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27 April 2017

Transforming from Spa Consultant to Chocolate Specialist

Crystal Hung (BBA in Hotel and Tourism Management 2005) began her career as a spa consultant. The role took her across China where she offered spa design consulting services in luxury hotels. Subsequently, she founded SPA Formula, a confectionary specialist that tailors products for corporate clients, and Chocolat-ier, a concept store that distributes British gourmet chocolates. The latter perfectly fills the gap for medium-end confectionary in the local market and its products are now available at major supermarkets and retailers. It also earned Crystal a Silver Award in the HSBC Youth Business Award 2013.

Crystal marks a new chapter in her career by opening the first Chocolat-ier store at K11 in Tsimshatsui

A Lesson for Life: Work Your Way Up

The CUHK Hotel and Tourism Management program was Crystal’s first choice when deciding on universities because she thought it would be fun and exciting. The completion of many local large-scale hotels at the time also gave her confidence in the industry. Her vision was right. Over the course of three years, she attended a host of fascinating classes such as culinary arts and sommelier instruction. She also gained real-life experience from interning at Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers. “Among the first things my professor told me was that in the hotel industry one must start from the bottom and work your way up. Even if one becomes general manager or director one day, they will need to possess a profound understanding of the basic tasks of every department.” Taking this to her heart, Crystal excelled in the program and graduated with first honours.

In her third year at CUHK, Crystal received a scholarship for an exchange at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration in the US. An unexpected enrolment in a spa course opened her eyes and made her realise that spas could generate lucrative income for a hotel. Knowing this would be a future trend, she set her heart on making a career out of spas after graduation.

Before starting her own business, Crystal (right) worked for an international spa consulting company for hotels on the mainland. She poses at a construction site of a hotel.

A Spa Centre 3,000 Metres
Above Sea Level

Crystal considers herself very fortunate that the spa trend hit Hong Kong just as she finished university. That allowed her to work at spa centres at hotels with distinct character such as The Landmark Mandarin Oriental and Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, where she accumulated operations experience. She was later recruited by a spa consulting company as its Project and Development Manager, responsible for designing and building spa centres for international hotel projects around China.

Crystal left her footprint during four years on that job. She learnt on the job and often showed up at construction sites with plans in her hands, inspecting and making sure everything was going smoothly. The projects she worked on included W Guangzhou, Sheraton Shenzhou Peninsula Resort in Hainan, and The Westin Xian. Her proudest work was The St. Regis Lhasa Resort in Tibet, a 3,000-metre above sea level project that she coordinated from the beginning to end.

Eventually, the workload took a toll on Crystal. There was a time when she worked on more than 10 projects simultaneously. Every month she spent more than 20 days on the mainland. Tears were shed at the Shanghai airport once when she was stranded until midnight, worrying about a meeting in Guangzhou the next morning. Determined to reclaim her work-life balance, Crystal bit the bullet to leave the spa industry she was so passionate about.

Crystal (1st from right) officiates at the grand opening of the first franchise store of her brand Chocolat-ier in Singapore

A Wholesale/Retail Hybrid Model

Crystal noticed from her past experience that hotels prefer to own house brands and they offer snacks such as chocolates, sweets and biscuits in guest rooms. The epiphany led her to open SPA Formula in 2009. Taking advantage of the supplier network she had developed over time, she was able to source raw materials directly and repackaged them into house brand products for her clients.

Asides from running SPA Formula that focuses on wholesale, she also founded concept store Chocolat-ier, the sole distributor of healthy, low-fat British chocolate products. The hybrid model covers both the wholesale and retail ends on the spectrum. Chocolat-ier first debuted as a shopping mall stand that Crystal rented with HK$5,000 at K11 in Tsimshatsui. Its overwhelming success prompted her to expand the business and turn it into a franchise with more than 10 retail locations at one point. After the brand has gained considerable brand recognition, it gradually increased its retail presence to cover supermarkets and department stores. Last year the company’s turnover reached HK$25 million.

Crystal (centre) promotes her own brand Chocolat-ier at the press conference of the Hong Kong Food Festival

Crystal has also turned her attention to the wholesale of snacks for children in recent years. To appeal to the masses, she sought the licenses to incorporate characters such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig and Minions into product packaging. As for her retail business, a brand new Chocolat-ier store opened at Queensway Plaza in April.

Humility and Sincerity as
a Pathway to Recognition

Crystal says humility and eagerness to learn are what led her to success. “The world is so big and full of capable people, so I must keep an open mind and learn from my suppliers, colleagues and clients. For years I’ve been regularly taking classes to further my knowledge and attending industry seminars to keep up with the times and keep my skills honed.” Therefore, many suppliers are happy to introduce Crystal to potential clients, and this valuable connection landed her many major accounts.

Crystal (4th from left) wins the Silver Award in the HSBC Youth Business Award 2013

To thank her business partners for the support and trust, Crystal always gives her best and adds value to every product she distributes, such as financing product launch parties, dispatching press releases and giving away samples. She also gives feedback to suppliers to address market changes. “Many people think that a business transaction is merely buying and selling, but I want to build a lasting business.”

Turning from an employee to a business owner, Crystal advises aspiring young entrepreneurs to think twice before jumping down the rabbit hole because running a business is easier said than done. “A business owner must have strong self-discipline and be constantly learning in order to stay abreast. The owner must also be accountable and take responsibility for the employees. Giving up isn’t an option once you’ve started.”

Successful entrepreneurs are all flexible and adaptable as the conditions shift. Embodying the cloud (Wan) in her Chinese name Hung Ching Wan, Crystal has proven she is certainly able to move with the prevailing winds of change.

Video ― Messages from Our Alumni

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