Building a partnership
I discovered Trade Secrets, a retail franchise that sells beauty and salon products, through a friend of mine, who was working at the Eglinton Square location in Toronto as an employee. I was enjoying running my cell phone business, but I really liked the idea of franchising because of all the support a franchisor can offer.
Joining a franchise system meant I could take advantage of the name, the product, and bigger things like access to warehouses. Franchise systems have connections with brands that are hard for somebody just coming into the industry to create. When I started my cell phone business, for example, I tried to reach out to malls to ask for space to open my stores, but they always refused because I wasn’t a name they knew. With Trade Secrets (known as Glamour Secrets outside Ontario and Quebec), they do recognize the name and they’re much more willing to talk to me.
I actually try to think of Trade Secrets more as a business partner than a franchisor, since the company helps me with things like publicity, product, and getting into malls.
That said, I’ve still heard lots of people say you don’t really need to franchise. My response is yes, you can open your own business and be successful, but it’ll take you two to five years. It’s not going to be instant. With a franchise system, your new business is much more likely to get going right away.
I knew the owner of the Trade Secrets where my friend worked wanted to retire because he was getting older, so there was potential for me to buy the store. However, I still had to decide whether or not this was the right franchise for me.
The former owner, Tony Petrera, actually helped me a lot with that. He gave me some tips on how to run the business well and told me what the job was like. I also did my own research, mostly looking at the store’s sales.
One of the things that really appealed to me about Trade Secrets was the fact it was part of the beauty industry. I think this is one of the sectors that will never go out of business. A lot of my female friends, for example, spend tonnes of money on beauty products. Also, from reading about the market, I found out men are also starting to take better care of themselves and have an interest in what we sell.
Eventually, I met with a team from Trade Secrets’ head office, and before I bought the store, they allowed me to go into the location and check out the end-of-day sales. Also, my friend was still working there and had been for two or three years, so she gave me her perspective on the location as an employee. The drawback was she didn’t have much knowledge about the business, other than the selling part, so I still had to do a lot of studying on my own.
I agreed to buy the store in the summer of 2016, but because I wanted to do this thorough research, I didn’t end up taking over until late January 2017. That was my first location. Six months later, I made an agreement to take on a second store, but because the owner was away for two months, I had to wait until September to get going.
The biggest hurdle for me coming into this business was trying to understand all the different products. I didn’t get why people would use a body lotion or a face cream—to me, it was the same thing. Why not just put the body lotion on your face? That’s how illiterate I was about beauty. I’ve learned a lot since then!
It took me about two months to completely understand the products we offered. To help me learn faster and more easily, I created an Excel sheet that had details about all the products sorted by category.
From the ground up
My third location was a bit unusual. Trade Secrets recently started a new initiative that involves setting up Glamour Secrets Beauty Bars within Loblaws’ Real Canadian Superstore locations. At the beauty bars, we offer some products, but we mostly focus on beauty/salon services. When the franchisor made the deal, I was the first franchisee who was called into the office. I was asked whether I’d be interesting in investing in this opportunity, and I said yes. I liked the idea of being part of a new concept within the grocery store.
Again, though, I did some research of my own to figure out why Loblaws would need us. What was in it for them? The Loblaws team explained they want to build their appeal to female customers. In the store itself, they already have decent clothing brands, groceries, a pharmacy, and everything related to the home. They’re even opening a tutoring centre for children. They told me they want to create a store women can come to for any reason, whether it’s to go to the gym, to buy groceries, or to get their kids to study. This was just one more way to appeal to female shoppers.
It sounded like a great idea to me, and I agreed to open the first beauty bar at a Superstore in November 2017. The papers were all signed and we were ready to go by March of 2018.
Things at the new location weren’t always easy. In the beginning, because we needed approval from Loblaws before we could put out any advertising, no one knew we were there. Going into it, I knew I would probably lose money for six to eight months because of that. Just as I expected, we started breaking even after about six months, thanks to our efforts to promote the products and get people talking about the new location.
I would advise other franchisees who are just starting out to try to spend three or four days every week in their new store. That’s the only way to really get to know the needs of the location and your staff. In turn, understanding those things increases your profitability.