Note from BW of Brazil: Although the blog has already featured the “rags-to-riches” story of Heloisa Assis in a previous post, it’s important to note that Forbes Brasil magazine has recognized this former domestic as one of the ten most important businesswomen in Brazil. In the piece below, “Zica”, as she known to friends, family, customers and partners, discusses her phenomenal success and her goals for expansion into other states throughout Brazil as well possibly into other countries. Keep on movin’, Zica!
The former maid who became one of the most important businesswomen in Brazil
by Cintia Esteves
Zica Assis, founder of the Instituto Beleza Natural talks about her next steps in the world of entrepreneurship
They call her Zica but she doesn’t know very well how to explain why. Heloisa Assisi, founder of the Instituto Beleza Natural, is unaware of the origin of her childhood nickname, but she loves it. For, if in the popular jargon the word “zica” means unlucky, for her it means lucky. Considered the tenth most powerful businesswoman in Brazil, the former maid has enjoyed twenty years of fame (and money) that the chemical formula she invented to manage kinky/curly hair has earned her.
To Zica, being on the Forbes list alongside names like Graça Foster of Petrobras, and Chieko Aoki of Blue Tree Hotels, is “a tribute”. The entrepreneur explains her influence, mainly among the women of Brazil’s class C economic class, her target audience. “Having hair that is well taken care of helps people to be more respected; it’s easier to get a job, for example,” she says.
The Super –Relaxante (Super-Relaxer) is the flagship of her 13-unit network of hair salons and revenues estimated by the market at R$166 million (about US$75.5 million) – a value that the company didn’t confirm. Zica’s business is far from a common network of salons. There, well-kept hair comes out of the same rhythm of a hot roll at the bakery. To account for the production line, each unit houses 150 employees in 1,500 square meters of floor area.
Zica want more. She is currently looking for an investing partner to help her meet her goal of reaching 140 units in seven years. “It can be an investment fund, for example,” she says. To accelerate growth, the entrepreneur decided to reduce the size of the units. Now, each salon will have an average of 500 square meters and a staff of 70 professionals.
This way, before an inauguration took six months to happen, now it’s half the time. And the investment will plummet. Zica will need R$254 million (about US$115.5 million) to meet her goal of expanding an average of R$2 million (US$909,000) per unit, almost 70% less than the structure that mega salons demand.
With or without an investor, new openings this year are guaranteed. The Beleza Natural has units in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador (state of Bahia) and Vitória (state of Espírito Santo) and in November and will open its first salon in São Paulo, in the Largo 13 de Maio area. By December there will be two more institutes in São Paulo and another two in Rio de Janeiro. Next year, the company should reach Belo Horizonte and Recife (capital cities of Minas Gerais and Pernambuco, respectively), besides strengthening its presence in Salvador, which has only one unit. “The capital of Bahia (Salvador) has space for at least ten salons,” says Zica.
Even without having mapped the whole of Brazil yet, Zica dreams of taking her business outside the country. “Why not New York?,” she sighs. For this, she says that she knows she needs to know to find her investor and strengthen her presence in the country. And this expansion plan doesn’t include franchises. “We analyzed franchising for four years, but came to the conclusion that we need another five years to be prepared. It is necessary to better develop our team,” she says.
The businesswoman doesn’t lack patience. It took ten years to develop the formula of Super-Relaxante, whose application costs R$150 (US$68) and lasts for one month. The motivation was her own hair. Working as a maid from age 9 to 33 in homes of wealthy families in Rio de Janeiro, Zica was concerned about maintaining a boa aparência (good appearance). But curly/kinky, extremely voluminous hair displeased her. The straightening methods of the time didn’t solve the problem and she says she was unhappy.
Still working as a maid, Zica took a hairdressing course in the hope of understanding her tresses. But a student’s dedication was not enough. She confirmed her theory that the products available in the market did not really do the job. Thus, she convinced the retailers of the manufacturers to sell her the raw materials.
At home, she played the role of professor doing experiments on her own hair. Mixtures of powders and creams resulted in numerous disastrous results, with clumps of hair spread out around the floor and on her scalp. Until her husband, tired of seeing his wife suffer, prohibited her crazy experiences.
Zica didn’t quit. She got her younger brother, who at the time was 9 years old, and did her experiments in his hair for nearly a decade. Until that in 1993 she found her famous formula and patented it. To open her first salon, she sold her husband’s Volkswagon Bug and called her guinea-pig brother, who had some savings. With the help of another friend, the four transformed their lives and the heads of the women of economic class C.
Source: Forbes Brasil