Words I Toni Samonte I Photos I Rolly Francisco 2017-06-09
It was like watching home TV shopping when Mike started his towel story. “Do you go to the gym? How about you?” Mike kids around, trying to challenge the strongest man in the room.
Holding an EcoKnit hotel towel, Mike started scraping it vigorously with a steel brush to demonstrate the strength of the fabric. The soft towel remained unscathed and Mike received a well-deserved applause.
“This towel has advanced terry towel, energy-efficient technology that makes it snag-resistant. It feels like 100% cotton, but it actually has a polyester backing. This makes it stronger and faster to dry. It lasts up to three times longer than a woven towel. And we are the exclusive Philippine distributor of EcoknitTM Towels,” he explains.
This is just one of the many products that his company, Hotel & Spa Essentials, supplies to many of the country’s luxury hotel chains such as Shangri-La, City of Dreams, Sofitel, Solaire, Amanpulo, The Peninsula Manila, Discovery Suites, Pico De Loro, Radisson Hotel in Cebu, Plantation Bay, and many others.
Starting at the Roots
Dr. Mike Turvill is the other half of Cathy Brilliantes-Turvill of the multi-awarded Nurture Wellness Village in Tagaytay City, more commonly known as the Nurture Spa. Cathy started Nurture Spa in 2002 and that was when Mike began to concoct his own essential oils. Cathy focused on promoting hilot, the traditional Filipino massage, while Mike devoted his time on the oils business. “I wasn’t looking for market potential then. I just wanted to make good quality massage oil for Nurture Spa. That’s all it was at that point,” he says.
But the universe has a different plan for Mike. In an event Mike and Cathy were attending, they bumped into one of the directors of Cebu-based Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, who showed interest in Nurture Spa’s massage oils. Realizing that his foot was already in the door, Mike started blending essential oils in Cathy’s kitchen with the help of their son’s yaya (nanny). In 2004, he founded Hotel & Spa Essentials and began as a supplier of spa products (aromatherapy and skincare) to top spas in the country, and as exclusive Philippine distributor of several leading luxury spa brands including Aromatherapy Associates, Biodroga and Algotherm.
With a PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, and from the Ateneo De Manila University, Mike stopped at nothing to find the best ingredients to make his own brand of massage oils. Hotel and Spa Essentials blends 40-50 essential oils to create its unique line of oils. Most of the raw materials, including eucalyptus, sandalwood and five others, come from Australia, which is one of the top essential oil traders in the world. The company also buys ylang-ylang oils from as far as Madagascar.
“Ylang-ylang oil is taken from the flower, and since the flower is so small, you need a lot of it. That’s why it’s very expensive. Just to give you an idea, for lemongrass oil, you need 200 kilos of grass just to make 1 kilo of lemongrass essential oil,” Mike explains one of the challenges for the business.
In addition, the company also offers its own Filipino-inspired, locally made, aromatherapy line under the Amu’in brand name. The brand has a strong corporate social responsibility as it supports the lemongrass essential-oil producing community of Mambugsay, Negros. Amu’in uses local lemongrass essential oil in its products and donates a percentage of its sales to the Mambugsay community.
“There is an opportunity for Philippine agriculture in this business. Ylang-ylang being one, lemongrass, which grows almost anywhere, is another. But you need a substantial amount of land to grow these grasses to make a kilo of essential oil,” he adds. In buying essential oils, he says price should be an indicator. “If it’s unusually cheap, it’s probably a fragrance, not essential oil.”
Nurturing the Sprouts
For four years, Mike distributed massage oils to various spas in the country, but the market wasn’t that big. In fact, massage oils only contribute 5% to the company’s business. So in 2008, he started approaching hotels. After completing his PhD in 2010, he learned to diversify. Now, Hotel & Spa Essentials also supplies hotel guest amenities, both branded and customized. For branded products, it partnered with Guest Supply Asia to provide such brands as Bvlgari, Salvatore Ferragamo, Acqua Di Parma, Acca Kappa and Caswell Massey. In addition, it also offers its own branded guest amenities, made in the Philippines, under the brand names Amu’in, Liz Prescott, Island Breeze, Jardin and Natur. For customized products, it is able to work with the customer in creating their amenity brand concept, including packaging, formulation and fragrance. After final approval of pre-production samples, the company taps manufacturers here and in China.
Little by little, the demand for the company’s products increased. From massage oils and skin care products, Hotel & Spa Essentials now also supplies hotel amenities such as towels, robes, slippers, lotions, shampoos, soaps, and laundry bags; and hotel accessories such as coffeemakers, iron and board, hair dryers, electric kettles, minibars and safes. Its electrical items are sold through a relationship with Corby of Windsor.
Now a medium enterprise, the company is able to employ up to 34 regular and contractual employees in his Quezon City and Cebu offices.
Thanks to the growth of Philippine travel and tourism, Hotel & Spa Essentials has been posting double-digit growth since it started. Filipinos are also now more educated and discerning when it comes to genuine essential oils and quality massage oils so while they realize that the company’s products are a bit pricey at face value, they make practical sense once the cost benefit is considered. For instance, the EcoKnit towels it distributes lasts 2-3 times longer than the ordinary towels and weighs lighter than the woven towel so buyers get more value for money from the product’s durability and reduced laundry cost.
Mike believes that the business isn’t just about making money. “What I’m passionate about is finding innovation that helps companies save money, and potentially save the environment.” Most of all, he says working with local communities and promoting native oils to help their livelihood is what gives his business greater purpose.
For this passionate Brit, this is the true essence of the business.
Hotel & Spa Essentials
Manila: Unit 2116 Entrata Tower 1, 2609 Civic Drive,
Filinvest City, Alabang Muntinlupa
Telephone: (632) 838 0073
Fax: (632) 893 6586
Cebu: IPI Road, P.C. Suico Street,
Tingub, Mandaue City, Cebu 6014
Telephone: (6332) 420 0941
Telefax: (6332) 236-8040
Tagaytay: No. 417-C Sitio Pulong Sagingan
Purok 6 Brgy Talon Amadeo Cavite
Telephone: (632) 736 7086
Telefax: (632) 703 6450
Baguio : (63) 917 797 9460Tel. No. +63 34 441 1893
Toni Samonte is a freelance virtual professional and full-time single mom. She provides online content from design to copy, for a number of U.S. startups. You may reach her at email@example.com.