- Player: Michelle Royston
- Company: WAXIT
- Est: 2015
- Growth: Four salons in under two years
- Visit: www.waxit.co.za
Michelle Royston loves brands. She loves how brands can connect with people, and how they can shape an experience. If you understand your brand’s messaging, you can offer exceptional customer experiences, and, in multiple small ways, you can change someone’s life, just by making their day simpler and more enjoyable. With the right brand, you can also change the lives of your employees.
This is what great businesses are built on: An idea, a dream bigger than any one entrepreneur, and a desire to make the world a better place, one employee at a time, through robust internal development programmes.
Here’s how Michelle is pulling all of these threads together, the lessons you can learn from her vision, and how she’s taken WAXIT from one salon to four in under two years.
1Solve a problem
Michelle spent ten years in retail in the UK, and then five in eventing in South Africa. Hectic, deadline-driven schedules made it difficult to plan ahead when it came to personal appointments.
“I’d suddenly have a weekend open which meant I could finally get a wax or my nails done, except everyone was fully booked. After calling ten salons I’d end up in a little corner of a salon, squeezed behind a curtain because waxing wasn’t their focus, getting a painful, unprofessional and often unhygienic wax,” says Michelle.
“I couldn’t be the only person with this problem. Busy professionals need to be able to make appointments at the last minute, or visit their salon late in the afternoon or early evening, or early on a Saturday morning.”
Realising that gut feel and frustration are a good place to start, Michelle began researching local and global markets.
The results aligned with what she had expected, but now she had hard data: South Africa was one of a handful of countries that didn’t have dedicated wax salons. Throughout Europe, the UK and the US wax salons not only exist, but are popular. Armed with this knowledge, Michelle started formulating her business plan.
“When we opened our first store we launched with a 40% discount to get feet through the door; we knew we needed people to experience what we had to offer. Most came back and became loyal customers. They asked us where we had been. It really gave me confidence that we were right. We were filling a need.”
The lesson: Most great businesses are the result of a specific pressure point that was recognised by an entrepreneur who then set about solving it. Keep a notebook with you; jot down what drives you crazy, or where you believe you could improve an industry or problem.
2Find a price point that works for customers and delivers a profit
Once Michelle decided to open a chain of wax salons, her next challenge was to develop a business model that delivered value to the business and its clients.
“I started out by testing waxes. My husband was my guinea pig. I learnt how to wax so that I understood the art, and then I started testing different waxes. I settled on a wax brand that we import. The quality is amazing, and it’s pain free, which was important to me. Our entire customer experience model is designed to make you feel as comfortable as possible when you’re in the salon. We offer earphones and iPads if that makes you more relaxed, and we use the best wax available.”
But this raised a new challenge: The point of the business model was to offer affordable waxes. Pricing yourself out of the market or catering to a very niche clientele wouldn’t work.
“I experimented with exactly how much wax was needed for an under-arm, an arm, a leg, chest, back and so on. We fine-tuned it down to exact measurements and developed an online system that tracks exactly how much wax we use for different procedures. This means we can immediately see if we’re using too much. It also ensures we don’t have leakages.”
Armed with these figures, Michelle then worked out what she could afford to pay for rent, which helped her determine the size of the salon, and where she would be situated.
“WAXIT is a retail model — we will always be in shopping centres. However, we’re not targeting large retail malls like Sandton City either. The high rent would mean I couldn’t meet my margins, so finding the right centres that are well situated but not in large malls was essential.”
With all this in hand, Michelle calculated how many customers needed to walk through her doors each month to break even, and how many she needed to turn a decent profit.
“Waxing is interesting, because if you wax, it’s a monthly expense. It’s not a luxury that your treat yourself to, it actually forms part of your budget. If you can get people through the door and then keep them, you can develop a loyal clientele, which makes your revenue predictable. The trick is to earn each customer’s loyalty.”
The lesson: It’s almost impossible to launch and run a successful business if you don’t know your numbers. Understand your costs, where the hidden costs lie, and exactly how many customers you have to serve to make a profit.
3Develop a brand that says who you are
When Michelle was developing WAXIT she knew three things. First, she needed a name that described what the salon offered. Second, she wanted to cater to the male and female market, so the look and feel of the salons needed to appeal to both genders. And third, she wanted customer experience to lie at the heart of everything the business does.
Coming from a retail background, Michelle understands how important branding is. It’s a reflection of what the business stands for — it’s values and customer promise. Get your branding right, and employees will embrace your vision and carry it through to their interactions with clients, and customers will always know what to expect from you.
“Our clientele is 35% male, and this number is growing. We have a walk-in room, so customers can call 15 minutes before they want a wax and check if a slot is open. We also open early and close late. Our brand stands for chic, comfortable convenience, and everything we do highlights and supports this.”
The lesson: Developing your brand includes the look and feel of your logo, office or retail space, but this should serve as the foundation for a much larger vision and brand promise. Simply having a pretty logo does not deliver value to customers. At the centre of everything you do, ask yourself: What value does this offer our clients, and how will it drive loyalty?
4Be a specialist
“I’m a specialist — that’s always been my thing. I’m successful when I’m really focused. In retail I focused on sports, and then I’d drill in even further. I’d spend time becoming the absolute expert in a field,” says Michelle. “I wanted my business to reflect this. I don’t believe in doing too many things at once. Niche brands are powerful. They become synonymous with their industries.
“I don’t believe that any one brand can do everything equally well. They might offer a lot, but there will be one thing they are really good at, and others that they aren’t. The result is that people end up going to different places for different things.”
The lesson: You don’t need to be everything to everyone. Pick your niche, focus on it, and then find ways to expand your revenue streams within that niche. By diluting your focus you can lose your way, and confuse your brand message.”
5Perseverance is key
The biggest challenge Michelle has faced is retail space. As a new brand, she struggled to get meetings with retail centres, and when she did, bigger brands blocked her from leasing space.
“The only thing you can do is persevere,” she says. “I even had a lease agreement cancelled at the last minute, which was devastating, but you can’t let it hold you back. There will always be obstacles. By persevering I have four salons in Joburg and Pretoria, and this has changed the conversation. The brand has credibility and retail centres are interested in speaking to me. I’m also working well with competitors in the centres we’re in, which proves that it doesn’t need to be antagonistic.”
Michelle also received push-back from the local beauty industry, with warnings that her concept wouldn’t work. “There’s always negativity when you’re trying something new. You can’t let it affect you. If you’ve done your research and you’re confident in your idea, go for it.”
The lesson: Entrepreneurs don’t take no for an answer. When one door shuts, they find another. It isn’t always smooth sailing, but if you’re willing to keep pushing, you’ll achieve your goals with grit and determination.
6Bootstrap your business
Any business can be bootstrapped. Michelle launched WAXIT with savings and a small loan from her husband. She then used the first store to bankroll the second store, and stores one and two bankrolled the third.
She approached her brother and sister for a loan for the fourth store to shorten her timeline between salons opening. To date the business has received no external funding.
The lesson: If you know your numbers and what you need to break even and turn a profit, you can ensure a positive cash flow, which in turn can fund your start-up’s growth.
7Have a higher purpose
At the core of her business idea, Michelle has wanted to positively impact her employees. “When I joined the retail space in London I was a floor manager at Lillywhites, the most prestigious sport’s store in the world. I didn’t have a degree, and my experience was limited to being the youngest manager at Sportsman’s Warehouse, where I had worked for a year after school. Lillywhites was an amazing seven years for me, largely because I had incredible mentors who taught me about retail, brands, customer service and sent me on all sorts of courses. Over the course of ten years I had run every single one of the five floors, became operations manager for the entire store and went on to open and area manage many stores across the UK.
“I’ve always wanted to pay this forward and positively impact employees who haven’t had great opportunities. Sometimes all you need is a bit of support and a mentor.”
This ideal is at the core of WAXIT’s DNA. “My salon managers started out as wax technicians at our first store. Today they run their own teams, and focus on financial statements, how to motivate teams, drive sales, avoid product wastage and keep everyone happy and focused on superb customer service. We’ve taught them Excel, Word, statements and the basic foundations of business. Everyone needs to be able to dream and devise goals to move forward in life. These are the skills I want our employees to learn.”
Michelle’s support goes beyond business skills. She has helped her managers to learn to drive and negotiate vehicle finance. “We’ve put down deposits for some of our employees to rent flats near work. This saves on transport costs and brings them into the areas in which they’re working. Sometimes that’s all you need. We want to help our team live better, more successful lives.”
Michelle’s ultimate aim is to attract investors for the next leg of her journey to grow the WAXIT brand, and she’s actively looking for investors who understand the need for social development and who will support the passion she has for the development of young women in the beauty industry.
The lesson: At the core of any great business are a brand’s DNA, and its people. If your people are happy and engaged, exceptional customer service follows. It’s important to have a purpose. Starting a business is tough. It takes time and dedication that is difficult to maintain if you’re not working towards a higher goal.
Rands and cents can make or break your business
Michelle has been able to bootstrap four salons with minimal investment from family because she worked out her costs down to the finest detail.
Armed with this knowledge, she could set price points that were competitive, knowing exactly how many customers she needed to break even and then grow her business.
Specialists own their sectors
Brands that do too much never become the ‘go-to’ names in their sectors. Specialist brands become experts, which makes them the top choice of customers looking for the best products or services available.
Purpose is the key to success
If you have a purpose that drives you, you’re able to weather any storm. Starting a business is mentally, financially and emotionally challenging. A purpose will keep you on track, even when things are at their toughest.