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Friday, Apr 19, 2024

Groom Service

It’s hair today that’s gone tomorrow with Beauty By Dolly — a wildly popular San Diego salon that specializes in the ancient art of yanking out unwanted facial hairs with a simple cotton thread.

Dolly Bakshai’s Beauty by Dolly salons in San Diego have emerged as a popular alternative for those who want immaculately groomed eyebrows at low cost — and relatively low pain. Its popularity is representative of the emergence of niche personal care businesses in San Diego and across the country.

Services such as hair removal, extension and grooming have proven to be particularly fast-growing segments of a salon sector becoming increasingly specialized — and more profitable for many — in San Diego and nationwide. With post-recession disposable income on the upswing, the industry is growing at a 2.6 percent rate and will reach $50.2 billion nationwide by the end of the year, according to market research firm IbisWorld. Changing consumer trends have led to more focus placed on customer service, as well as on businesses that provide niche services — such as the threading done at Beauty by Dolly.

Old School Making New Revenue

Threading hair is an ancient hair-removal technique that’s been practiced in countries such as Egypt and India for millennia. Legend has it that Cleopatra’s own hairless physique was the result of this meticulous art. By holding the thread in a cat’s cradlelike fashion, several errant hairs can quickly be pulled out by the root.

Bakshai brought the practice to San Diego when she moved here from India in 1990. She began freelancing from her home, at friends’ homes and in the park before she opened Beauty by Dolly in 2005. She now employs about 20 between her Hillcrest and Mira Mesa locations, which she runs with her sister Kashmira Torki and her niece Natashah Torki.

And they run them well. Beauty By Dolly’s two salons generate roughly $1.4 million in revenue per year combined. It took several years to become profitable, but 10 years in, the company brings in $170,000 in profit. Nationwide, only 2 percent of women-owned businesses crack $1 million in yearly revenue, according to a report commissioned by American Express OPEN.

One key reason for Dolly’s ability to ring up sales is that the service is both quick and inexpensive; the salon can serve more than 20 customers per hour at a low price of $12 per visit. By contrast, brow waxing and tweezing can run up to $40, with comparable results. Beauty By Dolly also provides body waxing and other ancillary services, but the bulk of its revenue comes from quick-turnaround brow and face threading appointments.

Its main competitor, waxing, can be more damaging to the skin as it causes more strain — a fact that has proven a lucrative marketing point in an industry obsessed with preserving youthful, elastic complexions.

Outside of employee costs, there’s relatively low overhead, as cotton threads are cheaply sourced from India.

Bakshai teaches threading techniques in shelters for abused women and frequents schools in underprivileged areas to show teens ways to boost self-esteem. “Her girls,” as Bakshai calls them, refer to her as “Dolly Maasi” — a Hindi term of endearment that likens her to a maternal aunt.

While Dolly’s threading services were ostensibly the first and remain the most visible, more than three dozen have emerged in San Diego in recent years.

“When I started, there was not a soul doing threading here,” Bakshai said. “Now we have quite a few threading salons that have opened up, and good luck to them.”

Although the niche business is fast gaining popularity, “threading is still a largely unregulated and unmeasured market,” said Cyrus Bulsara, president of Professional Consultants & Resources, a Texas-based market research firm that specializes in the beauty, salon and cosmetics industries. Nevertheless, the firm estimates that all eyebrow grooming — including tweezing, waxing and threading — is a $1.5 billion market and growing.

Lashing Out in Style

Many beauty industry businesses have eschewed the wide variety of services they could offer in favor of focusing on a single specialty, said Janelle Koch, founder and owner of San Diego’s Blink Lash Boutique salons. Having been in the aesthetics business for 15 years, she said that when she started, every salon did a little bit of everything.

“Now a lot of business owners are just picking one beauty service they want to specialize in,” Koch said. It’s a trend she sees as driven by clients “seeking … that one, specialized service; it’s moving away from a one-stop-shop model.”

Blink Lash Boutique could be viewed as the opposite of Dolly’s in that it adds — rather than removes — facial hair. The salons glue on long-lasting eyelash extensions, lash by lash — and for a pretty penny. The initial application of extensions can take two hours and run up to $249, with touchups costing up to $69.

Koch began extending eyelashes in 2006, and founded Blink Lash Boutique in 2008. Though costly, the extensions enable women to forgo time-consuming makeup routines of mascara and eyeliner application, facilitating quicker completion of a fresh-faced look.

“Everyone kept thinking, ‘How can an eyelash biz make more money during an economic crisis?’” Koch said. “But I was still getting busier and busier.”

Koch couldn’t keep up with the demand, so she brought on a friend to help handle a growing doe-eyed clientele. In 2009, the business began hiring other people, “and then it just continued like a domino effect,” she said. The company now employs 20 eyelash stylists at its three locations in Mission Valley, Little Italy and Solana Beach. Fresh from a new remodel, the salons’ clientele vary widely by location — from downtown professionals frequenting the Little Italy location to more stay-at-home moms in Solana Beach.

Style That’s Blowing Up

Mickel Bohi spent 16 years in television news before making a startling pivot into hair care. One might say she’s gone from purveying one form of hot air to quite another; she now co-owns and operates two trendy hair salons that specialize exclusively in hair blow drying and styling.

Blow Pop Dry Bar, with locations in Horton Plaza downtown and the Westfield mall complex in University Town Center, offers a luxe experience for a low price tag: Champagne, a blow-out and the royal treatment can be had for a mere $35.

Bohi began working in TV as a live truck operator in Idaho at 17, after she became fed up with her job as an Airborne Express courier and just showed up at the local Idaho Falls station. She then worked her way around the country and up ladder before calling it quits as a news producer at NBC-7 in San Diego. She entered beauty school and soon caught onto the emerging trend of blow dry bars. The concept was hatched in 2007 in Los Angeles by Alli Web, whose Dry Bar Inc. franchise exceeds $22 million in annual sales among 37 locations across the country.

Bohi launched her first salon in late 2012 with her husband, Charles Davenport — owner of the now-closed electronica dance club Voyeur. They co-operate a second Blow Pop Dry Bar with Krista Llamas in University Town Center, and their business has taken off as it’s booked often throughout the day.

“I was born in 1968, and my mom used to go to a beauty parlor,” Davenport said. “This is the 21st century version of that. Get your hair done by someone who can do it better than you can. Watch movies, drink champagne and mimosas. Have fun.”

The main client base spans women from their 30s to 50s — lawyers, executives, businesswomen, bankers and judges among them. It also attracts the downtown crowd, including younger women with hair extensions, planning to hit the town on a weekend night. The business also attracts a lot of on-air talent — television personalities with hard-to-manage coifs who come in several times a week, Bohi said.

Dry bars are catching on in trendy metropolitan hubs, Davenport said, with rising popularity throughout Southern California and New York City in particular. Considering the fast growth of Blow Pop Dry Bar’s two locations, Bohi is considering franchising the business, though staying local. The trend hasn’t quite taken off in the Midwest, for instance, so it’s all about knowing your market.

“Like with any service business, you need a market that demands something as specialized as a blowout bar,” Bohi said. “But a lot of salons are getting into niche territory, and customers are lining up.”


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