Feature Friday

The Beginnings of a Lifestyle – Janica’s Story

The Beginnings of a Lifestyle

Janica Loh, founder and curator at Lifestyle Store by Fiska, shares with us a truly inspiring story about how being in a low season of your life can sometimes lead you to better things – a change in your.. lifestyle. From being unhappy with her then job to starting something that she is immensely proud of, Janica shows how anyone can put their passion and attitude towards life into something they love while making a living out of it. She also gave us some sound advice on the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, and how you can overcome anything with the right attitude. Read on!

If you asked me a few years back, I would have never thought that I would be doing this. I never did anything related to design to be honest. I was working in Kuala Lumpur doing business and PR, until my dad fell sick. He was running a business and being the eldest in the family, they wanted me to come back home to help him out. So I did. I helped my dad out for four years. At that time, I wasn’t happy at all. I wasn’t doing something that I enjoyed, nor was it something I was truly interested in. I felt something was missing from my life.

So many people around me still had the traditional mindset, where everything about life is about making money. They don’t care about the smaller things in life. To them it’s all about getting money, buying a bigger house, buying a nicer car, and defining your status in society. I didn’t feel happy at all – I was depressed, actually. I felt like I didn’t know where I belong.

I started to read magazines and podcasts and then I realised that there’s a lot more things that matter in life. It’s not just about career, bigger house and bigger cars. It reminded me that I used to love to decorate my room back when I was studying in university. I loved hunting for all these nice small decor items. So I slowly allowed myself to pick these up again. I then started watching TV shows and planned for a few trips to travel on my own. I was so much happier when I went to hunt for small boutique stores that sold all these special home decor. That’s when I realised that this might be something that I could do for myself. Something that made me happy. And that’s how the whole idea for Fiska came to be!

I was scared at first because something like this has never been done before in Sabah. I visited a few lifestyle stores in KL and the store owners shared to me how much they struggled. People here do not have the right mentality yet. They do not care about things like, for example, the quality of the bowl you eat your food from and they don’t mind where you get it, as long as you can use it. After putting so much thought into it for about a year, I met my then boyfriend, whom I shared my idea with. He saw that there could be an opportunity in this. That’s when I decided to just give it a go. Even if the idea failed, at least I can say that I tried.

I felt KK was the right place to start. We get more and more foreigners each day and students returning from overseas, and I realised that these groups of people are the ones who will change KK in the future. It’s tough in KL. First of all, I didn’t want to be away from my family. And secondly, although KL has a much larger population, everything is far from one another. It’s difficult to target a certain group of people. If you open a store in a particular suburb, chances are you might only be able to target people from that suburb, and they may or may not be the right customers for you.

Futhermore, opening in a shopping mall wouldn’t set the right tone. I don’t feel that it’s the right idea for this lifestyle store. I wanted it to be in an area where people can come in and don’t feel rushed. When they come in, I want them to feel like they’re in a different place, slowly taking their time to absorb all the different products we have and the different stories they tell. It’s difficult to create that kind of atmosphere in a mall. You feel like you’re always in a rush with all the background noise. You may be able to target a lot of customers who may come in and buy one or two things. However, we realised that our regular customers come in and spend at least half an hour in our store.

Other than selling products, we’re trying to sell an attitude as well – my attitude, my passion towards life.

The biggest challenge I faced so far was introducing to people what a lifestyle store is. For Fiska, we wanted to introduce something that’s more than just buying pretty stuff for your home. We wanted people to learn about why you need certain things in the house and the stories behind every item to further appreciate them even more. We want people to use this opportunity to create more dinner plans with your friends, to spend more quality time with the people that you love, and to be more mindful of your life.

When we first started, we had a lot of people who didn’t even dare to step into our store. We spent a good few days standing outside the store pretending that we’re not the owners just to observe what people were saying about our store when they walk by. Some people thought that everything inside must be expensive so they don’t even bother going in, while others thought it was an art gallery. In the first half of the year since opening, we tried to approach every customer that came in – not in a pushy way, but friendly – so that they can see that it’s not just another random gift store. Some people do think that it is a gift store and asked for Teddy bears. Some even think that it’s a cafe and asked for our menu! I would say about 80% of them had no idea what kind of store this is.

I want them to feel like they’re in a different place, slowly taking their time to absorb all the different products we have and the different stories they tell.

Why lifestyle? Other than selling products, we’re trying to sell an attitude as well – my attitude, my passion towards life. That’s always been one of my own selling points, and that’s what I always make an effort to communicate with my customers. I always try to make friends with them. Life could be so much more. And shopping doesn’t always have to mean going to a shopping mall to buy things and then head home. You can make friends anywhere and share about your life with them. You can get support and encouragement anywhere you go, and that’s what we want people to feel being in our store. Another reason why we call it a lifestyle store is because we make sure that the products we choose will make a little difference in our customers’ homes, their workplaces, personal spaces, and their life in general.

In anything you do, make sure you’ve done proper research. Whatever business you want to do there’s always risk involved, but you should do a calculation on that risk and know what could potentially hit you. If you don’t have any idea what kind of risks will come to you, it will be quite hard for you to persevere. You need to be ready mentally for this journey through the tough environment, challenges and obstacles. You need to have the right attitude and be able to adjust yourself for whatever may come. Having the right attitude goes a long way. It’s good to have someone supporting you along the way, but then again entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. You’d think that when you start a new business the support will come from your friends. To be honest after running this business my husband and I have come to realise that support actually comes from strangers. You need to know that it will be a tough journey, it could even be a lonely one, but know that you’ll be ready for it.

At the time of writing, Fiska are in the midst of closing their physical store and will be switching to online from 2018 onwards. You can visit their website as well as supporting them by liking their Facebook page and following them on Instagram.

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