An interview with Mr. Manoj Mehta, CEO of naked Group
“Born naked Live naked”, to return to the purity of nature and simplicity of oneself is a lifestyle embraced by naked Group. Established in 2007, naked Group has now created a diverse lifestyle brand that covers travel – naked Retreats, work – naked Hub, now under the wework brand, and wellness etc. The two resorts in Moganshan have been especially popular among Chinese guests. In a pure natural environment, guests are invited to embark on a fresh and green experience. Many guests are particularly impressed by their spa and family programs. SpaChina interviewed Manoj Mehta, CEO of naked Group to tell us more about naked Retreats.
Manoj Mehta has served as CEO of naked Group since 2012. Since joining, Manoj has led several innovative change initiatives and instituted numerous programs to strengthen & optimize naked operations, such as setting up the strategic direction, recruiting seasoned executive management team, and incorporating technology to both enhance guest experiences and improve business processes. Prior to naked Group, Manoj worked for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Ltd and Ford Motor Co., Ltd in the USA & China. Manoj held a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from The State University of New York, and an MBA in Strategy & Finance from the Chicago Booth Business School.
Please introduce the naked Group, with a description of what properties you have and what the philosophy is. There appears particularly to be a stress on families.
How important is the family concept in this market?
naked Group is very much born in China, for China, and run with global standards, global services, global design, etc. naked Group was established in 2007 with very humble beginnings, with a few farm houses that were converted into facilities, a getaway retreat for foreigners and Chinese people alike. And as we have grown over the years, this emphasis on family has been naturally very strong because I myself and my friend, who is the founder of naked, both have families and it is sort of a personal need to get away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. I want to go somewhere where I can find quality hardware, good service and good food to eat and things to do with my children. That’s why our product seems to embody that philosophy where family becomes quite important. Our product design is predominantly led by it. We do very few single rooms. And even when we do it, we still try to incorporate a little more public space.
Our philosophy is based on something we say: born naked, live naked. And what that means is we try to emphasize simplicity and sustainability. Luxury is defined by what’s not available, not necessarily what’s expensive. So something that doesn’t become available to you becomes a luxury. And COVID-19 is a great example of that. Prior to that, people took for granted, and all of a sudden, it became a luxury, because people thought that health and safety would be taken away. So we provide simple things like silence, or simplicity actually in China. We call it let’s “un-mafan” people’s life. I love the word “mafan” (bother), and when we un-mafan people’s life, that to us, is luxury. And we work that in many different ways, with activities in F&B, and the simple principle of a service centered on simplicity and sustainability.
What’s the role of Spa in naked? What is it that the spa provides that is essential that you keep it going?
For naked, spa is a critical piece of our running. The chance of outsourcing doesn’t exist because we actually have it branded — naked Leaf. So we believe just like several other essential services, spa is that critical component. And as a result of that, the majority of our rooms come with a free spa. So when you are there, spa is included. The guests who are buying our rooms, they can freely go and get a massage. And then they do more when they’re already there. They’re half naked and they say it’s okay, let me just go for more. So spa is a critical piece of our overall experience. It’s certainly not only a thing of revenue, but a profit generating sector of our business. In our approaches, spa is just like breakfast. That’s a basic thing we will give you. You can’t say: if I don’t want the spa, can I get 100 RMB off? No, it’s there for you. You take it, or you don’t take it, it’s up to you. In fact, people actually enjoy it. And they come back for more. They become fans and promoters of the spa. They say to their friends: Hey, if you go to naked, make sure you go to naked Leaf Spa.
To talk about it from a commercial perspective, once this trial is included in your room rate, there is an allocation that’s coming straight from room rate to the spa, which essentially covers the cost of the latter. And once the cost is covered, every single massage or treatment they are giving is adding to their profitability and that gets them motivated. Nobody wants to be in a loser team. So if you’re in a winning team where your foundational costs are covered, since the company has taken care of that, and then you can keep the staff busy. The worst thing you can do to an employee is they get nothing to do. They’re busy and they’re unhappy, but that’s a lot better than being there and doing nothing.
I’m interested in the perception you have of Chinese guests versus guests in other parts of the world. What are the special characteristics or the special requirements that you would see from Chinese guests, versus guests from elsewhere?
Regarding the Chinese customers we are seeing, I can say they’re very well-traveled and they understand the service that they deserve. The price that they are paying shows this. The people who are coming to us are driving very fancy cars and wearing very fancy clothes and carrying very fancy bags. They have been to very fancy places around the world. There is no difference between Chinese guests and guests from elsewhere concerning their expectations of service quality and how you treat them. We are located outside the big cities, so we know where our markets are. And that’s where our marketing and sales efforts are. Especially from those cities we can comment that these people have no difference versus any other international location. Things have changed in the past 10 or 15 years. Fifteen years ago in Shanghai, you could sell anything that has an Italian sounding name. You could start a brand new name which sounds foreign. But that doesn’t work anymore because the customers are very much educated. They know very well the established global brands and they seek brand history.
I’m interested in your sense of the overall trend going forward. Will there be development of an extra numbers and faster development of other top resorts across China?
In terms of the growth, if you look at Moganshan for example, within a 3 hour radius around the town, there are about 30 to 45 million people, depending on where you are. That’s bigger than the population of Australia. So on one side, it seems like everybody’s going to Moganshan and Anji, but if you count the number of resorts, that’s going to be 20% of the number of resorts that are in Australia. It seems like explosive growth, because it happened all in short time. But in terms of the demand that exists, it’s not enough. As incomes are rising, most of the people are middle class. Middle class is an aspiring class. They are saving money before they come, and they are saving money to buy good hotel services. So this creates opportunities for hundreds, if not more, five-star hotels. And in China, the next five to 10 years, you will see a lot more than what there is now.