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Winter 2009 Shaping a New Industry, One Brow at a Time

The founders of Shapes Brow Bar are working day and night to grow a unique niche within the beauty industry-one that’s attracting more customers every day.

“Within the beauty industry, the focus has never been on eyebrows,” explains Mohsin Khan, who with his wife, Reema, launched the first Shapes Brow Bar cart offering eyebrow-threading services in Chicago’s Ford City Mall in 2004.

“Back then, eyebrow threading was hardly known, but now the word is out,” Mohsin says. “Women are enjoying new-found beauty simply by having their brows shaped, and when they see the process of eyebrow threading in malls, they want to get it done. It’s catching on quickly, but a lot of work still has to be done to tap this emerging industry’s full potential.”

“The concept is simple,” he continues. “Our focus is on brow shaping, eye makeup and body art. We feature brow-shaping services and signature products at an affordable price for everyone to enjoy. We operate beautiful ‘kiosk boutiques’ in high-traffic locations in major malls, selling brow services and exclusive, high-quality and affordable brands of makeup and skincare products.”

Threading is the main service at Shapes Brow Bar. It’s an ancient method of hair removal said to have originated in India that involves rolling a twisted cotton thread over unruly hairs then removing them at the follicle level. Unlike tweezing, which removes a single hair at a time, threading can eliminate a whole row of hairs at once, creating a more uniform and appealing line.

“And it’s a lot gentler on the skin than waxing because it doesn’t cause redness and skin irritation like in waxing does,” Reema says. “Threading doesn’t peel away a layer of the skin, so customers who can’t tolerate waxing-or simply find the process too painful-have finally found a simply better method of shaping their brows with threading.”

The practice has been catching on in beauty salons across the US, picking up a lot of steam in just the last few years thanks in large part to Shapes’ relentless pursuit in opening their Brow Bars in more than 50 malls, giving millions of consumers the chance to experience threading for themselves.

An expert threader in her own right, Reema owned salons and spas in India before moving to the US in 1996. In 2003 she opened Salon Rupa, a full-service salon and spa on Devon Avenue in Chicago. As threading became more well known, she “noticed a lot of people were coming to the salon just to have threading service done, which was the niche service in the salon. They were driving to our salon from different suburbs in Chicago just to get threading done for $10.”

Reema and Mohsin saw an opportunity to increase sales by setting up Brow Bars in malls to meet more of their potential customers where they frequently shopped. But they didn’t grow from one location to 50 overnight. Like many specialty retail entrepreneurs, they faced a number of obstacles, any one of which could have deterred them from success had they given up.

Persistence pays off

imageFrom the outset, “It wasn’t easy to set up the business in the common areas of the malls,” Reema says, “because mall leasing agents had never heard about brow threading and they were also a little apprehensive about allowing a service to be done in the common area. Shapes Brow Bar was the first company to launch a mall cart offering threading, so it was a very untested concept. Deborah Bouchee, the specialty leasing manager at Ford City at the time, agreed to lease us our first location. She was the first leasing manager to recognize the potential of our concept.”

Once the first cart was set up, sales were slow to pick up. “The first few months were very tough,” Mohsin says. “People didn’t know what threading was, so there was an educational process. During our first year,
we had to educate our customers and the market about the values of the brow-threading technique. But we persisted, and as time went by, the word caught on. Customers simply loved the threading process better than
waxing or tweezing.”

To help customers recognize the benefits of threading, the cart had an LCD display, flyers and brochures explaining the technique, and Mohsin and Reema did a lot of demonstrations. For the first three months, the
business just broke even.

“But then it caught on and we got on a roll,” Mohsin says. “Within the next two years, we opened six mall locations in the Chicago area. We took it slow in the beginning. We wanted to establish ourselves, establish one city, but the ultimate goal was-and still is-to take the art of brow shaping all over the US.”

They’re well on their way. With a mix of more than 50 carts, kiosks and full-service spa inlines from New York to California, the Khans hope to add another 75 to 100 locations in 2009, most operating under the company’s new franchise program, billed as the first brow-shaping franchise in the world.

Visibility brings sales

imageMohsin attributes the company’s success in large part to the visibility of carts and kiosks in the middle of shopper foot traffic. “If threading was offered tucked in a corner of an inline store, people wouldn’t see it,” he says. “Being in the center of the mall has been a tremendous help in spreading awareness about brow threading. People see it and want to have it done instantly. There’s a ‘Wow!’ factor in the middle of the mall as people tend to stop and look at this amazing art of brow shaping that they never saw or heard of before. It’s a major paradigm shift from waxing to threading and we are successfully converting people to do the right thing every day. We want to make America look beautiful one face at a time in a natural way that doesn’t harm the sensitive skin around the eyes.”

Threading at Shapes costs only $10, which includes a beauty consultation that also serves as an ad hoc demonstration, so shoppers are often willing to give the process a try.

“Shapes is fast becoming the McDonalds of the beauty industry, offering instant beauty karma in minutes,” Reema says. “We’re capitalizing on two compelling market forces: The growing demand for services that enhance beauty and wellness-a truly amazing and better concept of brow shaping-and the desire for convenience and time savings. At Shapes, customers enhance their beauty by getting an instant facelift by correctly and safely shaping their brows.”

As part of the threading service, Shapes employees consult with customers on the different brow shapes and what best suits their face. A threading technician might spend 10 to 15 minutes with each new customer. However, the threading process alone, which Reema notes is typically all that repeat customers require, takes only about five minutes.

Soon after the concept began taking off, the Khans analyzed their customer base to find new products and services that would increase revenue. Noting that many customers were moms with kids in tow, they added temporary tattoos that kids could get while their moms were getting their own “salon treatment.”

“Then we added mineral brow powder, to enhance the brow look,” Mohsin says. “And it turned out to be a good seller as an add-on product. If we had 60 customers per day who were getting the threading service done, that would be $600. If we sold brow powder to 30 of them, that’s $300 more added to the bottom line.”

Based on the success of the brow powder, the Khans added a full line of eye makeup, including liners, pencils, mascaras, eye shadows, under-eye creams, anti-wrinkle creams, hair-growing gels, concealers and bronzers. They also started selling makeovers for $35. The new products and services helped them develop a broader customer base, including a lot of younger customers seeking makeovers for special occasions like proms and holiday parties.

In addition to attracting women of varying demographics, the Shapes Brow Bar concept isn’t just a fourth-quarter business, Mohsin says. Women have their brows re-threaded every two weeks or so at Shapes, which generates an immense repeat business that keeps the business growing. “Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are busiest,” he says, adding that four or five workers are needed at a typical cart or kiosk on the weekends, as opposed to two or three staffers on Monday through Thursday. “The holiday season is good for the business because there’s more mall traffic. We establish new clientele every day of the year, but it’s quite busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have special holiday packages and a lot of people come to the mall during that time. It’s a good time to pick up new customers.

“And our customers are not here today, gone tomorrow,” Mohsin adds. “Threading is not a trend or a fad. Shapes creates customers for life that recognize the benefits of brow threading and acknowledge that until now there has been no better way of shaping brows. Until Shapes Brow Bar, there’s been no leading brand offering brow services.”

Franchise factors

A typical Shapes Brow Bar cart or kiosk has sales of $25,000 to $40,000 per month, says Mohsin, who handles the IT, marketing, advertising and finance (he has a master’s degree in computer science/management and a professional background in information technology). Reema, an arts major and licensed cosmetologist known to Chicagoans as “The Eyebrow Lady,” oversees operations, including salon services and training.
New franchisees receive eight to 10 days of training in the company’s Chicago headquarters. “We focus on business training and teaching the art of threading to enhance the customer’s face,” Reema says. Franchisees also receive two days of on-site training at their cart, kiosk or inline.

The company provides complete startup support, including assistance in selecting the right mall location, a confidential operational and systems manual, marketing support and branding promotions, plus access to a “corporate brand bank” that includes a grand-opening campaign. The company also assists with guidance in hiring, staffing and training as well as IT support. Visits from field support representatives are part of the package, plus meetings, teleconferences and workshops that are held “to keep our franchisees informed and ahead of market needs,” Reema says. “Franchisees also receive a state-of-the-art computer system and software application designed for franchisees of the Shapes concept. And a listing on the company’s main website, as well as marketing support and branding promotions throughout the year. We’re looking for entreprenmeurs who want to be part of a cutting-edge niche concept in the booming $65 billion beauty industry.”

“There is tremendous potential in this industry,” Mohsin adds. “Threading is still in its infancy. Only about 10 percent of potential customers are using threading. But the number is growing all the time. We’ve developed a niche concept that’s an amazing business opportunity.”


Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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