How many times have you told yourself you’ll get a manicure and pedicure that week only to relegate the task to another day because you were caught up with work or couldn’t find someone to babysit the children? Now, one enterprising woman from Lahore is bringing the salon to the doorstep of busy housewives and working women.
Around noon, Arshia Murshed gets a phone call from a frazzled client. At the other end of the line is Shabana Jehangir, who has to attend a family wedding that night and is badly in need of a facial. The only problem is, there is no one to drop her off at a salon and no one to look after her brood of four while she gets her beauty rituals done. “Can you please help?” she asks, distraught.
Soon the Salon on Wheels’ van is trundling towards Shabana’s house, carrying bottles and vials of oils, pots of creams and rows of equipment. Two attendants in crisp white uniforms with neatly tied hair, warm smiles on their faces and the salon’s brochures in their manicured hands step out at Shabana’s doorstep. An hour later, Shabana is getting a pampering face massage while her children play around.
When Lahore-based Arshia Murshed returned to Pakistan as a certified beauty and fitness consultant from the Gaya Spa and Wellness Salon in Jakarta, the mother of two knew that whatever she did would have to be related to women’s beauty. She now owns a mobile salon—the Salon on Wheels— that gives its clients head-to-toe international standard services right at their home. Her salon is a car and her target market is working mothers and those who either don’t know how to drive or have conveyance issues. Based in Cantonment, Lahore, the salon operates around the city and is just a call away. Though girls who drop in at your house to wax your arms or do your eyebrows are common in every major Pakistani city, Arshia’s mobile salon is the first of its kind. Starting off with just a couple of appointments every day in September 2012, the initiative has grown steadily just through word of mouth. With attendants now working 9 to 5 throughout the week, the service has really hit home.
But Arshia’s Salon on Wheels is not just another profit-making venture: her service charges are shockingly nominal and she personally handpicks the attendants who work at her salon from underprivileged backgrounds. Her primary purpose is to train uneducated girls and help them become a productive part of society. “It’s not about making money you see,” she explains. “I started this to see them grow as individuals — that’s what makes me happy.”
This is why none of these girls were picked from another salon; most of them were referred to Arshia by former colleagues from non-governmental organisations. “I wanted to give deprived women a chance to empower themselves through a skill,” says Arshia, whose interest in social work developed during her college years when she first started working in Fatimid Foundation’s marketing department. Friendly and talkative, Arshia exudes a positive aura. As she speaks, she keeps brushing her long hair with her fingers. Having worked as a beauty consultant with some major international brands including L’Oreal and Dermalogica, she has her finger on the pulse of the beauty industry. However, her approach is diametrically opposed to those who are in the business just to make money. “With all the money and clientele they have,” she says, referring to people who have been in the business for some time, “they could have opened heaven on earth for women seeking just a few hours of relaxation and pampering.” As for Salon on Wheels, with no margin for profit, its services are cheaper than at a regular salon — though Arshia personally vouches for their effectiveness and safety, and compares their quality to any big and trusted salon. Of course, the added bonus is that Salon on Wheels arrives at your doorstep whenever you want it to.
Although Arshia occasionally attends to customers at her own house on special request, it is her attendants that provide the bulk of the services at the clients’ homes. This is why she spends considerable time in training them. For the first few weeks, attendants are trained in hygiene, self-grooming and maintaining proper body language with customers. This is followed by hand movement and pressure control, and basic beauty and fitness techniques supplemented by beauty products, notes and video tutorials. For hand pressure, she applies techniques on the trainee’s body first to let her feel the amount of pressure to be used. Finally, the trainees choose their ‘expertise’ from among make-up, beauty treatments and massages. Trainees are given a pick-and-drop facility and a nominal stipend; they are also given lunch and dinner during working hours. These days, Arshia is training a girl who wants to open up a salon in Quetta.
As we talk, Arshia cuts an incoming call on one of her two cell phones. She then turns the private number to silent mode, but leaves the official one switched on. “Someone might call and I don’t want to give my clients the impression that they cannot be served,” she clarifies. For Arshia, the customer is always right. Enter any beauty salon and you’re likely to see neglected, grumpy clients — women calling out to the attendants for their facial masks to be removed, hair to be dried and dyes to be washed out. “What relaxation would women get when they spend thousands of rupees and leave the salon more tense than when they entered it?” asks Arshia. But at her salon, “The customer is always right,” she says. Not only is she particular about her client’s skin type, condition and the prospective results of a treatment, she also loves reading about psychology so that she can be a more effective therapist. She believes in educating the client about a service she opts to take for the first time. Her satisfied clients are a testament to her superior service. To Nadia Asfand, a mother of a school-going son and an infant daughter, Salon On Wheels is a godsend. Like most of Salon On Wheels clients, her biggest problem is getting someone to babysit the children if she wants to spend a few hours relaxing. “My mother is too old to look after my kids, my siblings are all married with kids and one can’t rely on helpers completely,” she explains. “Salon on Wheels is like a prayer heard. I can avail all beauty and health services while being around my children.”
Like most moms, Nadia finds returning to her prenatal skin and body condition to be a challenge, one that she is better able to tackle with the help of Salon On Wheels. She has been taking Arshia’s anti-pigmentation facial for Rs2,000, body massages for Rs500 and body polisher for Rs1,000 for the last three months and finds the service faultless. “My friends in Islamabad and Faisalabad envy me for being able to avail the services,” she says.
But for Arshia, it is still too early to expand out of Lahore. “I believe in quality not quantity,” she says, adding, “Every woman has the right to feel beautiful and be pampered. I give them a chance to with a value-for-money service.”
Arshia has some easy skin care tips for women. Make them a part of your daily activities but don’t forget that outer beauty will only show on the skin if you are healthy from the inside.
Block the sun: Arshia says most women neglect using sun block as they do not realise the importance it holds for healthy skin. She prefers using a 50+ SPF thrice a day, and recommends you do the same every time you go out in the sun, even if it’s just for watering your plants in the garden.
Water count: Drink three litres of water every day. Try to drink more in the first half of the day and do not exceed three litres.
Sweet and sour: Cut down on sugar and salt. Too much of either is bad for your skin.
Sleep well, but not too much: Arshia says the ideal sleep time is 11pm-7am. Sleeping more than eight hours or less than six hours results is dark eye circles, puffiness below the eyes and lethargy.
Extra dose: Every woman must take vitamins and zinc. This reduces hair fall. She suggests Perfectil or Surbex-Z, but recommends consulting your doctor first. Remember you have to switch your vitamins every three months.
Arshia personally handpicks her attendants from underprivileged backgrounds. “I wanted to give deprived women a chance to empower themselves through a skill,” she says.
“My friends in Islamabad and Faisalabad envy me for being able to avail these services at home”
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, May 19th, 2013.
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