If the whole actress thing doesn’t work out for Demi Moore, maybe she can look into being a business consultant. An offhand comment made by the movie star in 1997 led Anne Uhlir to open Wax On Spa on 15th Ave E.
Uhlir was working at a salon and was sent to Moore’s hotel room to perform a Brazilian. Moore said there was nowhere in Seattle that offered the service and a business was born.
The idea bounced around in Uhlir’s head for a while before she opened the spa (yes, it took its name from “The Karate Kid”) in 1999. Those early years were lean, Uhlir said. At the time, there wasn’t much personal grooming of that particular variety going on.
“I had to educate them about what a Brazilian was,” Uhlir said.
Initially, she was giving the waxing away, so people could understand it. “It took me thousands of free services,” she said.
She’s also used a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign featuring beavers, the occasional pussy cat, and, during the 2000s the president’s name.
“The Bush years were a heyday,” Uhlir said.
It took about three years — with a possible assist from the adult film industry making the style more fashionable — before she really had the client base she needed to know the business was going to be able to sustain itself.
Uhlir prides herself on being the first location in Seattle to make a business from waxing, and said she needed to develop some of the trade herself, such as the first time she had a man in for a Brazilian. The male anatomy responded differently to the oils she needs to apply as part of the process, creating a bit of an awkward situation. She’s since found ways of letting her male clients tend to portions of the experience themselves.
“They don’t teach that in beauty school,” she said. “Those are things you have to learn the hard way, no pun intended.”
She found that most of her clients, who might come in for the 15-minute procedure on a lunch break, didn’t really like going back to work with sticky nether-regions. So Uhlir set to work developing a product to help dissolve the wax.
“I got into the kitchen and started mixing up potions,” she said.
She hit on a formula that uses shea butter along with some fragrant oils, and now has 13 different varieties of her “Shea What” line. Manufacturing has moved to an industrial facility, and those after-care products are now sold in other salons around the world, Uhlir said.
Once she’d gotten the location on 15th running, she opened a second spa in Belltown. In the years since, she’s opened locations in West Seattle, Kirkland, Fremont and Portland, Ore. She now employs 20 people in Seattle and five in Oregon.
Uhlir said she sees some interesting differences in the clientele. Fremont and Kirkland, for example, draw in more male clients than the other locations. People in West Seattle seem to be a bit more conservative.
She sees more single men and married women. Nudists are frequent clients, and some people with more unusual tastes.
“One client, I had to ask them to remove the leash of the one who was getting the waxing,” she said.
The Wax On folks have seen it all, though. Staff can see about 17 people naked over the course of a day, but it becomes old hat.
“You really get used to it after a while,” she said. “You start remembering clients more by their bikini line than their face.”
Over the years, services have expanded. Waxing can be applied to most any body part. Since 2001, Uhlir has sold lingerie to allow clients to show off the services they receive. She said she has more ideas for the beauty industry in the future, but doesn’t want to tip her hand. Until then, she does hope to expand her business, both by offering new services in her existing locations, and opening new locations.
Wax On Spa is located at 521 15th Ave. E.