I hope you enjoyed my three-part story about the time I went to get a facial. I wrote it partly because I thought it was yet another silly China misadventure (still going on them even after living here for almost five years), and partly to reflect on this facet of China — a China that attempts to blend old traditions (holistic medicine) with a modern setting (the faux-chic SPA), where young girls from the countryside can find a job in pampering urban office workers. It also serves as a cautionary tale: While it is no secret that in this rapidly developing nation, get-rich schemes abound and everyone is prey, it’s still possible to fall victim even when you are completely aware of the plot.
Now I will tell you the name of the horrible SPA: It is 香港可诺丹婷国际美颜美体连锁机构 (Xianggang Kenuo Danting Guoji Meiyan Meiti Liansuo Jigou), or 可诺丹婷 (Kenuo Danting) for short, or simply KeNuo in its logo above. Its full name, translated, is “Hong Kong Kenuo Danting International Beauty Salon Chain.” But it is neither a Hong Kong company nor an international chain of beauty salons. It is definitely a national chain, one that is expanding quite rapidly (the SPA ladies are always telling me about new store openings in Beijing). But it is not from Hong Kong, based in Hong Kong, or run by a Hong Kong-er.
In this Sina article, which exposes Kenuo as a sham SPA, a Kenuo worker says the company uses “Hong Kong” in its name basically because it will give the company more credibility:
可诺丹婷内部一员工向新金融记者表示，公司其实就是一家内地公司，总部并不在香港。之所以叫“香港”的名字，其实主要是给顾客寻求一种心理作用。“现在打着这种名号的内地公司并不少见。” (A Kenuo Danting employee told [the reporter] that the company is actually a domestic company and not headquartered in Hong Kong. The reason it has “Hong Kong” in its name is mainly to create a kind of psychological effect on customers. “It is not uncommon for mainland companies to have this kind of name.”)
The report mentions all the other scams that I have encountered: the street surveys to lure you in, the really expensive fake-miracle bra, the aggressive sales methods they use try to sell you more and more treatments — it’s all documented in the article based on the experiences of a few unhappy customers.
For example, one customer was persuaded into buying RMB 20,000 ($3,201) worth of treatment after filling out the questionnaire and receiving her free consultation, during which the SPA ladies told her she had very serious health problems. After a few rounds of “treatment,” she felt worse and asked what the products they used contained. They wouldn’t give her a proper answer, so she went to the hospital for a check-up — real doctors found only minor problems that a few lifestyle changes would fix. Another customer bought a fake-miracle bra for RMB 3,600 ($576), but after discovering that bras can’t actually treat breast hyperplasia or correct the shape of her breasts, she had to go through mediation to get a refund.
According to the article, some of Kenuo’s practices may violate consumer rights and constitute false advertising. In fact, the Wuhu city government recently fined the company RMB 150,000 for violating false advertising and contract laws. And in the first months of 2013, Fuzhou business regulators received at least 28 complaints about the company (I was not one of them).
And yet, the government seems to continue letting Kenuo, and companies like Kenuo, get away with its scams. There have been no other reports of the company or the people running the company being fined or facing any sort of legal liabilities; instead, the company just continues to expand. According to the Sina article, Kenuo had only about 200 stores in 2004. By 2012, it was operating more than 1,000 stores. It now has some 15,000 employees, including those who ply busy streets for people to fill out its questionnaire. Most of them, if not all of them, are not even legally qualified to perform the beauty treatments the company offers. The company itself is not properly licensed with the health department.
This information hardly comes as a surprise to me, as it confirms all of my suspicions, but it seems not many other people think anything is amiss. As the article notes, the beauty and wellness service industry collected more than RMB 400 billion ($64 billion) in revenue in 2012 and is growing more than 15 percent a year, making it China’s fifth fastest-growing industry. It is hard to tell how many regular customers the shop I go to has — at least a handful that I know of — because sometimes it is very busy, and other times it is eerily quiet. Sometimes when I walk by, I still see the survey-takers. A few times, they have even stopped me. I either ignore them or say no. I say no to everyone asking me if I have five minutes for a free consultation. It happens quite often: new hair salons, new personal stylists, even other spas — there are always so many opening and closing, spurred by past success cases, just another group of peddlers hoping to strike it rich by selling cheap, useless products.