Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Edge Malaysia Article features Nadia Hasbi and Liquido!

Article on Liquido in Malaysia that came out in THE EDGE MALAYSIA, Malaysia's premiere Business & Investment Weekly Newspaper.
The week of March 17 - March 23, 2014 

In The Business Of Bikinis - by Stephanie Sta Maria

It appeared to be a deadlock. The owner of Liquido Brazil wanted Nadia Hasbi to commit a monthly sales target of 1,000 pieces before he would agree to let her distribute his popular Brazilian bikinis and fitness wear in Malaysia.

The budding entrepreneur, however, wanted  more conservative sales projection of 50 pieces a month. She told the owner that she was inexperienced in business and was doing it alone.

"I also told him that I wasn't a retailer, but someone who really loved his brand and wanted to take it to a part of the world it wouldn't reach otherwise".

But the owner stood his ground and the meeting ended with a polite handshake.

A few days later, Nadia received an email from Liquido's marketing director who also happened to be the owner's sister. She has liked Nadia's heartfelt pitch and persuaded her brother to give their young fan a chance.

Nadia, she said, would be given exclusive distributorship of the brand in Southeast Asia.

"They decided to let me grow Liquido to a point where I was selling 1,000 pieces a month and then we could revisit the terms, says Nadia, grinning from ear to ear.

"I'm hoping to reach that target by the end of the year".

Liquido's owners come from a family of garment manufacturers in the Middle East. One of them moved to Bras in Sao Paulo for business expansion and saw the value of adding bikinis to the apparel line.

The extra-light lycra was chosen as the X-factor for the bikinis. The material is stretchy enough to prevent a "muffin top", the abhorred overlap of flesh over the waistband. The material is also smooth enough to fit like a second skin. The gorgeous designs are a bonus.

In the beach-crazed nation of Brazil, Liquido shot to almost instant fame. In another part of the world, Nadia was preparing for her long-awaited move to Brazil, a country that had long ruled her dreams. A job posting would place her there for two years from June 2011. It wasn't long after settling down that she too was seduced by the beach culture and fashion.

It just so happened that one of Liquido's 80 stores sat right down the block from her Sao Paulo residence.

"The first time I walked into the outlet, I couldn't leave!" Nadia laughs. "I love the colours, designs and especially the price tags." She bought a pile as gifts for her friends.

Brazil's bikini market has a wide price range, from the really cheap that start at RM50 all the way to the high-end stuff that costs RM800. Liquido's price tags are somewhere in the middle.

We finally came to the million-dollar question: What on earth is a Brazilian bikini?

It's only about the 100th time Nadia has been asked this question. In response, she holds up a beautiful turquoise bikini bottom.

"Australia, Thai or American bikini designs haven't moved away from the granny underwear, but Brazilian bikini bottoms incorporate the V-cut to give the illusion of longer limbs," she explains.

"And the various designs complement different body types. A lot of thought goes into these bikinis. Unfortunately, 60% of the bikini bottoms are thongs, so I only bring in a limited range because I know most Malaysians will never wear a thong bikini!"

Diving into entrepreneurship 

Limited or not, the remaining 40% has seen decent sales since the Liquido online store was launched last August. Revenue for last month was RM15,000 and Nadia expects this to grow at a monthly rate of 10% until year-end.

Not too shabby for someone who had shunned the idea of entrepreneurship even after friends drooled over the Liquido bikinis she brought home as gifts.

At the time, it didn't occur to her that there was a business opportunity right there. It took a whole year before she allowed herself to cautiously consider the possibility. An entrepreneur friend suggested that she import a Brazilian product for the Malaysian market and she offhandedly replied that the only product she could think of was Liquido.

Lucikly for her, he pounced on the idea and pushed her to take the first step.

"I was still hesitant so I tested the market by dumping 50 pieces of bikinis and fitness apparel on Zalora'" recalls Nadia. "And they sold! That's when it struck me that it could work."

And then it was fate's turn to intervene. Nadia casually mentioned her business idea to a Brazilian friend who said he knew the owner of Liquido and offered to make the introductions.

While all this was taking place, Nadia's father, who was silently watching from the sidelines, decided that his daughter could use a little more encouragement.

"My father fully supported my business venture. In July 2012, he registered a company for me and told me, 'I've done this for you, now take it and fly'. he passed away a few weeks later," she says.

Six months later, Nadia flew home to take care of her mother who suffers from mild Parkinson's disease. And she brought back with her a new philosophy and plans for Liquido.

"I started thinking that I'd try my best and see what happens. When my father passed away, it felt like Liquido was his dying wish. So now, my philosophy is to do this or die trying."

But there was to be one more curveball. Her company's policy dictated that moonlighting was permitted so long as it didn't interfere with the employee's day job and no one bothered Nadia while she was in Brazil.

All that changed when she returned to Malaysia. Her new team strongly objected to Nadia's marketing of Liquido and she eventually found herself in the CEO's office. He gave her an ultimatum and she handed in her notice.

An alternative solution would have been to hire someone to be Liquido's face here. Nadia agrees but asks: "How would I find someone as passionate as I am about the brand?"

Besides, corporate suitors had already begun banging on her door. She eventually accepted a job offer from a conglomerate that promised her the freedom to run Liquido.

"But I left after one month," Nadia says sheepishly. "I realized that I had full faith that my business would grow and I was willing to take the risk by quitting a so-called safe job to make that happen."

Clearly, that faith wasn't misplaced. What was, however, was Nadia's reading of the Malaysian and non-Muslim market.

After sealing the deal, Liquido's owner bluntly told her that the bikinis wouldn't sell in a Muslim-majority country like Malaysia. Perhaps, he said, she should just carry Liquido's  fitness line there and the bikinis in Singapore.

"But I'm very stubborn!" she smiles. "When I set my mind on doing something, I'll try my best to get it done. So I asked him to just let me try selling both lines in Malaysia."

As it turns out, he was right. Liquido's fitness apparel contributed to 90% of the sales in Zalora between June and October 2012.

"But the bikinis are still selling, which indicates a definite market," she points out. "It's just that women aren't comfortable purchasing a bikini online becuase they want to try them on first."

The resolve the hiccup, she rented a small space as a mini-showroom, which she opens on selected days for new clients to try on the bikinis. After trying on the bikinis for size, most clients are happy to carry on buying online.

The other false assumption was that the business could run solely on bikinis, fuelled by demand from the urban, middle-income, non-Muslim population in the Klang Valley and Penang.

One look at the statistics changed her mind, and in came the fitness apparel for her new target market of one million.

Like many other start-ups that operate on a shoestring budget, Nadia's marketing initiatives are across online platforms like Google Adwords, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and blogging.

"Because I'm running a few things simultaneously, something seems to be working," Nadia says. "The problem is, I'm not sure what!"

One marketing strategy that was a clear winner was the Liquido bikini competition held last November.

Nadia quickly realized that she needed an Asian brand ambassador because the Brazilian models featured on Liquido's marketing material weren't doingher business any favours.

"My customers couldn't identify with them. They kept telling me to put Asian models in the bikinis if I wanted to convince them that they could look just as good. So I did and that has really boosted sales."

As Liquido completed its sixth month in business here, it has put the teething poblems to bed. Nadia is not stanfing on more solid ground and gunning to fortofy her presence in Malaysia and Singapore.

As present, 60% of her revenue comes from Malaysian customers while Singapore sales provide the rest. Plans for expansion to Bali are on the horizon, but Nadia wants to strenghten her position in Singapore and Malaysia first.

Liquido still has a long road ahead of it in Asia, but there is no doubt that Nadia's tenacity and chutzpah will take her the full distance.

No comments:

Post a Comment