Noemi Grupenmager has made her mark in a lucrative and fast-growing niche in the U.S. beauty industry – unisex body waxing. It is a $7.8 billion market expected to grow to an estimated $10.8 billion by 2028, according to Marketwatch.com’s marketing analysis. Over the last three decades she’s built her company, UKW Franchising Co., into a franchising empire. It now has 33 Uni K Wax Studio franchise locations that span Florida, New York, New Jersey and Texas as demand for personal grooming services among men and women has boomed.
Known as the “Baroness of Bare,” Grupenmager has revolutionized the industry by inventing a natural body wax that is elastic, can be applied at body temperature and removed without the use of paper strips. Up until the early 1990s hot honey beeswax was the only product typically used for body waxing, which is still used today. Unwanted hair is removed by slathering hot wax onto the skin, applying paper strips that are then ripped off with hairs attached. It’s often a painful procedure and can irritate the skin. Grupenmager also professionalized the trade, developing a training program for waxers at her salons.
Inspiration for the product came in 1991 when she took her daughter to get a leg wax at a salon in Miami. There she was amazed at how body waxing was in such high demand by men and women of all ages. The cost for the service was $180 and the service was terrible. That’s when she realized there was a great opportunity to develop a waxing service that was quick, professional and affordable. As she recalls, “Something clicked in my head that day; I knew I needed to invent an alternative.”
A serial entrepreneur that ran printing businesses in Miami and previously Buenos Aires, Grupenmager hired a chemical engineer friend who was in the beauty industry to work on her project. As a single mother raising two twin daughters alone— Grupenmager was newly divorced—she decided the time was right to pursue her dream to launch a new type of waxing business. After a year-and-a-half they were able to create a special wax that doesn’t need to be heated before application. All she divulges about the proprietary formula is that it’s composed of a resin wax from a special pine tree, a small amount of beeswax, and special flowers.
Grupenmager invested $70,000 of her personal savings and opened her first Uni K Waxing Studio in South Beach, Miami in 1993. It was on the third floor of an office building since she could not afford to rent a storefront. She trained her 18-year-old daughters—Romina and Vanesa— on waxing procedures so they could be employees.
The Power of Buzz
Word of her waxing services spread in South Beach and within two months she was getting 200 customers a day. “We didn’t have money in the early days for marketing, but to our surprise our customers became our emissaries. They just grabbed our brochures and passed them around on the beach and on Lincoln Road to help us get more clients,” she says.
What attracted customers was Uni K Wax Studio’s new methods for body waxing and its prices which were more than 50% lower than competitors. For example, she claims to have been the first to offer a Brazilian bikini waxing for $25 (now $59) and full leg waxing for $40 (now $77). Clients also liked that she created a lab in the studio where waxing pots were kept for each individual customer and disinfected after use to prevent contamination. A safety practice other waxing salons didn’t have.
The business grew organically and six years later she opened her second location on the first floor of a retail space on Sunset Drive Boulevard in South Miami. It was an incredible success with customers lined up for appointments standing outside the door from 8 a.m. in the morning.
“Almost from the first day I launched my business customers asked me if I would franchise my concept. I held off on that idea until I felt the business was mature, and I could develop the necessary procedures for future franchisees,” says Grupenmager.
As she explains, developing a franchising company is a complex undertaking and timing is everything. It requires hiring a franchise attorney, writing an operational manual, finding real estate locations and an architect to design one’s stores.
In 2007 Grupenmager took the franchising plunge. She sold her first five franchises in Florida in Brickell, Coral Gables, Kendall, Miami Lakes, and Pinecrest. “They sold the first day we put them up for sale,” she notes.
Paying it Forward
UKW Franchising Co. has sold 33 franchises located in such cities as Aventura, Florida; Frisco, Texas; New York and Jersey City.
While the pandemic slowed franchise sales, the company’s unique sterilizing procedures helped boost customer confidence to return to the salons once the business lockdown was lifted.
Many of the franchise buyers are Grupenmager’s former female customers and employees. “I feel like I am paying it forward by helping other women become business owners,” she says, noting she built her business by reinvesting profits and never took out a loan, or raised venture capital to finance her company’s growth.
Uni K Studio franchises range in cost from about $340,000 to $590,000. This includes: a $40,000 franchise fee for training; management support and a crew to help set up the week of launch; grand opening advertising support; plus, a deposit for rent. The rest of the price depends on the real estate location, the size of the studio, architect, permits and construction costs, equipment, millwork and furnishings needed. Studios can be purchased with four, six or 11 waxing rooms.
Besides the flat franchise fee, Uni K Wax also collects 7% in royalties from franchisees annually.
Once a franchise agreement is signed the UKW Franchising team works with the new franchisee, providing real estate guidance, project management, management training and marketing support. It also provides certified waxer training for employees. All this is included in the initial franchise fee including renovating the physical space for the grand opening.
As CEO Grupenmager’s day-to-day role has vastly changed from when she was just running her waxing salon. She now oversees operations for the franchising company from its headquarters in Aventura, Florida. This includes directing teams on all matters including accounting, project management, marketing and waxer training.
Today Uni K Studios offer 160 services, from all types of waxing to eyebrow contouring. The company also sells its own KBeauty brand of paraben- and gluten-free skin maintenance products including body lotions and balms for the most sensitive skins at its locations.
Grupenmager was raised and educated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to the U.S due to the unstable economic and political environment in her country. She is one of the 13 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. that collectively employ 9.4 million workers and generate $1.9 trillion in annual revenue, according to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Thirteen percent of these companies are founded and run by women born outside the U.S.
Grupenmager, had the grit to pick herself up by the bootstraps and launch a business at a time in her life when she deemed continuing on the entrepreneurial path was the best option for her future. In 1990, her husband left her and their two daughters in Miami and returned to his native Argentina after making a bad investment in the U.S. Although a risky path, owning her own business afforded Grupenmager a way to control her own financial destiny, and secure a good future for her family. But just as important it fulfilled her lifelong dream of transforming the body waxing business.
“I want women to imitate my success,” says Grupenmager, CEO of the Uni K Wax Studio franchise, who admits that entrepreneurism has always been in her DNA. She started her first business at the age of 15 selling transcripts of class notes to classmates. By age 20 she owned a printing business.
Last year, UKW Franchising Co. had revenues of $5.7 million from the corporate business, while its franchisees –who employ over 300 women in the U.S. — garnered $21.5 million in sales. Now Grupenmager wants to expand further, her goal is to grow the franchising business to 360 locations nationwide in five years.
Says the 68-year-old founder: “For me, helping other women achieve business success is my life’s greatest reward.”
Favorite Quote: “When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go.” –Carol Burnett
Mentor: My mentor is my 92-year-old dad who was a CEO of a large manufacturing company. He’s been my inspiration and role model because of his work ethic. He has always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I value his advice and learn from him every day.
No. 1 lesson learned: Don’t give up; and keep trying even when doors close on you. Don’t take a simple “no” as an answer.
Advice I’d give aspiring entrepreneurs: Follow your instinct; do you what your feel is right. Don’t get discouraged when things get difficult. Trust yourself and be confident.
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.