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Meet the father-daughter team behind the Cairns self-care boom

June 11, 2021

Written by: Alice Silk

After working in the beauty industry for over a decade, Sarah Debono left Adelaide, moving to Cairns to start her own SILK franchise. Second to the market with minimal reputation, Debono and her father have more than doubled their team in just five years. 

Citing the self-care boom, where Australia saw the demand in cosmetic enhancements skyrocket 50%, Debono explains that people are just “much more inclined to spend money on selfcare.” 

Having been a beauty therapist for 10 years, Sarah Debono had worked in various pockets of the industry. “I started off as a masseuse in a day spa,” she said, explaining that it was her first full time job. Although she reflects on this period as a “great learning experience,” she also found the monotony that set in after the learning curve, quite hard to bear, adding that “… performing nine hours of massage a day was difficult on the body and the mind.” 

After 18 months, Debono was offered the opportunity to work alongside a cosmetic surgeon in upper-class Adelaide suburb of North Adelaide, assisting with hair transplants and liposuction, while she focused on medical skin treatments. While she also learnt a lot during her time in this medical practice, she found that in order to reach her personal goals, she had to move on. 

While looking for the next step to take in her career, Debono, like many Adelaide residents, had been witnessing the rapid growth of beauty company, SILK. 

“Seeing that SILK is a business born out of Adelaide, I had seen their progression and their growth next to my own,” she explained, adding that the brand had become a “statement to growth and advancement.”

“With such strong marketing behind it, it has become a household name and hard for anyone like myself not to have heard about.” During this time, Debono had also moved onto working in a laser clinic, and saw first hand the opportunity that the laser hair removal industry presented. And, within two years, she moved to Cairns and never looked back. 

After returning from a holiday in Cairns, Debono saw that there was a hole in the market with no laser hair or cosmetic clinics in the area. Taking her industry experience, her ambition, the rapidly expanding beauty startup she had seen on the rise, she approached her father one morning in the kitchen. 

“I said to him: ‘Dad, I have a business opportunity for you’,” she recalled. Shortly after, “We set up a meeting with co-founder and CEO Martin Perelman, and after two years, Dad and I opened our first clinic.” 

After moving to Cairns five years ago, while the remainder of her family stayed in Melbourne and Adelaide, Debono has now more than doubled her team of five therapists servicing a town of 160,000. 

But like any entrepreneurial journey, it comes with its own challenges – It’s “like in any business everyone goes through their ups and downs,” Debono explains.  “Our first and biggest challenge was opening the clinic when our competition had opened only 18 months prior. To grow our business with minimal reputation and second to market was a rough start.” 

“Staff are a double edged sword,” she adds. 

“With the heavy burden that comes with licencing and the risk involved with staff retention in an industry with significant high staff turnover,” Debono has had to hone in on her understanding of the value of staff morale and company culture. “In order to keep reaching new heights you need to understand the value of creating staff that are eager to learn from each other and are coming into work ready to motivate themselves.”

However, much of Debono’s story centers around the relationship and presence of her father. “I love working with dad – he’s my brakes and I’m the accelerator. He makes me calm down and be more strategic.

“It’s hard to grow apart when we have to have quarterly visits,” she chuckles. 

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