Yullia Gal’s story is the kind of tale that immigrants tell themselves moments before they depart from their home country. She is no Cinderella; there was no fairy godmother or Prince Charming (though Gal did eventually find love) but rather a lot of hard work that eventually paid off in a big way.
A native of a small village in Uzbekistan, Gal went from having a weekly bath at the local hammam to being the queen of Israeli cosmetology. Her modest upbringing is perhaps responsible for Gal’s obsession with cleanliness, maintenance and excellence, the virtues that have set her apart from the flock. With seven yullia (written with a small y) branches around the country and a thriving beauty school, Gal is a real-life example of rags to riches.
“I am a real patriot,” smiles Gal. “Where in the world could a person go from being a complete nobody to having what I have in such a short time? I moved here when I was 17, all alone, without a single person who loved me to lean on. The truth is, that was probably a big advantage because if I had had family or friends here, they probably would have tried to talk me out of doing what I did.”
As a new arrival to Israel, Gal, who spoke no Hebrew, cleaned houses.
“I started with one house, and by the time I had three clients I felt like I was rich,” she laughs.
Along the way, she educated herself in cosmetology, specifically in eyebrow design.
“I was hired by a salon to do eyebrows, then manicures and pedicures, and from there I had a corner in a hair salon. Then I opened my own little shop on Yirmeyahu Street [in Tel Aviv],” she recounts.
That first location, opened in August 2008, was the seed of the yullia empire.
“I had no idea that the world was in the midst of a financial crisis. Back then, I hardly ever opened a newspaper. As horrible as it is to say, my ignorance saved me,” she admits.
As we sit together in Tel Aviv, several passersby stop to say hello to Gal, including a real estate agent who is brokering the deal on a new branch. Gal happily exchanges pleasantries with all of them, exuding warmth and good humor. Leaning back in her jeans, simple black T-shirt and silver Adidas sneakers, Gal could easily be mistaken for a college student. And though she appears totally relaxed, she seems to have eyes in the back of her head, which are trained on her flagship branch, just across the street on Dizengoff at the corner of Frishman.
On any given day, the Dizengoff location is literally overrun with clients, both male and female. With competing businesses all along the street, the only explanation for this phenomenon is that these loyal customers are receiving something that only yullia can provide.
“We are the most expensive, and we are full all the time,” says Gal without a hint of bragging. “It’s because we do not compromise on our standards. If you go to my website, you’ll find my cellphone number.
I ask that every single complaint be made directly to me.”
An enthusiastic learner, Gal is constantly on the lookout for new treatments to offer her clients. She recently added a facial treatment called Muse by Israeli cosmetic company Christina. Lovers of the rose scent will find these products particularly blissful.
Another new twist at yullia salons is a new line of nail polish by Dior, which features hunter green and pale peach.
Gal is known for being an extremely demanding boss. Employees of yullia are expected to provide the highest level of service, which comes down to details such as not keeping their phones in their pockets while working, no gum chewing, no speaking in foreign languages, as well as a host of personal hygiene demands.
“Lots of people don’t want to work for me.
I am very clear about my demands. When I interview a potential employee, I first sit down and make a list of the downsides of working for me. I spend at least 40 minutes on this. Then I go over to the positives. I will be the first to say that the negative side is always longer, and yet I have over 140 employees, including several who have been with me for eight years,” says Gal.
Prior to our meeting, Gal had sat down with two employees who had broken one of her golden rules.
“I hope my employees respect me more than they fear me but I know that’s hard, especially when you demand things that other businesses don’t,” she explains.
Training her staff has been such a big challenge that a year ago Gal decided to open a school.
“We have 600 students now,” she says. “Only the very best of them will be offered a place in one of my salons. The rest will have received the best possible training available.”
Gal, 33, is married and the mother of two small children. She met her husband over the Internet, a fact she specifically requests to share.
“I want women to know that it’s possible to find love on dating sites, you just have to be open and determined. I am very goaloriented.
At 25, I decided that I wanted to meet my man, so I made it my project and I really worked at it,” she says.
Gal’s says her husband is the most supportive man she has ever met.
“It takes a real man to handle a successful woman. It’s nearly impossible to be a good mother and have a career without that,” she says.
For him and only him, Gal is willing to paint her nails red.
“I hate red nail polish but he loves it, so every Friday afternoon I come to the Dizengoff branch and paint my nails red.”
And though Gal believes that every woman, regardless of her relationship status, can and should put effort into her personal upkeep, impressing her husband is a big motivation.
“I have a great man at home, and I want to keep him satisfied. He would never say anything about my nails not being done, but I know that he appreciates it. I think that now that I have found the right man, part of keeping my end of the deal is to cultivate my physical beauty,” he says. For more information about yullia, visit www.yullia.com.