Coaching Case Study By Timothy Cheong
(Career Coach, SINGAPORE)
The Client Y is a Swiss national living and working in Hong Kong. Four years ago, he started his own business retailing health care and beauty products in Hong Kong. The products capitalise on the perception of Swiss’ high quality and clean atmosphere. He has a Hong Kong ethnic-Chinese partner assisting him in translation and establishing contacts.
- Rent cost and labour cost in Hong Kong are expensive and rising. Two years ago, Y has moved his retail stores from high end retail malls to second-tier retail malls. This was to conserve cash so he could break-even.
- Linked to higher retail costs, Y also found that his products are competing in a very crowded market which undercuts his pricing strategy. This prevents him from expanding his market, and doing nothing will eventually lead to falling revenue.
The Coaching Approach
Y and I agreed to a coaching agreement where I will be his coach for the next three sessions which spans over one month.
During the first session, I practiced Active Listening where I tried to understand his reasons for leaving his corporate job to start his business, his family situations and concerns, and his journey for the past four years as an entrepreneur in a foreign country. Through listening to him, I also understood why he thought his Swiss brand has a unique selling proposition and he was not being nationalistic.
In the first and second sessions, I posed Powerful Questions that helped him Re-frame his Perspective on the perception of Swiss branding; and also helped him Visualise what the Swiss branding may become if we take a different journey in rebranding.
The initial Powerful Questions I posed were:
- Do consumers instinctively associate Swiss brand to beauty care?
- How do you see your brand surviving the onslaught of K-pop culture of cosmetics?
- As you embark on e-commerce to capture the China market, what niche do you see your brand fulfilling in an increasingly crowded market?
- How does your current partnership able to expand the market?
These questions got Y thinking and set him on a path of Visualisation on how he wants his business to grow. His first response in linking Swiss brand to beauty care was to add a French spin in his marketing (French products are more dominant in beauty care) as French is a spoken language in Switzerland. The notion of a ‘French-spin’ was dropped as it dilutes the Swiss branding Y holds dear to (his Underlying Beliefs). He also does not see himself competing with the mass young market of K-pop culture, which opens the possibility to our subsequent coaching conversation on what may be the niche market he should be focusing in. Through Powerful Questions, I have set the foundation of Self-Awareness (for Y on his beauty care business) and Trust as he sees me as an equal partner with sound business acumen.
As Y was travelling to China after our first session, this new perspective enabled him to explore business opportunities beyond e-commerce retail as the basis of homework for the next couple of sessions.
In our second and third sessions, the possibility of expanding the business to wellness centres in China became apparent after Y’s business visits. I continued with more Powerful Questions by asking the following Visualisation questions:
- Do you see the possibility of your business growing into a high end and high quality space focusing on the wellness market?
- These wellness centres are located in resorts far from the crowded China cities. Could you see how this setting fits in to the Swiss brand of clean air and healing?
- Associated with this high end and high quality market, do you see sales volume fall initially but your margin will be higher thus making the business more profitable?
- If you venture into the wellness space, do you see your product range would reduced?
- Do you see your current partnership taking you to this new market?
With these questions, the second and third sessions were very interactive enhancing the trust we have established. This interaction enthused Y to look for wellness chains in his future business development visits. He could visualise his products being used and displayed prominently in these wellness premises for retail sales to customers patronising these outlets as they like the products they experienced in the centres. The last question on his partnership was not to cause schism with his current partner. Y confided that his partner is entering a new phase in life where she needs to be in New Zealand for her son’s education. So this is an opportune time to look for a new partner.
Through these three sessions, Y is now set on a business development path to expand into the wellness space. This is not an euphoric venture with no clear business plans as he will still retain his retail business in Hong Kong to keep the bread and butter coming. The possibility could be a dual route-to-market: both retail and wellness markets and these are the options Y is committed to explore at the end of the third session.
My coaching with Y was more a Business/Executive coaching relation. Although I have not run a business like Y did, my experience in the corporate world helps me understand the key business indicators to pose powerful questions to Y. This helps me establish trust with Y as he knows I am asking the right business questions and not posing psychological questions to explore his underlying beliefs which border on therapeutic counselling. Our conversation was at times light-hearted because of this trust.
Notwithstanding the number of powerful but business-related questions I posed, Y spoke 80% of the time with me actively listening and speaking 20% of the time. As a result of my business experience, I did not have to rake my mind to pose questions as they came naturally. Conversely, Y was a very open and articulate Client, and our three coaching sessions seem like a business conversation between equal partners.
The coaching sessions went well and they fulfilled the objective of addressing the Client’s business Issues. However, there were no angst, deep emotion or long pauses to explore values and underlying beliefs deeper.