Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Dream job now a little beauty

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Spa business grows from single salon a decade ago to 10-clinic chain turning over $5m a year

A desire to keep up standards has deterred Hady Wenham from franchising her business. Photo/ Greg Bowker
A desire to keep up standards has deterred Hady Wenham from franchising her business. Photo/ Greg Bowker

Indulgence and pampering are at the heart of Hady Wenham's multi-million-dollar beauty clinic business, but her focus on the bottom line goes more than skin deep.

A sharp eye on forecasting and financials has seen Wenham build the Forme Spas from a single salon a decade ago to a 10-clinic chain that employs 60 people and turns over more than $5 million a year.

At a time when many businesses have had to work harder to part customers from their discretionary dollar, Wenham has seen average client spend per visit increase to significantly more than $100, and double-digit growth at each spa.

Wenham began working on her beauty empire as a new mother, frustrated by the experience of returning to nine-to-five work in the advertising industry.

Not only was Wenham trying to balance her executive role with being a mum, but she felt her advertising career had run its course and was looking for a change.

"I'd looked at quite a few beauty industry businesses. It always looked like such a tranquil kind of environment; it all looked very calm, I guess, a very welcoming, positive sort of environment."

The only problem was, none of them were making any money.

Spotting a business for sale advertised by a business broker led her to the perfect beauty industry opportunity: a clinic she'd been going to for years which, best of all, was a profitable and well-run business.

"So many women have been in that situation where they don't want to be a stay-at-home mum for whatever reason, but want to work and have a sense of achievement and I guess that's what I was looking for," says Wenham.

That was May 2002, and by the end of that year, with business flourishing under the changes she'd made, Wenham was already looking at opening another beauty clinic.

"Initially there was a lot of excitement about re-branding and renovating the premises and that was the plan for the first 12 months there.

"It was really only after we saw that success in the business in the first six to eight months and at that stage going: this is something that is replicable for us."

Wenham sealed the deal on her second clinic, in Parnell, after seeing an ad for the perfect villa as she waited to go into theatre to deliver her second child.

The property was under contract but she left her name with the agent just in case the sale fell through.

"A few days later it had fallen through so on the way home from the hospital with my son we went and had a look, negotiated the lease and away we went."

Postpartum wheeling and dealing sounds like a far cry from the tranquil, calm environment that attracted Wenham to the industry.

"I guess it's that naivety a lot of people have before they own their own business.

"You go into it for those lifestyle reasons but the reality is often that you do work, not necessarily longer hours, because a lot of people work long hours in a corporate environment, but it's certainly with you.

"You don't switch off at the end of the day."

Wenham says the hardest point came when she had a chain of five spas but was running it all virtually solo from a home office.

The business can now sustain a head office with four staff, and has a sister company importing several skincare ranges.

Wenham's involvement in the beauty business hasn't extended to being out on the shop floor herself.

She laughingly admits her "hurry, hurry, hurry" approach would see an hour-long relaxing massage reduced to a short, sharp ten minutes in an attempt to "get the job done".

She may not be hands-on, but Wenham has her finger on the financials.

As a school-leaver she began training as an accountant and says she is "quite a numbers girl".

Each of the 10 Forme spas has to stand on its own two feet, running its own profit and loss accounts.

Any new clinics added to the chain - a mixture of start-ups and existing businesses - are run through Wenham's forecasting analysis to ensure the business case stacks up and each has been funded out of retained earnings.

Wenham says it was fantastic to start out with an existing business but as the chain grew it became less attractive, with some of the purchases amounting to just securing a good location with a functioning clinic rather than the clientele coming in.

She has looked at franchising but was concerned it meant a loss of control over the consistency she has achieved across the businesses.

"There's no guarantee with the franchise, in my view, that the standards can be maintained at as high a standard as what I'd like them to be.

"And we've invested so much in building the brand it would break my heart to see a Forme sign over the door with a dirty spa and terrible service."

- NZ Herald

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Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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