An employee at a Zurich grooming salon had called in sick. The owner, Demee Koch, stepped in to serve a client, a cancer survivor who wanted eyelash extensions. After the procedure, the client shed tears of joy upon seeing her transformation.
Koch, a native Cebuana, thus saw the business potential of eyelash extensions, but also the obstacles that might arise. She became obsessed with finding a product that would address the risks, primarily eye irritation and temporary loss of natural lashes. Plus, she says in retrospect, “Consumers were spending more when they used a conditioner for fuller brows and another product for thicker lashes.” She wanted a single product for both concerns, effectively giving the user value for money.
Through her network, Koch got to partner with the Swiss pharmaceutical company Omnimedica AG. The company developed a serum with a molecule that stimulated the growth of lashes and eyebrows. Subsequently patented and branded De Moi by Demee Koch Bio Serum: Eyelash + Eyebrows, the product has been getting positive reviews from beauty bloggers for its performance.
Thus was born another business to Ildeme Mahinay Koch, often rightly described as a “a serial entrepreneur.” Her businesses include personal care, consultancy and fitness. She made news when she became a member of the corporate board of advisers for SparBar, a brand of boxing equipment.
She is proud of these ventures, especially The Grooming Expert GmbH, mother company of U’niquePersonal Grooming Salon by Demee in Zurich, and De Moi by Demee Koch, a line of personal care products. Her hard work earned for her in 2019 the distinction of being one of the world’s most influential Filipino women by the Filipina Women’s Network.
High personal standards
After graduating with a business management degree from the University of the Philippines Cebu, she moved to Dubai in 2001 to work in customer service at the biggest luxury chain, Paris Gallery. She was later promoted to department head of grooming and image, creating design looks for the staff.
She then met Swiss entrepreneur and veterinarian Christoph Koch, who persuaded her to pursue a graduate degree in International Marketing at the Swiss Business School in Zurich. They were married in 2008 and Christoph later opened a chain of vet clinics based on his wife’s business plan, which was also her masteral thesis.
Admittedly vain, Demee was accustomed to high-level pampering services in the Philippines and Dubai. She had always wanted to operate her own grooming salon according to those standards. After obtaining her MBA, she went to a beauty school to acquire technical background and took up additional courses in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
She then set up U’Nique Personal Grooming by Demee, a one-stop lounge in Switzerland. The challenges: building a market of clients who already had their own go-to places at the time, navigating cultural differences with her employees, and complying with Swiss labor laws.
“It has been a humbling experience,” she admits.
Touch lives, strike gold
Good thing she did not let the difficulties get in her way as she eventually struck gold with the serum.
Launched in 2018, it is promoted as “Conscious Beauty.” Aside from providing a unique and cost-effective product, the brand supports social projects and charities as a declared mission.
“Branding should be purpose-led,” says Koch.
“There are brands in the market, each with a good product but without the heart. Most branding stories are shallow. My brand is the result of three decades of experience in understanding clients. The more I earn from the beauty industry, the more I want to touch lives.”
She has supported charities in Switzerland and Africa and sponsored medical and dental missions in her hometown of Liloan, Cebu, where she also sent sacks of rice for townmates. She organized free seminars on entrepreneurship and international beauty standards and practices for industry professionals at the Swiss IT Academy in Pasig.
Since the lockdown, Koch adds, the De Moi Instagram page has streamed interviews with experts on mental health. There was also a post on food donations to front-liners in the United Kingdom, but she is generally low-key about other projects, like giving scholarships to 74 lumad youth in Southern Philippines and sending food allowances to Filipino families in Italy.
De Moi Bio Serum revenues have increased by 1,000 percent in the past two years, Koch reports. Sales happened organically—by word of mouth, she says. Her network of prominent personalities, make-up artists and people in retail all continue to rave about the serum’s efficiency. One of them, a Kuwaiti influencer, recently set up her own company because of the high demand across the Middle East.
Koch notes that 70 percent of the growth originates from business-to-business transactions. The serum is sold in pharmacies around Switzerland and in high-end specialty stores in the Middle East and Italy. E-commerce contributes 30 percent to the total; Philippine customers who order online are in this group.
She explains that consumers look for products that guarantee holistic care and efficient results. She also cites studies saying that beauty brands should respond to consumers’ need for indulgence as much as their need for time to use pampering products.
Also, Koch says the market wants products with a conscience and it is more than willing to pay for them.
“If you work with purpose and integrity, finding the right ingredients, then meeting the right people will follow. From there, focus and persistence will definitely bring success,” she says.
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