Business Monday

European Wax Center’s mission is to enhance beauty by revealing more skin

Joshua and David Coba, center, founded the European Wax Center company. They’re flanked by, from left, wax specialists Orianna Chookolingo, Lianette Torres and Amanda Lopez.
Joshua and David Coba, center, founded the European Wax Center company. They’re flanked by, from left, wax specialists Orianna Chookolingo, Lianette Torres and Amanda Lopez. ctrainor@miamiherld.com

David Coba, CEO of European Wax Center, never drives himself to work. Instead, Coba rides to his Aventura headquarters with his father, who works for the company, too. Coba says he doesn’t want to waste work time behind the steering wheel, not when his company is on a major expansion spree.

As a passenger, Coba tweaks his company’s new manager outreach program or talks to a potential franchisee. His ultimate mission is to build European Wax Center even bigger, continually solidifying his brand as a provider of waxing services nationwide. “Plus, I love the time my Dad and I spend every day riding to work. That’s what fuels my successes,” he said.

By all measures, Coba has achieved his goal of making body-hair removal accessible and affordable to all. Customers can walk into any of the centers in 42 states and emerge with their eyebrows waxed for $20 or their bikini line smooth for $36; business is most brisk from June through August. The first wax is always complimentary (brows, underarms, bikini line for women, nose, ears and brows for men).

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The European Wax Center company is a chain of more than 600 waxing centers, with more than 200 in the works. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherld.com

However, Coba also has achieved a more impressive goal: significant growth. European Wax Center has more than 600 locations (18 corporate-owned) and 200 more under development. Now the challenge is to use technology to streamline systems as European Wax Center continues to expand and to give customers a personalized experience that will build loyalty.

It was more than a decade ago when David’s father, Nelson Coba, ran a North Miami Beach salon and employed his sons. After 9/11, when customers cut back on other salon services, they continued to spend on waxing. David soon realized that waxing, unlike the other services offered in the salon, was not a luxury. He recognized that even in tight financial times, people weren’t going to stop removing unwanted hair.

In 2004, he and his brother Josh launched European Wax Center using a proprietary wax that doesn’t adhere to the skin. The company also introduced a prepaid pass to customers that includes free visits. The concept caught on. Four years later, with Nelson prodding his sons to expand nationwide, the Coba boys felt confident enough to franchise European Wax Center outside of Florida.

“It was never our intent to grow fast,” Coba said. “What drove our success was that we never focused on opening more locations but on doing better for our guests.”

Fast-forward to 2016, when the company saw more than $445 million in sales. Along the way, skin, not just hair, became the marketing focus “We wanted our customers to feel confident, to emphasize that it was not what was being removed that we were selling, but what was left behind,” said Joshua Coba, chief operating officer and David’s brother. All marketing campaigns and products were re-targeted using the new tag line “revealing beautiful skin.”

As a franchiser, David and Josh Coba consider it their job is to understand franchisees’ needs, give them tools and identify problems before they do. Unlike some franchisers, European Wax Center does not require its franchisees to open multiple locations, but most franchise owners have gone on to do so anyway. Of course, not every location sees strong sales performance, and there have been some closings along the way.

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Products on the shelf at the European Wax Center in Aventura, June 20, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherld.com

David spends his days walking around the company’s Aventura headquarters in cargo shorts and T-shirts, holding impromptu hallway meetings, brainstorming contests, and collecting ideas for how to better satisfy franchisors, managers, associates and guests.

“We do things to promote culture,” he says. “Our relationship is not just with the franchisees, but also with the managers and associates. About 70 percent of the corporate office is dedicated to talent management.”

Coba said executives at the corporate office train store managers to be better leaders and ensure that they feel supported: “Our goal is to understand what they go through and guide them even if we’re not in the centers.”

While European Wax Center has grown from a store to a business to a national brand, it remains family-run. The Cobas — Nelson, David, Joshua and cousin Primo (who works in logistics and distribution) — talk business in and out of the office, sometimes over dinner. While Joshua focuses heavily on merchandising, Nelson roams the office making daily rounds, talking to each person and sharing insights with his sons.

“We’re having fun,” David said. “That’s what my dad has brought to the table.” With another 200 locations under development, maintaining a culture based on relationships and teams that work well together becomes increasingly important, he said. “We recognize the same values that got us where we are today will continue to drive our success.”

Company Name: European Wax Center.

Business: Out-of-home body-hair-waxing services.

Headquarters and number of locations: Headquartered in Aventura, there more than 620 centers open, with another 200 in various stages of development; most are franchises, but 18 locations are corporate-owned. There are 51 European Wax Centers in Florida.

Management team: David Coba, CEO; Joshua Coba, COO; 150 employees in the corporate office.

Year started: 2004.

Clients: More than 10.6 million guest visits in 2016.

Competitors: Beauty and nail salons, spas, regional and local waxing centers.

The difference: Competitors may offer waxing as an add-on service rather than the main guest service, or focus on price or speed. European Wax Center said its focus is on the end results of its services, revealing beautiful skin. “Our intent is to help guests feel unapologetically confident in their skin. We like to say, walk into one of our centers and strut out,” David Coba said.

Prices: They range from $12 for upper-lip waxing to $71 for the full leg wax. There are also bundled deals in the form of prepaid passes: buy nine eyebrow waxing, get two free, for $180, or buy six, get one free, for $120. Yearly unlimited passes for eyebrows, facial, underarms and bikini wax range from $255 to $649.

Numbers: More than $445 million in 2016, more than 15.5 million services.

Worst mistake/best decision: “When we came out with our products, a bath and body line, they didn’t have an aligned purpose or function and, not surprising, the line didn’t sell. We took that mistake and transformed our learnings when we came out with a second line,” Coba said. “We are now in our third product portfolio — Strut 365 — and the results are through the roof. We are selling proprietary skincare, body, and brow products geared toward the needs our clients have — lotions and serums to exfoliate and prevent ingrown hair as well as products to fill in, groom or highlight brows.” The new product line is designed to work in a complementary way with waxing services.

Challenges and headwinds: The hair-removal industry is seeing new innovations in laser treatments that compete with waxing services. However, Coba said waxing services are growing more quickly. He believes his company’s challenge is to continue growth while keeping the culture and core values, and finding new ways to communicate to potential guests that its services help individuals reveal their beautiful skin.

Outside source: Noemi Grupenmager, CEO and founder of Unikwax in Aventura, said she introduced the concept of waxing centers to the marketplace in the 1990s. Unikwax has 27 locations in Florida as well as New York, New Jersey and Georgia. Although her company, also a franchisor, has been slower than EWC to expand, Unikwax is gearing up to compete more intensely. It differentiates itself by manufacturing its own, all-natural wax.

“We have launched an aggressive franchise sales development plan,” she said. Grupenmager said waxing removal services have caught on in America, providing opportunities. “I think waxing is finally seen as a necessity, like taking a shower… it’s part of hygiene. Now you see a lot of businesses looking to capitalize on the growth in the industry.”

Strategy: Continue to open new centers across the country with the right franchisee partners, and reach more than $1 billion in revenue in the next five years.

The writer can be reached at cindykgoodman@gmail.com.

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