How a migrant couple threaded their way into Australia’s beauty market

| August 11, 2018

A Perth husband and wife have worked their way to the top of Australia’s competitive beauty market, creating a multi-million-dollar eyebrow shaping business from scratch – with help from a team of loyal migrant staff.

Rizwan and Sandrine Syed know all about the challenges faced when trying to start a business in a city with no professional networks, no credit history and an idea few people are familiar with.  That’s what the couple was confronted with in 2008 when they set out to launch their eyebrow threading business, having moved to Perth from India and France.

Before establishing Zubias Threading, Mr Syed said as far as he was aware the traditional Indian hair removal process was not available in Australia. “When it’s something brand new, people go, ‘Oh, don’t know, don’t want to know’,” Mr Syed said.

“When we started we had no professional networks in Perth, no credit history and a business idea that no one knew about,” said Mr Syed.  “We were knocked back by banks, landlords and insurers consistently and we worked seven days a week for nearly four years before we were able to breathe a little,” he said.

They eventually secured an insurer after a local Chinese businessperson rented them a tight pathway space along Fremantle’s E-Shed market.  So, with just $5,000, Mr and Mrs Syed opened the first Zubias Threading outlet.

“Our success didn’t come easily, or quickly but our willingness to take whatever opportunity came our way and work on the floor in the business were key.” Today, they own 30 stores across Perth with plans to expand into Melbourne and Sydney.

“Our loyal customers, either myself or my wife had to teach and show each and every one of them what we do, and once we built their trust and confidence, that’s when they became our advocates,” Mr Syed said. Zubias now has eight franchise outlets, all run by migrants who had been long-serving staff in the business.

“From virtually nothing, we now employ 150 staff who are mostly migrants… they are already so grateful to be here,” Mr Syed said. “Our staff come from countries like Persia, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius.”

“Many could not get work elsewhere in Perth, or if they had, had been exploited. I believe that we are all working together, and I have a responsibility to help others. I have a very strong culture in my company of people who want to make a future here.”

Mr and Mrs Syed have spent time teaching many staff how to speak English, and sponsored others to stay in Australia. “Some have had to leave their children behind while they find work, so it’s incredibly rewarding to know you’re helping people in this way,” Mr Syed said.

“Our staff are the perfect threaders because their cultures are familiar with manipulating thread and their motor skills are magnificent – whereas it’s not natural to use thread in the west.  I’m yet to train a western person successfully.”

“Marketing is this dynamic that happens between you and your customers, and just as importantly between you and your staff. Because they’re the ones who carry your message to your customers,” said Mr Syed said.

While the Syeds were pioneers of the threading technique in Australia, they credit their success to their business ethos.

They stress the importance of a clear and genuine business purpose that adds value to your customers: “Our aim was to provide affordable and professional beauty treatments to make customers look and feel great. There was a lot of education to do because threading was unheard of when we began – there was no one else doing it anywhere in the country. We were told we would fail but we persisted, and taught others.”

They also underline the importance of focusing on employees as well as customers by understanding why they work for you: “It is different for everyone, so spend time understanding each staff member individually. We believe our role is to help our team lead successful lives – if we can achieve that, then our customers will benefit, and the business will continue to grow.”

Business owners must also be willing to try something different and work hard: “When we started no one wanted to know us. It was hard to find a landlord to take us on, it was hard to find the proper chairs for threading, it was hard to find insurance, but we kept going and worked hard. For two years we didn’t have a single day off except Christmas Day.”

The couple have always focused on the ‘mission’, rather than the money, been willing to learn from their own and other people’s mistakes and have not let a fear of losing control prevent their firm expanding.

Finally they advocate the benefits of always planning ahead.  “We started growing the business by adding more salons. Now the future is in franchising. Eight of our stores are franchised and our expansion into Sydney and Melbourne will be around a franchise business model.”

Mr Syed’s business acumen began to emerge during his childhood years in native India; his father was a farmer and a businessman – but it was his five sisters who had the flair for beauty.

“That’s a lot of sisters, and that’s a lot of beauty treatments that go around in the house, and certainly threading was one of those,” Mr Syed said. “I grew up having hair pulled off my hand while I was sleeping because my sisters thought it was funny. I grew up with these techniques and I knew them very well.”

Mr Syed had a dream to move to Australia, and he did so in 2003 to study his Masters in Information Systems in Adelaide. But IT wasn’t Mr Syed’s passion, so he started to explore potential business options with his future wife, who had a successful position teaching French at a language school.

My Syed’s sister suggested he start an eyebrow threading business like her own in the United States. The couple visited her, to learn the technique. “In India a man doing threading would be frowned upon big time, so I was observing, my sister was teaching Sandrine,” Mr Syed said.

“We grew the skills ourselves on real people, and then we realised we had a special way of doing the eyebrows which no other country does. Which is why we are unique in what we do, and we train our staff to do it our way.”