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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Entrepreneur Made-Up for Success

A favorite Western adage says: Faint heart never won fair lady.


But for 27-year-old Anna Skomarovskaya, faint heart never won a fair lady success might be more accurate after a five-year climb up the cosmetics industry ladder.


Today, sitting in the six-month-old cosmetics supply and equipment firm Sanna, which she founded, Skomarovskaya says she has to laugh thinking of all the risks she's taken.


"I have borrowed tens of thousands of dollars for this, and there's no turning back," she said. "There are orders to fill, nine salaries to cover and $4,000 in office rent a month to pay. I have my son to support and take care of, of course, and the debt to pay off.


"But it's working!" she laughed.


Skomarovskaya's story is one of maverick business sense. In its half-year of operation, Sanna has served more than 150 clients, at least tripled sales each month and reached markets across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.


Although she wouldn't provide sales figures or say how much she borrowed initially, Skomarovskaya did describe the initial loan on which she launched the project as "the price of a modern house in the Moscow suburbs, or of a downtown apartment in Moscow. Enough to totally ruin me if the company fell apart."


Russia's current philosophy toward beauty care isn't what Skomarovskaya remembers from 20 years ago.


"My mother would count each drop of lotion as she rubbed it into her hands," she said. "She saved it as long as she could, never knowing if she would find it again in the stores."


Precious as they were, those lotions were often of dubious quality -- in some cases, Skomarovskaya says, straight from the vegetable bin.


"A nurse or a grandmother would look at someone's skin, mix up some concoction of cucumbers and oil or something and put it into an old glass pickle jar," she said. "It was completely primitive, not to mention potentially irritable to someone's skin.


"People are starting to understand now that caring for one's body and skin is important, and that quality products count," she said.


As a result, beauty has become one of Moscow's biggest sellers, with giant pictures of supermodel Claudia Schiffer staring out from billboards and makeup and health care products quickly filling market shelves.


There are about 100 beauty parlors in Moscow and about 40 cosmetic manufacturers offering everything from inexpensive foot creams to fully-equipped makeup sets. The competition also includes about 50,000 Russian women who criss-cross the city selling Avon products.


Skomarovskaya said she has found her customer niche in the nouveau riche, for whom she competes with more than 10 other companies, some with their own salons.


Sanna products can outfit a modest salon with the basic equipment -- a reclining chair with electrical outlets, a stool, lamp and sterilizer -- for $2,000. The average cost of a jar of French hydrating cream is $20, although most of Skomarovskaya's clients buy it by the case for $2,000.


Her latest offer is a fat-busting body buzz which supposedly sheds 4 to 6 centimeters. The technique involves lathering the lower body in a special hardening mask, rigging the client up with wires and subjecting her to an hour-and-a-half of electrode treatment.


None of her products are available in regular stores.


"Offering them in stores would defeat the purpose of their being elite," explained Skomarovskaya, herself a glamorous leggy blond with thick lashes over deep blue eyes.


A doctor by profession, Skomarovskaya first entered the cosmetics world when an Estonian salon owner offered her the job of medical specialist and director of a new Moscow salon. She worked there for two years until one day, she showed up for work and found her boss and most of the salon's outfit gone.


She worked for other salons until six months ago, when a Western medical company saw her at a Paris cosmetics convention and offered her a management position in a new Moscow-based beauty branch and 20 percent of the shares.


Another proverb, Russian this time, says he who does not take risks does not drink champagne. It's a saying Skomarovskaya has taken to heart.


"Throughout my career people kept offering me money and opportunity, it seemed without premise," she said. "I thought to myself, 'They're obviously think I'm worth something.' And so I quickly re-evaluated, and I decided that I didn't want his 20 percent after all. I wanted 100 percent -- of both the risk and the celebration."