Marilda Piri: From Sewing Mattresses To Becoming A Business Woman (Part 1/2)
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
For this week's "Featured Beauty Artist", Marilda Piri brings a story that can only be described as a beautiful tapestry of luck, loss, and perseverance. It was an absolute pleasure learning how she became the owner of Serenity Hair Design, so much so, that we decided to dedicate this week's segment into two parts for readers.
"I knew two things before I came to Canada: I knew how to sew, and I knew how to cut hair."
Marilda Piri grew up in a small village in Albania, where her father was the local barber. Piri helped her father sweep the floors, and eventually began to experiment cutting her siblings hair. What started out as "pretending to be good", led to others spreading her talents by word of mouth, and eventually she was known in her village as the "young girl that knew how to cut hair".
At 19, Piri met her husband while he was on a hiking trip in Albania. 9 months later she arrived in Scarborough, Canada with him and the next thing she knew, she had to make a living.
After seeing the cost of becoming a licensed hairdresser was $7000 at a private school, she settled on sewing mattresses. About a year and a half later, Piri came across a co-worker who told her it was his last day; he was leaving to become a hairdresser like his wife. For free. Piri did not pass on the opportunity and asked if he could give her a call if they had any openings.
"So school starts, I'm working at the factory. And I get a phone call... 'Mirilda There are 4 students who haven't showed up and I spoke to the teacher, would you like to come?' My husband worked the afternoon shift, so I called him to drive me to Midland College Institute. We didn't know where it was, so after calling my husband's brother, we found out it was 5 minutes away from my house!"
Upon arrival at the college, Piri had to do a small interview and a written test. However, there was one issue: her English was not the greatest. Fearing that she would fail the writing portion, Piri took another chance and asked the instructor to allow her to do the test verbally. She was able to answer every question and was enrolled in the co-op program, paying $50 for her textbook.
Another opportunity came for Piri when one of the guest teachers - a big spa owner - approached her and asked if she would be interested completing her co-op at their spa. She said yes, and within 3 weeks was hired permanently for a part-time position. After working there for 4 and a half years, Piri and her husband welcomed their first child.
I couldn't handle being a mom, with a sick child, and the pressure of work. So I quit from there to take care of my baby.
Unfortunately their beautiful baby girl was not in the greatest health and needed multiple surgeries. Working in a job that require to make yourself perfectly presentable, did not help relieve the stress as Piri had to ensure she wore her uniform perfectly with the right perfume and makeup.
When Piri made the decision to quit her job, she would soon learn that she had grown a loyal following of clients. Her ex-boss would drop off gifts from old clients, not know that they contained cards with her client's phone numbers; They were desperate to stay in touch with her. Feeling a strong sense of responsibility to her clients, Piri decided to continue cutting hair in her basement. For clients that also had young children, her husband would babysit in the main floor!
2 years and a second daughter later, another opportunity arose on her way to visit her In-Laws on Queen Street (The Beaches). There was a lease sign for a store, and she eagerly sat in the neighbouring coffee shop to see what the foot traffic was like. After seeing 3 men in 10 minutes, and 2 women in 15, she did the math and decided she could obtain at least 1 client in the pool. Piri returned home and immediately called the number.
It turned out to be a butcher shop, not a hair salon!
With that phone call, Piri had a force of determination and confidence she never felt before. She was already a mother of 2, spent years bringing money in for others, and knew how the business worked. She was ready to be her own boss, with her own business. Never mind that the store was a butcher shop, she would turn it into a salon!
"The rent was high. It was a butcher shop. Until this day, I cannot believe the words were coming out of my mouth. I need three months free. I need the rent to be lower. I need this, I need that. And my husband was blown away. He was like , 'Are we renting this ?' and I was like, 'Yes, we are renting this. I just need you to support me". " After a week, the landlord agreed to her terms and rented the butcher shop to Piri. A month and a half later, she was able to get the giant freezer removed and have 5 stations set up to take in clients. Piri was able to bring in an old colleague to work with her as well, and Serenity Hair design was ready for business. The next challenge was bringing in new clients. 6 months after starting her shop her only clients were old ones who were travelling out of their territory to meet her. Piri made a savvy business choice when she made an agreement with a new client of hers: In exchange for a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, he would create brochures offering a free haircut and facial. This proved to be extremely effective, as the new customers came to the store for the promotion. New customers quickly became regulars, regulars that would bring in 9 referrals each. Within 2 month, Pirin needed to hire 2 more stylists to handle all the traffic coming into her salon. Within 5 years, she had hired 8 stylists.
Amidst the success of Serenity Hair Design, tragedy struck when Piri's husband was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. Another hardship immediately followed, when all her employees became confident with their skills and left the salon. While her brother and sister were able to help her run the salon, Piri still faced the hardship of paying an extremely high rent, running a business, and raising 2 young children on her own.
"Do not sell [the shop]. This is your passion."
It wouldn't be 3 years later until a sign of new opportunity came, on the the anniversary of her husband's passing. During a visit to his grave, one of her clients - who was a realtor - called her saying he found her a store to purchase. She could have a salon of her own. Piri took this as a sign: "It was at this moment, I felt that it was my husband giving me a sign. He knew how much I loved this job. When he was going through chemo, I wanted to sell the business. I wanted to be with him. And he said to me, 'Do not sell, that is your passion. If anything happens to me, you need to be there.' "
She immediately arranged to see the property that day, and ended up placing an offer. Piri's parents thought she was being crazy for taking a big risk, but she was already used to taking her chances. After all, she already took the biggest risk by moving to a new country with only the coat on her back.
Piri successfully purchased the store, which is still the current location of Serenity Hair Design. Over the years, the salon experience construction mishaps (her neighbour decided to do some poorly planned renovations) and multiple renovations. However, Piri still has her feet firmly planted beneath her, with her passion for hair and clients still burning brightly. Clients still come to her happily, and new ones come to her after reading positive reviews online.
When asked if she could give some advice to others within the same industry, Piri provided this wonderful insight:
"Never give up.
Every challenge that we have, or we are given, is for a reason. I look back now all these challenge I had with the construction. At the time, it was a disaster at the time. Everybody thought it was the worst thing that could have happened to me.
No, it was the reason behind it. I made it happen into a good story. Because I live here now, I live in the best place I could say in Toronto. I'm right by the water where I wanted, I have my girls upstairs. I'm in a good space right now. I think God every day. I love my job. Right now, I am in the best place mentally, physically, and spiritually"
Stay tuned for Part 2: Q & A with Marilda.