Fiona Patricia S. Escandor finds out about the pursuit of beauty, love and its rewards
COLLEGE sweethearts then, business partners now, Merrick and Karla Siao have gone a long way as a couple.
But it all started with a pair of red bowling shoes.
For some time, Karla, then a kolehiyala taking up Philosophy, had been eyeing a pair in one of the high-end shoe shops in the mall. She saved for it, she said, but on the day she was about to buy it, the pair was gone, much to her dismay.
Days later, upon the prodding of her friend who needed company to go to a coffee shop, it was there where Karla spotted Merrick—and the pair of shoes she had long wanted.
“I think he felt that I was staring at him,” Karla recalled, amused, “but I was actually looking at his shoes the entire time.”
And thanks to the shoes, it was the first time she noticed Merrick. She realized they belonged to the same circle of friends, who took them on a group date one Valentine’s Day.
While Karla and Merrick eventually got together, the early years of their relationship were marked by distance.
While Karla (nee Bautista) was prepping for the Binibining Pilipinas pageant, she had
to stay in Manila for some time. After having been crowned beauty queen and earning a mass communications degree, Karla joined international airline Emirates as one of its cabin crew, and had to be based in Dubai.
Despite the miles of separation, Merrick and Karla pulled through, even successfully managing a growing enterprise on the side. Having tied the knot in May 2011, both are now based in Cebu, focusing on several businesses they are part of, starting with the Grand Royal Spa chain.
When Grand Royal Spa opened in March of 2004, the spa at that time was but a simple, low-key massage parlor, started by budding entrepreneur Merrick. Karla, then the reigning Binibining Pilipinas-World and his girlfriend that time, was one of the VIPs who did the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
Karla did more than just ceremonial gestures that time: running the spa was actually a collaboration of the couple from day one. As they delve into new ventures today, such as mobile phone and footwear distribution, they continue to work as a team. They capitalize on each other’s strengths, help out with whatever weaknesses they have. “We are each other’s critics,” Karla said.
The business of wellness
Merrick Anthony Siao grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. He has been acquainted with the intricacies of running a business at a young age, as his parents had already groomed him to follow their footsteps. His family used to own a fabric store downtown and there young Merrick would help out, whether it is in cashiering, sales or even janitorial jobs.
After earning a business administration degree at the University of San Carlos, his family helped him set up a business of his own. “The spa was actually a graduation gift from my dad,” he shared. “The spa industry was just starting in Cebu, and we saw that it had a lot of potential to grow.”
And grow it did. With more individuals advocating wellness, Grand Royal Spa’s clientele have grown tremendously in the past eight years. Within four months since it opened, Merrick was able to open a new branch. Today, the brand now boasts of more than 10 branches, both privately owned and franchised, in different cities in Visayas and Mindanao. The spa was recognized by Consumer’s Choice as Best Spa in Cebu in 2009.
Karla, even with her active role on the runway back then—having joined and won Miss Cebu 2003, Binibining Pilipinas-World 2004 and Miss World 2004 fourth runner-up—she stood by Merrick every step of the way. While Merrick handled operations, Karla dealt with marketing.
Karla had to halt her participation in the spa for a while when she joined Emirates and relocated to Dubai, where she was based for three years. “I wanted to see the world and at the same time, I wanted to save up,” she said, as she recalled how they
found ways to keep in touch.
Merrick, on the other hand, travelled not to see the world but to visit Karla in far-flung Dubai as much as four times a year. During layovers near home, Merrick would fly to Singapore, Jakarta and Hong Kong to spend some time with her, then quickly return to attend to business in Cebu.
The future is feminine
Today, it is Karla who’s mainly running Grand Royal Spa, as Merrick is more focused on their Cherry Mobile distribution, which covers parts of Visayas and Palawan.
“I think the spa is more feminine now. Before we only offered massage,” Karla said.
Since she took over, Karla said that she has incorporated more “girly” features like nail services, waxing and different kinds of body scrub.
“We have also started using aromatherapy scented oils, which we have tied up to Bantay Bata,” she said, referring to an advocacy for the welfare of children.
“A lot of suppliers, like in waxing, would approach me before but I didn’t know how to
go about it. I couldn’t tell which product was better so I just stayed with what I was familiar with, like massage,” Merrick said. Karla, whose forte is beauty, then gave the spa a feminine touch.
The couple also recently explored the fashion footwear industry by being distributors of Footzyfolds. They first launched it in Cebu and they plan to introduce it nationwide soon.
Merrick and Karla live a busy lifestyle. What keeps them going while staying put in Cebu, they said, is their lovely daughter, Kallasandra, who just turned a year old.
Kalla means “beauty” while Sandra means “queen,” a fitting name for a daughter of a woman who has gathered pageant titles left and right.