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Threading a Success Story


by Emily Lambert

Elizabeth Porikos-Gorgees first experienced brow threading in 1997 on Devon Avenue—a primarily South Asian neighborhood—in Chicago. “I was going to a wedding and a friend suggested I try eyebrow threading. I hated waxing because it burned,” she says. Her reaction? “I loved it. [My eyebrows] looked so good, in great shape, and with no irritation.” She was hooked from then on, visiting the salon every three weeks for the service.


Tying the knot


Threading is an ancient art that originated in India centuries ago, and works like this: “A knot is formed with a cotton thread and eyebrow hair gets caught in that thread and pulled out. You can navigate the direction the knot is going. You have complete control with no irritation. With threading, you get a razor sharp edge that lasts three weeks,” Porikos-Gorgees explains.

Unlike waxing, threading can also pick up smaller hairs, including peach fuzz. Threading is also less painful than waxing—it only removes hair, while waxing removes the top layers of the skin. Prices range from $10-$12, which is the same, if not less than waxing, Porikos-Gorgees points out.

Having skilled threading artists is an integral part of the Brow Art 23 success story. Not everyone has what it takes, explains Porikos-Gorgees. “It depends on the person. They can get it in a week or two, a month, or never. It is a true art,” she says.


Other services


Brow Art 23 also offers temporary henna tattoos, eyelash extensions, permanent makeup (tattoos for the face, such as adding a beauty mark or lip outline), and a line of private label cosmetics concentrating on the eye and the areas around it. These include brow and lash growth tonic, eyebrow definer, brushes, and so on.

Henna tattoos are often a draw for the younger set, tempting girls, as well as boys, with designs such as butterflies and snakes. Porikos-Gorgees recently introduced a marketing incentive for moms with children: When moms come in to have their brows done, children receive a henna design for as little as $8. Henna tattoos usually run $20 and up.


Taking it to the malls


A few years later, in 2004, Porikos-Gorgees noticed brow-threading RMUs pop up in local malls. A couple of years later, in 2006, when she noticed that Chicago’s Woodfield mall—what she refers to as one of the best and busiest malls in the city—did not have a brow-threading outfit, she took notice. She called the mall’s specialty leasing representative and pitched the concept. “They practically hung up the phone when they heard the idea,” she recounts.

Undaunted, Porikos-Gorgees decided to plow ahead and contacted Westfield Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, IL. The leasing rep agreed to meet with her, even though the concept of eyebrow threading had been pitched to him unsuccessfully many times in the past. But something about Porikos-Gorgees’ energy and enthusiasm changed his mind. She began a two-month lease starting in July of 2006.

Sales were good—the first day, the first weekend, the first month and so on. “I started to see the big picture,” says Porikos-Gorgees, thinking if she could replicate this success on a grander scale, she had something pretty profitable on her hands.


Rapid expansion


Since the Gorgees own a condo in Florida, Elizabeth decided to test the concept there as well. She called International Plaza and Bay Street in Tampa. While no locations were available at the time, in a curious coincidence, the leasing rep also managed the Woodfield mall in Chicago and recommended she try her concept there. Yes—this was the same center that had rejected the concept days earlier. In September 2006, she opened for business on a cart in the Woodfield mall, and a month later, moved to her first inline.

“It blossomed from there,” says Porikos-Gorgees. The company expanded to 48 corporate-owned locations, as well as five franchise locations, spread throughout the United States (with a concentration on the East Coast) even during an economic recession. Incidentally, Porikos-Gorgees did eventually launch at International Plaza.

The business blossomed so quickly that six weeks into its launch, her husband, Sam Gorgees, joined the company as manager of operations. Gorgees assists in getting stores up and running. “I’m more of the lease negotiation, strategy, marketing person,” says Porikos-Gorgees. But either of them can help in any aspect of the business when necessary. “We both do threading. We have both opened locations ourselves,” she says.


A high-brow education


Porikos-Gorgees has a bachelors degree in Fine Arts, a masters in art management and is five credits away from a second masters in teaching. She says she has used all of this expertise in her business. Her design skills are invaluable when setting up stores, kiosks and RMUs. And her teaching skills are a powerful tool when training employees.

Marketing is important too. When Porikos-Gorgees first had her eyebrows threaded, it was far from the level of service and sophistication that she came to value. “[It was] a great idea that needed to be modernized and professionalized.” And that’s exactly what she has done at Brow Art 23.

“I modeled myself after a MAC store; kind of artsy, professional,” says Porikos-Gorgees. Brow Art 23 employees wear a black uniform and their hair is pulled back. “I’m implementing this at every location. I want it to be very, very, very professional. A mini-salon feel without an appointment,” she says. Because brow threading is only a ten minute process and is geared toward working women, the idea is for the service to be done while they shop, without the hassle of scheduling an appointment.


Business basics


Porikos-Gorgees is also working on a customer appreciation program for clients to receive a free service after a certain number of visits. “Our business is based on repeat business,” she explains, with approximately 80% of clients falling into that category. To attract first-time customers, education is important. Informative, professionally shot videos are played on plasma televisions at both carts and inlines.

Porikos-Gorgees doesn’t seem worried about competition. “Others are only competition to me in that they are another eyebrow operation, not in that they are better than me. Not even a close second,” she says.


Carts and inlines


Carts and inlines offer two different brow-threading experiences and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Some prefer inlines for the privacy they offer—some women are wary of having this service performed in the middle of the common area, says Porikos-Gorgees. And some services, like body hair removal and permanent makeup, are only performed in the confines of a salon. Porikos-Gorgees likes inlines because of the sense of permanence they give the business. She also likes kiosks and carts because they are better at attracting new customers. “You can’t beat the common area traffic,” she says.

In Florida and a few other states Porikos-Gorgees doesn’t have a choice: Threading must be done only in inline stores. Porikos-Gorgees learned this the hard way when, in 2007, four of her cart locations were shut down. “[In Florida], I have to have a salon license and licensed estheticians and cosmetologists,” she says. These are conditions mandated by the state’s Board of Cosmetology. In addition, running water and permanent walls that attach from floor to ceiling are a necessity, making inlines the only viable option.

“Different states have different regulations,” Porikos-Gorgees points out. She is now careful to research individual state requirements before setting up shop.


Franchise fever


Because of Brow Art 23 rapid’s growth, the Gorgees decided to explore franchising. They started the process in 2008 and in January of 2009, opened their first franchise in Indiana. “We’ll keep some corporate locations, but will transfer some to franchisees, as well. We also have other corporate openings planned. We will continue to grow [both ways],” she says. Another 20-30 locations—a mix of corporate and franchise outfits—are planned for the year 2010.

For a franchise fee of $30,000 (with a discount for multiples), retailers get the Brow Art 23 name, a full 7-10 day training in Chicago for as many company representatives as desired, ongoing training as both a refresher and an opportunity to learn about new products, site visits, opening day assistance, an 800-number staffed from 9:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Central time, a professional website that is continually updated, and repeated advertising “to get the word out,” says Porikos-Gorgees. Franchise agreements are extended to permanent kiosks and inlines only.

Franchisees will also have assistance in site location and lease negotiation. “Shopping malls are locations where [retailers] have no reason not to be successful,” says Porikos-Gorgees, noting some stores pull in $40,000 plus a month.

What she looks for in return is franchisees that can make a long-term commitment, at least five years, have enthusiasm and a strong sense of responsibility. Retailers that become part of the Brow Art 23 team will also benefit from Porikos-Gorgees’ ongoing marketing strategies and round-the-clock commitment to the business. “Our wheel is constantly moving to make Brow Art 23 a success story,” she says.


Setting an example


Porikos-Gorgees assures retailers and franchisees that a strong worth ethic is a vital part of Brow Art 23. One memorable incident is ample proof, she says. It was December 14, 2007—the day she opened a location at Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. Porikos-Gorgees opened this location not only single-handedly, but six months pregnant with her third child. The scheduled employee never showed, her husband was traveling, and Porikos-Gorgees knew that the show must go on. This was at the height of the holiday season, after all. And so she worked the long holiday hours from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. attending to 70 people in 15 hours. Through this incident, Porikos-Gorgees demonstrated by example, why success is just another word for energy and attitude.