ERIC MALKA HAS A MESSAGE FOR HESITANT entrepreneurs with empty pockets: find a way to make what you want happen. He and his wife, Myriam Zaoui, did. "From the start, we wanted to upgrade every man to the perfect shave while becoming the leading shaving company in the world," says Malka. Starting off with $12,000 and a 200-square-foot store, Malka and Zaoui have successfully built up The Art of Shaving over the last 10 years. The brand is currently distributed at approximately 600 spas and stores worldwide and the company plans to have opened 17 freestanding stores by October 2006.
The tale of the Art of Shaving begins in 1994 when Moroccan-born Malka and French-born Zaoui met in Miami. Natural health and wellness was a common interest and an important factor in the development of their company. "This is why we make the products we make," says Malka. "The Art of Shaving is an extension of our lifestyle, as we try to keep everything natural—from eating natural foods to not putting chemicals in our bodies."
Myriam Zaoui and Eric Malka of The Art of Shaving
Zaoui, who had an extensive spa background garnered from training at a French spa equipment company when she was a teenager, took her host of interests and hit the books. She formally studied aromatherapy and Eastern medicine in New York City, where the couple moved six months after they met. Although Malka was working for a European cosmetics distributor at the time, his entrepreneurial spirit never waned.
Their interests in the grooming industry peaked after Zaoui tried to create a solution to Malka's uncomfortable shaves in the couple's Manhattan apartment. Like many men, he had sensitive skin and was prone to razor burn. Zaoui used her knowledge of botanicals and essential oils to formulate a special pre-shave treatment for Malka, which he tested that night. The creation of this product is what sparked the idea for The Art of Shaving. "I was extremely skeptical when I took the oil into the bathroom, but it gave me a really great shave and protected my skin," confesses Malka. The product that Zaoui made then, before she was 22 years old, is almost identical to the Pre-Shave Oil that flies off of the shelves today. "I had no idea that she was a brilliant prodigy of the cosmetic industry when I met her," says Malka. "That was just a bonus."
The Art of Shaving shop in New York City’s Columbus Circle is a perfect example of the masculine, yet inviting environment established in every location.
As it turned out, product development wasn't the only area in which Zaoui was gifted. In 1996, the couple decided it was time to open a store and sold their $12,000 car for capital. Zaoui scoured the streets for a location that boasted cheap rent, and she found one on a side street in Manhattan's Upper East Side. "The lack of money sometimes makes you even more creative and resourceful than you would normally be," says Malka. Proving to be a true renaissance woman, Zaoui used a quarter of their meager budget to decorate the store and, a decade later, the original design still stands. The first Art of Shaving store opened its doors in October 1996 as a neighborhood shop dedicated to men's shaving products. "We were a multi-brand store at the time with lines from all over the world," explains Malka. Barbering came into play at future locations.
Because of dwindling funds, Malka and Zaoui weren't able to launch their product line until about 10 months after the first store opened. The first three products in The Art of Shaving collection were the Pre-Shave Oil, Shaving Cream, and Aftershave Balm. "The products were initially unscented based on customer feedback," says Malka. "They did so well that we immediately started to develop a full range of products based on the principles of aromatherapy."
By this time, Malka had quit his job, and a second store, based in midtown Manhattan, was in the works. "We opened the first store on a whim and noticed that we were on to something pretty cool," says Malka. With two stores, the couple realized that they had to start hiring. Integrity, passion, and loyalty are traits that Malka, who is still very involved in the company's hiring process, looks for in people when expanding The Art of Shaving family. "I don't want to train people to be nice and honest," he explains. "They need to be able to bring that to the table." The company has since expanded to about 80 employees.
Within two weeks of the first store opening, The New York Times included a mention of The Art of Shaving, which generated great buzz. According to Malka, press and word-of-mouth continue to be the most powerful marketing tools for the company. "Our customers appreciate the quality of our products and what we offer, and they tell their friends," he says. "We would never sell a product that we didn't feel was good for consumers. We're promoting good health, good value, and good quality—that's how we built this company, and that's why we have loyal customers."
Malka has been the barometer of quality from the get-go. "I continue to test the products on myself to make sure they really work," he says. Not all ideas, such as a never-ending attempt at a deodorant launch, come to fruition. "It's very hard to develop a deodorant that is natural and without harmful chemicals, such as aluminum," explains Malka. "We have an opportunity to sell a lot of deodorant, but we can't get one to market with the integrity of the brand that we believe in, so we just continue to develop it."
Now known as The 4 Elements of the Perfect Shave, these products were the first the company launched.
To expand the business, the couple, who married in 1997, began to approach high-end retailers to distribute The Art of Shaving products. In 1999, Neiman Marcus became the first department store to oblige. "At that point, we were starting to build our brand, and everything had to do with prestige and image for us," says Malka. "Neiman Marcus was just perfect for that, and it was great to start with the very best."
In 2001, the couple moved their operations to Miami, which is where they currently reside. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations and managing the strategy behind the business, Malka, who is a self-proclaimed hands-on CEO, tries to personally interview as many people as he can for positions in the company. Zaoui continues to flex her creative muscle as she oversees product formulation, research and development, designers, and store build-outs. Their roles seem to be clear-cut except for one: who's the boss?
"Ideally, in every relationship you'd like one chief and one Indian," explains Malka. "There are two chiefs in this relationship—both at work and at home." Working with family is something he doesn't believe in unless there is a justifiable reason. "If your spouse has a complementary skill that you'd like to see in a partner, it could be amazing to share this kind of experience with your wife or husband," he says. "Myriam and I are a great team. She pushes me to the left, I push her to the right. We meet up somewhere in the middle, and it just works really well."
The Royal Shave ($55, 45 minutes) is The Art of Shaving's signature treatment and the company's best-seller.
Based on the demand The Art of Shaving has experienced thus far, the ferocity of Malka and Zaoui's future plans seem anything but lofty. Their aim is to roll out 10 stores a year until they have hundreds of outposts around the globe. "We want to become synonymous with high-end shaving, like Kleenex has become with facial tissue," states Malka. This unwavering determination continues to lead them down a path of success. Says Malka, "Myriam and I don't throw our hands in the air and say we can't do something. We both like the challenge."