This week ISB chats with Ammar Ahmad, founder of AMR Hair and Beauty. The business Ammar started as a teenager is now one of the leading trade suppliers to spas and salons around Australia.
ISB: When and how did the idea for AMR come about?
AA: When I was 11 years old, after my parents separated, my mum was working for a hair and beauty distribution company in south-west Sydney. She sometimes brought home samples and unsold stock, and I my entrepreneurial journey started by selling that on to my schoolmates. The owner of the business saw my interest and gave me a job packing boxes, working on the till, preparing orders and so on. He paid me $5 per hour, and I don’t think I ever got a raise!
When I was 16 I started an eBay shop, I was really keen to work on the business full-time but I wasn’t allowed to get an eftpos machine until I was 18 so I stayed at school. When I left school I carried on living at home with my mum to save money and put all my energy into the business. As soon as I was able to I started buying stock in large volumes – I started buying from AliBaba when they first they began trading in Australia.
ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in turning AMR into a viable commercial enterprise?
AA: I bought my first two containers from one overseas manufacturer but opted to go to a different one for the third container – the new manufacturer took a $10,000 deposit and then went out of business, so I didn’t get the stock and I never got that money back.
ISB: How has AMR been promoted, and has that changed over time?
AA: I started with local newspaper ads, selling a couple of products at below cost to get market share. A couple of years ago we started to really leverage social media – we now have 105,000 members who buy from our website.
We sell to both wholesale and direct customers. The wholesale brands are only available to registered salons – approximately 25 per cent of our range – and 75 per cent of the stock is available to everyone. The website differentiates trade and consumer prices depending on the type of registration the member has.
I also still genuinely believe in the power of catalogues – we produce a 24-page monthly catalogue and a 300-page annual catalogue for the salon trade.
ISB: What the future of AMR look like?
We currently have two showrooms, both in Sydney’s western suburbs. We are currently going through an equity funding process with the aim of having 12 stores across the country. The brand is strong, so maintaining that brand uniformity as we grow is really important, so the new stores will all have the same layout and carry the same range of products.
Our UK website is generating strong sales, so maintaining that growth and strengthening the brand over there is a key area of focus.
ISB: Finally, what was the best piece of advice you have received you could pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?
AA: From the early days of my schooldays job I learnt from the distributor that you have to be competitive on price but also provide great service. My development and customer service teams are passionate about what they do and we ensure every interaction customers have, whether online, on the phone or in person, is as positive as it can possibly be.
The key lesson I have learnt along the journey is patience – entrepreneurs are always having new ideas on how they can improve their offering but you need to ensure each strategy you put in place is thoroughly tested and working well before you move on to the next thing.