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Summer 2012 Threading on the Fly

After growing within Walmart, an eyebrow threading business takes off for the airports.

About five years ago, Vas Maniatis and his wife, Sonal, approached Walmart with an idea for a store within a store. Maniatis, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, was looking to open a shop within Walmart called Simply Eyebrows, which would offer eyebrow
threading, an ancient Indian art that was just starting to become popular in this country.

At first, Walmart was not very interested. But just prior to a 2008 Walmart grand opening in a high-profile location in Indianapolis, IN, a deal fell through for the big-box retailer, which found itself with a 400-square-foot vacancy within its store. Looking desperately to fill the vacancy, Walmart decided to give Maniatis a shot.

Kiosk Model: Store within a store

Simply Eyebrows was an immediate hit, Maniatis says, and the relationship has since grown to 21 total locations—a mix of franchises and corporate-owned stores—within Walmart stores. “The first store is still one of our top-performing locations; we have more than 1,000 customers per week there,” Maniatis says.

For Walmart too, Maniatis says, the deal is a winner since it reinforces the concept of one-stop shopping that the retailer likes to emphasize. “Walmart likes the value-added convenience it offers its customers by bringing other businesses into their stores—it allows customers to get cash from an ATM, get lunch at Subway and get their eyebrows threaded while buying their milk and clothes,” he says. “Eyebrow threading can be done in five minutes, which is very complementary to the one-stop shopping model,” Maniatis says.

In 2009, Walmart executives suggested Simply Eyebrows integrate spa services into its offerings. Locations within Walmart expanded their offerings to include services like facials, body waxing, manicures and pedicures. Meanwhile,
the company sold the Simply Eyebrows stores that it had opened within other retailers, while retaining the trademark.

Airport Kiosk

Now named Seva, the Highland Park, IL-based retailer is looking to expand into airports via the franchise model. The airports, like Walmart, provide great foot traffic. Last year, Seva opened a pilot location at the Indianapolis International Airport. “It did very well,” Maniatis says. But after a few months, the company closed the pilot store so that it could focus on franchising the concept.

Airport franchises will offer services that can be done in 15 minutes or less and that fall within Seva’s “brows/face” category—eyebrow threading, facial waxing, eyelash extensions and brow tinting services—which account for 95 percent of its business. Prices at Seva’s airport kiosk are expected to be slightly higher than in the Walmart locations; for instance, eyebrow threading will be priced at $10, as opposed to $7-$8.

Maniatis likens the Seva franchise package to a “salon in a box.” “We handle everything from picking the location (although sometime entrepreneurs bring the location to us), the build-out, branding, the point-of-sale system, business processes and training.” Though Seva is an inline store in Walmart, the airport model is a kiosk with two to four chairs. Seva’s goal is to double its current number of locations by the end of the year.

Similar to the concept’s early days in Walmart, people don’t yet expect to get their eyebrows threaded at the airport. “But as it becomes more mainstream, and people start seeing our services at the airport, their reaction will be what we hear now at Walmart—that it’s a great convenience. It will be, ‘Wow, I’m off to visit my family, and I can get my brows done at the airport,’” says Maniatis.

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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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