When you think of luxury spas in Hanoi, you’d probably imagine pristine stone floors and soft massage beds. But blind therapists probably don’t come to mind. The Omamaori Spa in Vietnam is a business with a mission: it’s a luxury spa that only employs therapists who are blind or visually impaired.
Its Founder is Huong, an economist-turned-entrepreneur who spent ten years working for the government in the US. Living abroad opened her eyes to a new way of doing things. In her home country blind people are often stigmatised and have limited employment opportunities, whereas the blind people she met held respected jobs and were treated as valued members of society. When Huong returned to Vietnam, she was determined to provide decent jobs for for blind people.
When Huong joined the Mentoring Women in Business Programme in 2014, she had been running Omamori Spa for just over a year. The spa had a five-bed capacity and was located outside the main tourist area, but was growing rapidly. Huong wanted to work with a mentor to develop a business plan to help her expand. She was matched with Anjarova, an investment manager at a venture capital and financial advisory firm based in the United Kingdom.
Together, Huong and Anjarova hit the ground running as they discussed strategies to build on Huong’s success and take her enterprise to the next level. First, they reviewed Huong’s business model and put together a business plan centred around her social mission. Anjarova also supported Huong to refine her business pitch, and using these updates, prepare proposals to apply for investment opportunities. Finally, the pair looked at strategies to enhance Huong’s online profile and expand her client base. This included leveraging social media and creating a profile on Trip Advisor.
Less than three years after graduating from our Mentoring Programme, Huong successfully raised the investment to open a beautiful new 27-bed spa in Hanoi’s Old Town. Her revenue has increased by 500% and she has hired 30 full-time staff, 80% of whom are blind or visually-impaired. The training capacity of the spa has also increased six-fold with 40 blind students obtaining massage therapy qualifications in 2017. The spa has been awarded Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence every year since 2015 and is rated in the top 20 spas in Hanoi.
“The programme is incredible!” Huong said. “It provides you all kinds of assistance you might need to make your dream of setting up and expanding your business come true. Above all, you are connected with other women and mentors from all over the world who always try their best to support and give you their hands so that you can overcome challenges.”
Anjarova said she had a fantastic time working with Huong as “the match was perfect!” She believes her skillset was a great fit for Huong’s needs and is grateful to have made a lifelong friend.
Huong is proud of what she’s been able to achieve and hopes to continue building on her business model to both empower blind people and change perceptions of their role in society.