Fadi Khalil is the founder of ICONS Salon, located in Ottawa, Ontario. As a Syrian native, he has been involved in the hair styling business for the past 30 years. He founded his first hair salon in Syria at the age of 22.
Fadi never really came from a business-oriented background. His dad worked full time in the military, and his mother stayed at home to look after the children. Before opening the hair salon, he took a 2-year college course in hair styling to bolster his understanding and skills in the industry. As for the business side of things, he used his talents in the industry to his advantage. “I have a trades skill that can support a business,” he says, “It's not like I was opening a retail [company], I knew the service I could provide, so I was confident that I could get busy through the support of clients.” Over time, he developed a stronger understanding towards the various business aspects of operating a hair salon, even though he never had any formal business training.
Nevertheless, initially starting the business wasn’t easy. “When you begin, you need support from your family, friends, and friends of friends to get the business going,” Fadi said. Not too long after launching the hair salon, Fadi decided he needed a change of environment. “I opened [the hair salon] for about 3 to 4 years, then sold it and moved to Dubai. From Dubai, I came to Canada.”
When Fadi arrived in Canada, he didn't envision opening another hair salon. “It was more of a foggy dream, but it started to become more realistic as my English was getting better.”
After 10 years of residing in Canada, Fadi decided it was time to launch a new hair salon in Ottawa. His first task was to choose a location for his business that offered the greatest opportunity for success. After extensive research, he found a vacancy in a growing suburban area where numerous larger retailers were also located. For him, it was the combination of the outstanding community feeling, as well as the free parking and traffic from customers passing by the Sobeys and Starbucks that made the location so admirable.
The culture change for him proved to be one of the hardest aspects of doing business in Canada. Adjusting to new business climates and learning a new language proved rather difficult. Networking was another challenge he had to overcome. Imagine moving to a new country, where you don’t speak or understand their language, and you are trying to make friends. Not easy. When Fadi first arrived in Canada, he initially began networking at his church and built strong relationships from there.
His business model is simple, while also highly effective. He aims to create sustainable relationships with every one of his clients. He knows that offering the best quality service, even if this means lowering the profit margins at the expense of increasing customer satisfaction, will result in establishing a pool of very content and loyal clients. His goal is more focused on driving profits by reaching out to many clients at lower prices rather than a few customers at higher prices.
When asked about peak and low seasons within his business he mentions that he is frequently booked up, so there are no real peak or low seasons to the service element of the business; however, he did mention that “Christmas jumps through the roof on the retail side. Retail will increase over Christmas, followed by 60 days of slower sales.”
Fadi’s story involved a lot of ups and downs. From growing up as a passionate boy in Syria to becoming a successful entrepreneur in Canada, the experience definitely wasn’t easy. He had to overcome many obstacles to get to where he is today but doesn’t regret doing it for a second.
I asked Fadi what he thought were the most important qualities/skills that attributed to his success and that he would advise other up-and-coming entrepreneurs to follow. He responded with:
As you may have already read, Fadi see’s a very great importance in networking. It is the skill that Fadi used to build up a loyal customer base, and if you cannot successfully network, then entrepreneurship may not be for you.
- Don’t be greedy
Ranking money above passion is not something that reflects nicely to the overall quality of your business. As Fadi puts it, “If you want to be rich tomorrow, you can be by doing something illegal. But if you’re building a business, you don’t have to make too much money too fast. Stay away from greed, and just love your job.”
- Love what you're doing
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Entrepreneurship is a discipline that allows you to be creative, and have endless freedom (alright maybe not endless, but you know what I mean). Fadi got interested in the hair styling industry because as he described it, “It’s more like an art, it's fun for me.” Passion and love for what you’re doing will resonate in the product or service that you are offering.
- Be genuine
Pricing is sometimes hard to gauge, but it is important that you value your good or service to its actual quality. That way, if customers feel that they are receiving a good value, they will become more loyal towards your business and can act as a great marketing tool as they will likely mention/recommend your business to their friends and family.
- Hard worker
To be successful in business you have to treat your company like it’s your baby. “Don’t give it 90%, give it 110%.” he says, “One strategy, don’t look at your clock or use your phone. I have a very ordinary phone (yes it’s a flip phone) so I do not waste time playing games or whatever.” Once again, people notice hard work, and it acts positively towards the reputation of your business.
I also asked Fadi what he thought were the most common mistakes made in today’s entrepreneurial practices. He answered with:
- Starting too big
Anyone interested in entrepreneurship needs to understand that when your business first starts off, you should start small and grow slowly over time. “Big gambles, bigger losses. Small gambles, smaller losses,” as Fadi put it. “Another perspective to think about is that clients like to see you change. If you go too big right away and get the fanciest chairs, tables, and lights, then there’s no money to upgrade. So, 5 years down the line, your business still looks the same. If you start small, whatever changes make your clients go…. wow.”
- Spending right away
Some people become successful quickly, and once they make enough money they immediately go to the big house or the nice car, big mistake. Use the profits, in the beginning, to continue growing your business rather than your lifestyle.
- Knowing the business laws
Business laws may be one of the more boring aspects of entrepreneurship, but it's also one of the more important. Not understanding these laws can get you into a lot of troubles, especially when it comes to lawsuits. “With anything, there is a tweak to it. If you are a bigger business, you need a lawyer,” Fadi told me. This is true, a lawyer may seem expensive, but they can save you thousands, maybe millions of dollars down the line.
- Lack of employee standards and training
Don’t let your employees control your business. Set the standards, regulations, and behaviors before hiring them. Make them sign a contract agreeing to work by those standards for all I care, just don’t let them run your business. “In any business, especially small businesses, the employee will say ‘I’m going to do this my way’, too bad, let them go.”
- Don’t make your business your home
We’ve all been to that family-owned restaurant that decorates the place as if it were their home; allowing their kids run around freely. Don’t be that business owner. Say you find a decoration that you like, so you buy it and place it in your establishment because you believe it's giving an aesthetically pleasing ‘personal touch’. This ruins the image of your business. Make sure your establishment is professionally decorated and not a playing zoo for your children.