The title of entrepreneur is a gift for the inspiring game changers of the world. Entrepreneurs are not merely businessmen. They are driven by ideas and layers within a business untouched by profit margins. Their conviction of knowing what they want to achieve reflects in their undeterred gaze.
Barnabas Huang, Managing Director of NutriFirst, is an entrepreneur. He founded NutriFirst – an online health supplement store – during his Polytechnic days when he ran his business from his humble home. Currently, NutriFirst is reputed for having the widest range of health products retailing at affordable prices and offering excellent services in terms of delivery and product advice.
The days leading up to this venture into NutriFirst was one of diligence and hard work. From the age of 16, Barnabas started working 20 over part-time jobs to explore his interest, cultivating an enterprising spirit in the process.
Similar to other stories of success, Barnabas had his share of dark times, which was trampled and wrestled to the ground. Here is his story…
Nookmag (N): Hey Barnabas, tell us more about you venture into NutriFirst?
Barnabas (B): I chose to go into the nutrition supplement business as it’s my passion. I used to model during my polytechnic days and I felt that there was a market for supplements. I was spending about SGD200 a month on them. So I thought – why not sell them, so that I can buy them at half the cost. That’s when I started selling supplements – not to make money, but to minimise my own expenses. At the same time when I went to model for shows and events, I found that it was a good opportunity for me to sell products as well. I was paid SGD200 to SGD500 per night. If I could sell another 10 products there, I could double my income. I would be spending the same amount of time but making more money.
N: How did you get into modelling?
B: I was approached on the streets. There was a lot of scams going on at that time. So I went down to the agency and they told me that I needed to spend SGD300 on my portfolio. I refused to pay. One of the agents called me personally and told me I didn’t need to spend money. He told me to join Hunk Quest. I never thought of winning. Every week they would eliminate two contestants and I kept thinking I would be next. But I got something out from it. That’s when Quest Models approached me and I joined them.
I took part in Calendar Guys but I didn’t win anything. After two years, I thought of retiring. Halfway through my modelling stint I started my health supplement business. The other models were taking supplements too. It was an opportunity for me to go in, know them and sell more products.
Getting involved in all these was crazy. I totally collapsed in my third year of Poly. I packed my schedule with so many activities. I took up a fitness instructor course as I thought it would complement my business. On top of that, I was going for driving lessons and doing my final year projects and examination. NutriFirst was taking off already and I needed to control and maintain the business then.
I was sort of bulimic that time, but not diagnosed. I recovered six months later. Every time I stepped out of my house, I just felt like vomiting. I didn’t know why. After I was enlisted for National Service, I had the same problem. My life was down then, but it made me stronger.
N: How else were you affected by the obstacles you met with?
B: At that time, my then-girlfriend left me. She couldn’t understand why I couldn’t leave my house. My next girlfriend asked me why I needed to work so hard. I told her that it was what I wanted to do in life. If she couldn’t accept it, she had to go. She left too. I clearly know what I want in life and what I want to achieve. You have to lose some to gain some. When my friends were going out and having fun during Poly days, I couldn’t be there as I had to attend meetings and to customers. In between lectures, I had to talk to customers, close deals and push the orders for them. I lost friends too. I guess that’s life – so that’s fine.
N: Using your enterprising mindset, how did you maximise your business at NutriFirst?
B: I use very minimal resources because I couldn’t afford it, to be honest. I can’t hire so many people, I have to do a lot of things myself. Low cost is the key and the business has to be unique in something. Always put your customers first and think for them. I always tell my managers, “You always have to put yourself in the customers’ position to understand what they want and where they are coming from and you’ll serve them better.”
We have to be true to our customers. I never overpromise my customers. I try to promise as minimal as possible and over deliver.
N: How else do you provide good customer experience?
B: We engage them through phone calls, Faceboook, Instagram – we’re strong on social media. My guys are certified trainers and fitness consultants, and this makes them more qualified than a sales person to talk to you.
N: When you bring in health supplements, what do you look out for?
B: The reputation of the brand is important. Before selling any products, we will bring a few units in and test them on ourselves if they really work. The packaging must look good too.
N: We’re curious about your fitness regime. What kind of workouts do you do?
B: Normal gym training for 30-45 minutes, three times a week. The misconception is that you must spend a few hours in the gym to get fit.
N: What other misconceptions do people have about fitness?
B: A lot of people think that when you hit the gym, you’ll get big, especially when you take supplements too. It’s actually not easy to get big. People who are competitive need to spend at least five to 10 years to compete to be number one. You won’t get huge overnight.
We always advise our customers to change their lifestyle, and not just take supplements as they only help you in the process. To be fit, maybe you need 95% hard work, 5% supplements.
N: What kind of believes/values do you live by?
B: I believe that you have to walk the talk. I still carry stuff and cut up cardboards. If you don’t do it, your guys are not going to follow. I tell my managers that in order to lead the game, you need to play the game. Many leaders and founders forget their roots and how they get there. Every one or two years, I like to change things around because I want to be a game changer. Traditional businesses are dying because they can’t change the game. They have been doing the same things but the environment, economy and people change.
N: What exciting plans do you have for your business this year?
B: I will be relaunching our site. I own fitnesssutra.com which is a fitness content portal and I’m going to merge it with the retail site. Instead of being an online store, I want NutriFirst to be an online mall – cater to merchants too. We’re adding new functions to the retail site too. All these will happen in the next 6 months.
N: Any simple health tips to share?
B: Try to walk around, keep yourself active as a preventive measure. Don’t wait for a health problem to surface and try to cure it. Why have a permanent problem when you can prevent it from the start?