By  on January 30, 2009

Sumita Batra, chief executive officer of Ziba Beauty, has a vision of the 12-store Southern California chain becoming as synonymous with the hair-removal technique threading as Kleenex is with tissues. To get there, she’s already acting like it is.

“I behave, look, feel like a brand,” said Batra, 40, who lived in England, Iran and India before immigrating to the U.S. at age 16 and settling in Artesia, Calif., home to the Little India neighborhood and Ziba Beauty’s headquarters. “I am known within my organization to use the McDonald’s example of the hamburger looking the same, tasting the same everywhere you go. I am a branding freak. It is critical to our success.”

Batra has spent the better part of the last three years readying Ziba Beauty to support 51 stores by 2012, after convincing her family it could transcend the mom-and-pop level. Batra’s mother, Kundan Sabarwal, nicknamed Kelly, started Ziba Beauty in 1986 out of 400 square feet; her sister, brother and husband hold executive positions and equal shares of the company.

The Ziba Beauty image has received a major overhaul. Batra hired Jas Nakaoka of the L.A. firm J.T. Nakaoka Associates Architects, which has worked on projects for Forever 21, to revamp the stores. He crafted an accessible, clean look that Batra describes as “between Japanese and modern Indian,” with light colors, ample illumination and an enlarged white Ziba logo on the wall.

Batra solicited the advice of Mario Ciampi, a partner at New York investment firm Prentice Capital Management and former Disney Store president, to help develop expansion plans. He instructed her to avoid rolling out stores nationally during Ziba Beauty’s early growth stages in favor of isolating new stores in California or nearby states.

Ziba Beauty expects to add four to six locations in California this year; the company added one last year and five the year before. Stores range from 1,000 to 1,400 square feet, have 10 to 12 chairs and are best situated in bustling shopping malls, according to Batra.

The company bolstered the executive ranks last year by bringing on board beauty veterans Piero Broccardo, as director of finance, and Anna Meadows, as director of human resources. In total, the company employs about 180 people.

Ziba Beauty vends its own line of products that averages $11 each and is set to increase from 20-plus to 80 stockkeeping units this year.

The company, which services between 13,000 to 17,000 customers weekly at its 12 stores, has raised the brow service price from $9 to $11. Threading accounts for about 90 percent of Ziba Beauty’s business, but it also offers waxing and Mehndi, a traditional art form that uses henna for temporary tattoos.

The company generated $12 million in revenues last year and is on pace to reach $12 million to $16 million this year, depending upon the number of stores added.

Batra is aiming for Ziba Beauty to secure private equity investment next year. Broccardo added that it takes Ziba Beauty around 14 months to earn back the $350,000 to $400,000 it costs to build a store, in contrast to the 24 to 36 months more typical for the industry.

Ziba Beauty has its share of challenges. Competition has been mounting in the threading field, and in eyebrow services in general, with the rise of brow destinations, including Anastasia and Benefit at Nordstrom and Macy’s, respectively. Franchise threading concepts are also multiplying, and include Chicago-based Shapes Brow Bar and Brow Art 23, as well as Bedford, Tex.-based Styles of India.

The firm has also been targeted in a lawsuit filed last year by former employees alleging the company didn’t give them minimum wage, overtime compensation and meal and rest breaks. In response to the suit, Batra said, “I feel very strongly that we have not done anything wrong.” Virginia Keeny, an attorney for the plaintiffs, is working to certify the lawsuit as a class action with an estimated 150 to 200 people in the class. “It is just getting rolling,” she said.

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