How This Immigrant Franchisee Tapped Into Walmart's Power to Grow His Beauty Franchise
Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before Irfan Ali opened his first Seva in a Walmart store, he was already tapped into the retail chain: he worked for Walmart as an assistant store manager. When Ali, who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when he was 16, learned that as a Seva franchisee he would have the opportunity to open in Walmart locations, he was hooked. Today, he has three Seva locations – all inside of Walmart stores – and three more studios on the way. Here's what he has learned.
Name: Irfan Ali
Franchise owned: I own and operate a total of three Seva studios, and I am in the process of developing three more. Two of the studios currently operating are in Bakersfield, Calif. and one is in Torrance, Calif. in the Los Angeles area. All three locations are situated within Walmart stores. The three studios I am developing now will open in the Bakersfield, Calif. area.
Some background on Seva: Seva offers a superior line of spa services, including high-quality eyebrow threading, waxing, eyelash extensions and facials at an affordable price. Providing clients treatments in a fast casual manner, the convenience of Seva comes without losing the feel of a traditional spa. Currently, there are more than 100 Seva locations open or in development in the United States, with hundreds more planned to open nationwide in the coming years.
How long have you owned a franchise?
Seva is my first franchise investment. I signed the agreement to open my first Seva studio in August 2011, three and half years ago. I opened my first Seva studio three months later in November 2011 in Bakersfield, Calif. Exactly two years later, in November 2013, I opened two more Seva studios, my second in Bakersfield and first in Los Angeles (Torrance).
Usually when people talk about why they invested in a franchise they say they’ve done it because it is a safe business play. While there is a certain amount of risk, the risk is much less than going out on your own as an independent because the brand is already established, there is a proven business model, and all the groundwork has been established. So, it’s a minimum effort for the layman person.
I also have some of these points in my mind, but the main reason I went with franchising was my vision of going big.
My wife has experience in the beauty industry and I have an interest in fashion. These two facts, mixed with the opportunity to open our Seva studios inside of Walmart stores, the world's largest retailer, were a strong combination. I knew that if Seva would click with consumers, which clearly it has, I would be able to make my mark as the owner of Seva studios locally, nationally and possibly internationally. The sky is the limit with Seva.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was working for Walmart at a Super Center as an assistant store manager, overseeing around 500 employees. I heard about Seva through a television commercial and researched it thoroughly as I pursued the opportunity to invest in the franchise.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I wanted to invest in Seva because my personal values align closely with the brand’s core values of honesty, loyalty and skill. When I first invested in Seva, the brand was in its franchising infancy stage, yet its portfolio was very impressive. I spent a lot of time talking to Vas Maniatis, the founder and CEO of Seva, and he was able to convey how determined the brand was to make an impact in the United States. It was evident that he was extremely confident about the Seva model and I felt the same way. I could see Seva’s foundation was very strong with concrete pillars in the shape of their core values. For me, it was a perfect marriage.
Additionally, Seva’s support system impressed me from the beginning. The headquarters team is always behind me with marketing and operations support that gives me more confidence and brand strength.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I invested a total of approximately $100,000.
- The franchise fee was $ 25,000
- The Walmart entrance fee was $10,000
- The build-out and opening expenses were $65,000 (construction, furniture, equipment, inventory, advertising and training)
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Our comfort level with Seva was high from the beginning. To be honest, the confidence came initially from a gut feeling. My wife, who is closely involved in running the business with me, and I believed Seva was the right path for us personally and professionally. Plus, we have complete confidence in ourselves and our ability to work together. When we launched our first location we spent our whole savings, but we were there for each other.
Additionally, when we learned that Seva had a strong relationship with Walmart, we knew instantly that the brand had track record of success as an upstanding, highly effective concept. For all of these reasons, I was not scared to leave my stable job.
Initially, my wife worked our Seva studio full time and I helped with administrative work in the first year. In our second year, we decided to go big and I left my job. At that moment, we made the decision to open two more studios. Now, we’re in the process of developing three more studios in the Bakersfield, Calif. area.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The biggest challenge was that a lot of people were not familiar with our niche, which is threading, and many of our services were new to most people. However, being in Walmart, it was easy for consumers to come in and see what we were doing.
We spent a lot of time training our employees and needed to spend a lot of time teaching customers and potential customers about our services, and how they are different and more effective than other competing services.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
My best piece of advice is maintain your confidence and self esteem. If you believe you can do it, you will do it.
If you are investing in a franchise, make sure you do thorough research to find the perfect match. Listen to your heart, but only when your mind is convinced as well. Investing in a franchise is like a marriage -- an understanding partner in life. The perfect franchise will have systems in place to help, protect and stand behind you in thick and thin.
What’s next for you and your business?
I just signed a multi-unit agreement for three more locations. Another goal of ours is to double our annual sales and reach a million dollars in sales by the end of 2016.
We also want to be sure to have the best employees in place. Out of our sixteen employees, nine of them have worked with us since day one. I have invested in my employees’ development and they have been loyal to us. Now, I want expand here because consumers throughout the region now know the brand.