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Concern over shortage of massage therapists

Business at Camei Foot Reflexology may be down at the moment on fears over Covid-19, but the shortage of massage therapists is a concerning issue as the company prepares for better times.

With news of a possible vaccine coming out as early as next year, the company wants to prepare its manpower ahead and not wait to do a last minute, rush job.

“Right now, Camei has seven local massage therapists but we need foreign workers; when things improve, locals may move to other industries where there are higher salaries,’’ said founder Nitty Li.

The problem is getting working permits for massage therapists.

“If our present local workers decide to leave, we may have to shut down,’’ said Nitty. “If you notice, there are fewer and fewer massage health centers around, mostly due to this problem of shortage of skilled workers.’’

During good times, Camei had 14 massage therapists; it still could maintain this number of workers last year even when the economy was already showing signs of slowdown.

This year, as the Covid-19 infections dragged on, business had  declined by 50% to 60% compared to 20% just after the Movement Control Order (MCO) period was lifted.

“We serve mainly regular clients who are mostly 30 years and above,’’ said founder Nitty Li. “There are also some new clients who saw our page on Facebook.’’

Due to the Covid-19 scare, clients will only come when they really need the massage; otherwise, they quickly do their household shopping at the mall and go off.

“Most of our clients are introduced by word of mouth,’’ said Nitty. “We are exploring other ways to get more clients.’’

At times like this, profits would be hard to come by, but the company is able to cover its rental, basic salaries of RM1,500 each, contributions to the Employees Provident Fund and Social Security Organisation (Socso) as well as hostel accommodation for its seven staff.

As each of its employees has Socso, the company had successfully applied for the wage subsidy programme.

Camei has introduced two new massages since July – ovary care massage at RM88 per session, and facial lymphatic detox massage at RM78 per session.

It is planning to introduce new products for moxibustion, a form of heat therapy.

Clients come mostly for massages for the foot, body as well as head and shoulder; other massages include the Tibetan fire therapy treatment, foot scraping, ear candling, fire cupping as well as oil scraping and cupping.

“To make a living, we started this business and created new products for the center. Despite all the difficulties, we have been around for 12 years.’’

Clients are mostly from the Ampang area; during the good times, they also came from Semenyih and Puchong, with the furthest from Singapore.

There are a few reflexology centers around, but Camei targets good service as a strategy to stand out against the competition.

“We have high demands on our employees to provide good service. Guests come in to spend, and we must let them leave feeling comfortable,’’ said Nitty.

Throughout the 12 years, the most difficult problem had to do with getting skilled employees and with this Covid-19 situation, it has become worse.

Nitty, who hails from China, was studying English in Malaysia when she met her Malaysian businessman husband Nicolas Lim.

Nicolas used to own an interior design company which he closed down last year as business had slowed; he is now a property agent focusing on rental of factories.

Throughout these 12 years, Nitty had been running Camei with a helping hand from Nicolas in, for example, the company’s accounts.

As they await brighter days, this young and hardworking couple will also be looking for other businesses to possibly diversify into or add to their present range of services.  

By Yap Leng Kuen, Chief Storyteller, The Artisans Haven

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