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Breaking into the beauty biz

Succeeding in the already tight beauty market depends on a number of factors. Here are eight of those.
By Ieth Inolino and Jimbo Owen Gulle |

manny_calayan_2.pngEverybody wants to be beautiful, but not everybody succeeds in a beauty business. But celebrity cosmetic surgeon Dr. Manny Calayan of Calayan Surgicenters and high-end styling boutique Vivere Salon have succeeded, and now offer their advice to ’treps eyeing a niche in this industry:

1.    Rely on your own talent.

Dr. Calayan or Doc Manny, who has been practicing his craft since 1997, really had plans to put up a cosmetic and dermatological clinic with his wife Dr. Rosario ‘Pie’ Cabrera-Calayan after their studies and internship. By dint of hard work—and a bit of luck, Doc Manny says—the Calayan Surgicenter Corp. now has two clinics in the Philippines and another in the United States, on famed Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

2.    Rely on others’ talent.

If you can’t do it, find someone who can. That’s what the group of friends who formed Vivere Salon did in 2004—hire stylists trained in the prestigious Vidal Sassoon Academy, the so-called Harvard of hairstyling—when their plans to franchise another salon brand fell through. “There were no locations available (for the planned franchise). This prompted us to go the other way and create our own brand instead” with P2 million in capital, recalls Ramon de Ubago III, CEO of Life is Beautiful Inc. the company behind Vivere Salon.

3.    Treat all clients equally.

Dr. Calayan made his name as the 'cosmetic surgeon to the stars'—his first 'big' client was actress-host Plinky Recto—but delivers the same 'hands-on, down-to-earth' treatment to even non-celebrity clients. The key, he says, is to be “devoted to your patients” or customers. “It’s hard to ensure perfection in cosmetic treatments,” Doc Manny adds, “but that’s my goal—for everyone to be happy and contented.”

4.    Compete with yourself, not your competition.

In business, you cannot avoid competitors, but don’t focus on them; just “train yourself and do your best,” says Dr. Calayan. In the cosmetic surgery industry, that means you are always learning new procedures and training how to use the newest equipment—there are more noninvasive and laser machines now than before, Doc Manny notes. Meanwhile, Vivere is eyeing more branches in malls where “we definitely have a lot of opportunities to reach our target market,” says de Ubago.

5.    Price it right.

“We believe that we should price our services with value for money as the main consideration,” says Vivere’s de Ubago. “We have a high rate of returning customers because we’re not just able to delight our customers but we give them their money’s worth.” Calayan’s fees, meanwhile, reflect the complexity of the treatment he has to perform on his patients “It’s either minor or major surgery,” he says.

6.    Choose quality over quantity.

For Dr. Calayan, this means keeping just two clinics—the main branch in Makati City, where he does most of his surgery, and the Quezon City outlet that specializes in skin treatments—because as much as possible the doctor wants to “treat all my patients with my hands.” (Doc Manny does only two to five surgeries a day.) Vivere, meanwhile, still sends its stylists to the Vidal Sassoon Academy to enable them “to create hairstyles that fit individual looks and lifestyles inspired by the latest fashion trends.”

ramon_de_ubago.png7.    Spread the word (of mouth).

This starts with talking to your clients or patients and taking a genuine interest in their lives, says Dr. Calayan. “They all thought before that I was suplado (snobbish),” he says. “Then they refer us to their friends, who want exactly what I did to them.”

To ensure customers come back for more, de Ubago says Vivere has an in- house program that “trains its people regularly on customer service and customer delight to support our goal of customer service excellence.”

8.    Look to expand.

Even if a beauty business is very hands-on, you can still grow it by getting partners or through franchising. Vivere, which presently has five outlets, is opening its business for franchise only after “strengthening its brand and considering the inquiries they received over the last two years,” notes de Ubago.

To bring Calayan Surgicenter to the States, Doc Manny teamed up with three 'associates' (doctors like him)— an Armenian and two Americans—apart from his wife Dr. Pie, who manages the US business. It’s more proof that everyone, everywhere, wants to be beautiful.


Photos: Jun Pinzon (Dr. Manny Calayan) and Dix Perez (Ramon de Ubago III)

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This article was originally published in the May 2012 issue of Entrepreneur magazine (with updates from the editor). Subscribe to the print or digital version here. 

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