at percentage growth (not necessarily just in terms of growth because we are a small region here in the Caribbean as opposed to Canada, US, China, Russia, and Japan) but here in the Caribbean, our percentage growth was the fastest in the world by a very wide margin," Ray said.
"The most distributed drugs in the world grew by about some two or three per cent, but we were well into the double digits, around 37 per cent. The clinic makes up a very large percentage of the distribution business. That goes to show how big the market is here and how well we've been received by the people in Trinidad. It also attests to the skill as a practitioner first and foremost."
It's no idle claim when Eckel—whose business is nestled in suburban Anderson Terrace, Maraval—tells you she is the medical director and chief educator for the fastest growing ZO Skin Health distributorship in the world, Dermedica Medical. Under her guidance, Dermedica has experienced over 300 per cent growth year on year in the Caribbean. The company has also been the fastest growing ZO international distributorship for two years consecutively.
"We talk a lot in T&T about KFC in downtown Port-of-Spain that is the number one selling KFC in the world and we're very proud of this. Something I'm very proud of at this clinic is, first of all, I believe we get the very best skin care results in the entire world and in the most difficult of climates for skin.
"Secondly, on the back of getting the very best results, the medical grade skin care line that we use, the ZO skin health products (which is only retailed and prescribed by dermatologists and plastic surgeons, number one all over the world from Dubai, Russia, and Scandinavia and the number one go-to product that medical practitioners use), we are in this little clinic in Trinidad, the number one retailer in the entire world of the ZO skin health care line."
Eckel is even more proud of being a single doctor prescriber versus multiple doctors, universities, clinics, and hospitals. "I outsold Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, the biggest clinics in Dubai and the UK. We never expected it to grow this fast," she said proudly.
According to Ray, "It actually has been staggering, we're so thankful that we've been embraced by the response from Trinidadians and Tobagonians."
They are also the largest, busiest cosmetic dermatology clinic in the Caribbean. "Ray services all the large clinics in Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and the Dominican Republic," Eckel added.
All of Eckel's success is naturally as a result of T&T's women and some men wanting to transform themselves, to look and ultimately feel better. The big question is: How much are people willing to spend to transform themselves? Many people are prepared to pay the price to get it done—patients spend anywhere from $600 to $84,000 depending on the service or transformation that they want at the clinic.
She will tell you that an investment in your looks is an investment in your future—the type of people you can influence and the position you are elevated to in your job.
If your priority is your Mercedes Benz, well okay. Eckel acknowledges that everybody likes different things, "but for some people, their priority is looking their best and they understand that research has shown that looking your best really comes from great skin", she said.
"We have patients who spend anywhere from $200 for a cream, a facial $600, all the way up to patients who do full facial transformation with botox, dermal fillers where you might use 12 syringes, that's about US $12,000, but the results are equivalent to a facelift and blepharoplasty or eyelift surgery."
Eckel has even set up arrangements with local banks to finance this investment in your beauty and image.
What's the return on your investment? It's compliments and confidence, Eckel said.
"It's really an investment in yourself. You look beautiful, more attractive, more appealing, better interaction with people. You get compliments on how you look, you're investing in your first impressions to people and you're not going to look tired."
Eckel aims to give you that fresh, youthful glow.
"The trend now is looking natural, looking like you, but the best, well-rested, youthful, well-proportioned version of yourself making everything work in harmony."
She condemned what she described as an "interesting trend" happening in Trinidad. "A lot of patients are having bad work done, looking overdone, having it placed in the wrong layer of the skin. You can see the filler, it's lumpy, bumpy, overdone and they come to me and they want me to fix it. The new procedure I'm doing is that I'm dissolving all the bad work so you can put something in the skin called Hyalase which is an enzyme that dissolves the filler and you break down all the bad work to build it up again."
The demand for her service is high.
"We actively see patients coming to book an appointment, over 150 people from Monday to Friday, that doesn't include all the walk-ins to buy products. One of our medical aestheticians works on Saturdays."
The age of her clientele range from nine to 75. "We have patients who bring in their children. The average clients being 40, teenagers with acne, then the 30-year-olds with rosacea, the 45-year-olds with melisma, then you have the anti-ageing category of the 50 and 60-year-olds, we cover so much."
How does your investment work for you?
This is Eckel's response: "People respond to you better, then you get promotions, better relationships with your spouse and people around you. Rather than when you feel introverted, insecure then you bad talk other people. It changes your whole mindset and persona.
"Studies have shown that cosmetic medicine pays for itself, patients who have botox, fillers, and skin care—actually your annual earnings go up after you have this done, just like when you get your hair done or wear make-up in the workplace.
"It is shown that you perform better and that you get a raise or earn more. We know factually that putting your best face forward is not just about you necessarily being confident but the people around you look at you in a better light when you have that done."
According to Eckel, "We hear a lot of time that people think we're very expensive, they can't afford our services."
Eckel said, however, it all comes down to what is your priority.
"Is your priority a designer handbag or a vacation for your birthday to the Maldives?" she asked.
"I have a patient who sells pizza by the slice, she had some of the worst acne you've ever seen. Her priority—she was tired of spending money on make-up and concealer and she wanted to do something about her acne. She saved her money and came to us and in six months time she had the most beautiful and amazing skin. It made her feel so confident, she now comes in here wearing bright bold lipstick and nothing on her skin."
STARTING THE BUSINESS
When asked what motivated her to make such a huge investment in the beauty business in T&T after living, studying, and working abroad for many years, Eckel said she planned this clinic for four years before it actually opened. According to Ray, they finally incorporated the establishment in 2014, but it didn't open until October 2016.
"We put a lot of thought and time into it. All the different rooms, the customer experience, we were looking five, ten years ahead, what we would need, what would serve us then."
They had their fair share from naysayers who sought to discourage them from setting up business in T&T.
"The cream rose to the top during that time and people are now very much now by our side," she added.
Ray said the whole idea of coming back to the Caribbean was very much Eckel's idea. "When we first started conceptualising the clinic and looking at our business strategy for this region of the world, I came across interestingly at the same time a Harvard business review article from about two years ago, it was called 'Blue Ocean Strategy' (uncontested market spaces) whereby there are certain companies and products that create a blue ocean strategy.
"The iPhone is an example where they basically created something that didn't exist before. It wasn't like they took a Nokia phone and just improved on it a little bit, this was something radically different. It was a smartphone that had an interactive screen that could do many different things that took several devices to do before.
"We very much felt like we could establish our own bluish strategy here in Trinidad because there was nobody offering these services with a qualified physician who's trained specially in this field of medicine.
"Furthermore, we thought if we brought an international standard of clinic that surpassed even clinics you would see in the US or Europe to Trinidad, we know that Trinis like something nice and looks like it's from away. They want that level of customer service, sadly they didn't have."
Ray said they found their 'blue' in Trinidad. "When people come in, one of the first things they say is this is something from away and they fall in love with the place. The customer service you wouldn't see anything like it in my opinion anywhere in the world.
"Then you throw on top of that some of the finest doctors on the planet working in the field of cosmetic medicine specifically Dr Eckel and now, Dr Nadia Manna at The Skin Health Institute.
"We have created our own bluish. This is the iPhone of the Caribbean in terms of cosmetic medicine. We're so happy it surpassed expectations, all the sales projections that we had from a gross revenue, network revenue standpoint we've eclipsed them."
Eckel said while there are so many cosmetic practitioners not just here in Trinidad but internationally, they focus on growing their business and making money doing things that don't always necessarily benefit the patient.
"Even though we do have such a strong presence here in the local market and we tend to be the go-to place for people who look for cosmetic services, we never exploited that. We always deal with each individual client's specific needs as well as their finances. We are very mindful of that, we give them the best possible outcome with what they have to spend," she said.
"Cosmetic, skin is a profitable industry and by all means, we do turn a profit, but you look at our latest Skin Health Institute, we are an institute for teaching and training, not just our staff but also our patients. We do have to watch the bottom line, we reinvest that into better services, staff training, products, machines, whatever it is that is going to benefit our clients locally."
Eckel said they are here for the long haul. "We're here for good. We want to make sure that we build this business in a way that our clients can really connect with us and not just for today's sale. We want these people for the long haul, where they are going to come in to us as they age, we want to help them age beautifully.
"I always tell them you're going to be my patient for a long time, we're going to age together but age backward together," she said chuckling.
ARE YOU GETTING VALUE FOR MONEY?
Eckel is acutely aware that if somebody establishes a business in Trinidad or anywhere for that matter, the first thing people would want is value for money.
Eckel said she was conscious of the need to deliver the quality of service that is expected for the money spent—patient outcomes and satisfaction.
The service is second to none.
The security guard, armed with an umbrella, meets and greets you in your car opposite the clinic and escorts you to the building.
When one walks into the clinic, there is that savoir-fare feel. The predominant colour is white, the design is simple, modern, and impactful. The environment is welcoming and calming. It's a sleek, modern finish. The staff members are pleasant as they attend to you, even serving up some of the tastiest savoury and sweet bite-size treats as you wait to be attended to.
The head of the clinic, Dr Eckel, 35, a tall, stately beauty with porcelain-looking skin, dressed in white greets you. She's naturally suave and classy.
Her presence turns heads. The jaws of the men sitting to be served drop, their eyes follow her trail as she walks past with the flair of a beauty queen on the runway. Her passion and confidence shine through.
It's evident that Eckel projects what she sells.
"I feel like the very best version of myself," she added.
"And because of that confidence, everything that I do, my patient interaction, when I walk into a room, when I give an interview with you, I feel my best. And, therefore, in this interview I'm not thinking about how I'm worried about these pants are too tight, my muffin top, my skin...is she going to see my acne.
"I feel really confident, I put my best foot forward, so I get to shine. That feeling, that transformation that I have experienced myself, I get to have that Peter Elias effect every day in the room when patients come in."
HOW IS IT DONE?
So how's the assessment on a client done?
Eckle said clients may come in and say they want to treat lines in between their eyebrows, but "I tell them, let's talk a little further. You see, this is the business side of things. I tell patients that when they come in to see me to think of me as your cosmetic investor. You're telling me I don't like how I'm looking, I have X amount of budget. I'm going to tell you where's the best place to put that money so that you get the most on your investment. And the return in investment in my industry is compliments and confidence.
"So if you come in and you don't like those frown lines in between your eyebrows, those number 11 lines on your face, I say to you, okay, I appreciate that you don't like them, however, I do think that there are other things on your face that are going to give you much more on your investment.
"For example, your skin—you have acne, discolouration, if we treat that 100 per cent of the canvas, you're going to get 100 per cent benefit. I always try to guide them as to which comes first because if I let you guide me, you know that something is wrong. There is a symptom, but you don't know what the diagnosis is. You say you want to do this, I'll do a perfect job and you will get more compliments."
Eckel said the trick was when a patient comes in and says I want to look younger. "I say no, it's not about looking younger, it's about taking you and making the very best version of yourself."
Realistic goals must be set, Eckel said, because if you set unrealistic goals, you would eventually turn out to be a fraud.
"You could never take a 34-year-old and make them look like 17 because the eye can always pick up somebody's age. The white of your eyes changes as you age and gets more yellow. People would say you're misleading them." That is a reputation Eckel can do without.
"I took my passion to transform my own self and extended that to my own business and clients," Eckel said. And that is why she insists on recommending not what's popular, but what's right for her clients.