Shawn Tavakoli reads Women's Wear Daily, and he's not ashamed to admit it. He also reads Vogue, Mademoiselle and most other beauty magazines. It isn't pleasure reading he's doing. It's research.
The owner of the Beauty Collection beauty supply chain explained, "I'm always looking for new products, and I think those seem to be the best sources of the products that are hot on the market."
This unabashed pragmatism may account for Tavakoli's recent successes. Since 1998, he's taken what began as his parents' family business of two stores in the Valley and expanded it to five.
His latest expansion in December was a move over the hill and up the ranks, when Beauty Collection Apothecary opened its doors at the Farmers Market at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue. This was the first of the Beauty Collection stores to carry the Apothecary designation, a signifier of its more high-end disposition.
How a red-blooded Persian American Jewish guy wound up in the beauty business is a relatively simple story. He was raised in it, first working with his father as a teenager, back when his dad worked for Wilshire Beauty Supply. His mother was a manicurist, and in 1988, his parents went into business for themselves, opening Eddie's Beauty Supply in Van Nuys. In 1997, Tavakoli, now 32, decided he wanted to work in the business full time.
Today, three of the Beauty Collection stores (Calabasas, Tarzana and Farmers Market) are Tavakoli's outright. The other two stores, one called Beauty Collection, in Sherman Oaks, and the other, Eddie's, his parents' original store in Van Nuys, are still owned by his parents, although he helps with some aspects of the business.
A salesman at heart, he sees this business much like any other. "Every day is different, every customer is different, every store is different, all the vendors are different," Tavakoli said. "So it's really challenging to be able to accommodate those personalities. That's part of why I like this job."
Being successful at the job entails knowing the demographics and what they crave. According to Tavakoli, "The demographic in the 818 area code is different from the 310 area code." Thus, each of his stores' merchandise is tailored to the clientele.
The Apothecary at Farmers Market is Tavakoli's most ambitious store. It's stocked with exclusive brands that Tavakoli insists would not be supported as well in the Valley, and it was designed by Hollywood set designers Tavakoli hired to create a sleeker new look for the store and accompanying salon, Elements.
Tavakoli likes to throw around phrases like "lifestyle environment" and "one-stop shop" in describing Beauty Collection Apothecary. "We really wanted to set ourselves apart from the Larchmonts [Beauty Supply] of the world, the Wilshire Beauty Supplies of the world and the Sephoras of the world," he said.
He aims to do that by providing a beauty supply store with the finest brands and an exclusive next-door full-service salon. Beauty Collection Apothecary keeps up with its neighborhood counterparts by providing trendy lines like Diptyque, Caudalie and Dermalogica.
Tavakoli aims to pull ahead by offering things the others don't, like a barber in the salon who does straight-razor shaves for men, seven brands of men's personal care items in the store and personalized service by a highly trained professional staff of estheticians, cosmetologists and makeup artists.
There's nothing particularly Jewish about the beauty business, but some Beauty Collection locations have a substantial Jewish clientele. Calabasas is one of them, as is the Farmer's Market, with its nearby Fairfax District.
With all of their success, Tavakoli and his wife have always made it a point to give back to their stores' communities, especially Calabasas. They support Calabasas High School and the Calabasas Shul. "Calabasas is a very prominent Jewish community... I come from a Jewish background and I believe that if I'm going to give to anybody, I'd rather give to the Jewish community," Tavakoli explained.
Other organizations they support include Heschel Day School and Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. They also volunteer with a child advocacy program called CASA. "One of the ideas I have is that we work with one of our manufacturers and come up with a specific lipstick color, where all the proceeds from that would go towardÂ the charity," Tavakoli said. He's considering making CASA the beneficiary.
Despite his penchant for women's magazines, Tavakoli remains unconcerned by any questions about his masculinity. He thinks it's funny, too. He's also too busy trying to be the best.
"I want to be the leader in the area," he stressed. "That's my goal.... That's what we've successfully done in the Valley, and that's what we're hoping to do out here. The competition is much higher, but I thrive on competition." Â