Capitalizing on the desire for long, lush lashes, Anna Phillips, a licensed esthetician, massage therapist, eyelash extension specialist, and permanent makeup artist, founded The Lash Lounge (Colleyville, TX) in August 2006. Since then, she has grown the business to include two additional corporate locations in Plano, TX, and Fort Worth, TX, and in 2010, the company began a franchising program, which involved the launch of four more locations in Texas: Austin, Flower Mound, Dallas, and Allen. The salons typically feature six to 10 treatment rooms staffed by an average of six to 10 employees. In addition to lash extensions, the lounges also offer additional eye-enhancing services, such as lash and brow tinting and eyelash perming, as well as permanent makeup. The Lash Lounge also offers an exclusive private-label cosmetics line which is retailed in its boutiques. “The Lash Lounge saw a twenty-seven percent increase in gross profit from 2011 to 2012 in our Fort Worth location,” says Phillips, who now serves as president of the company. Here, she shares how she is keeping her eye on the prize.
Q. How has The Lash Lounge continued to succeed in trying times?
A. First and foremost, it has taken time to invest in sound research to help position The Lash Lounge in areas where our core customers are located. We have focused on building the brand name and the quality simultaneously through a variety of avenues. Second, the business provides a “feel- good” service that many people are looking for these days, while not costing an arm and a leg.
Q. Why do you think the business has been able to succeed where others have failed?
A. We believe we have succeeded for two simple reasons. First, we specialize in what we do, and because we found a niche, we have become the experts in the industry. We don’t try to offer a huge menu of services in which we are the jack-of-all trades but masters of none. Instead we are masters in the eyelash extension business, and people know they can trust their eyes to us. Second, we focus strongly on customer service. We strive to not only provide a top-notch service to our clients but also an overall great experience. On average, our customers come to see us every two weeks, so we want them to feel well taken care of and special.
Q. How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit?
A. The Lash Lounge practices a variety of marketing and advertising techniques to bring in new customers, including referral bonuses to existing clients for sending in their friends. Once a customer receives an eyelash extension service, they need to come back for refills, which is typically every two to three weeks. This provides The Lash Lounge with repeat clientele. We try to stay in touch with clients through e-mail blasts, social media, press, and more in order to stay fresh in their minds. Some of the best advertising we have done has been with Groupon, which has gotten us a large number of clients in the door. Once they experience the service, they are hooked.
Q.How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?
A. The Lash Lounge focuses heavily on different online media platforms to promote the business. We have a YouTube channel where videos are posted on various topics. Also, we have Twitter and Facebook accounts and a blog space we use to post and stay current with clients.
Q. What steps and cost-cutting measures did you employ to offset the recession?
A. When the recession presented itself, The Lash Lounge already had three locations, and we were advised to purchase products and supplies in bulk rather than at the higher marked-up retail rates. We researched and found some of the manufacturers and ordered directly from them to lower the overall costs. Although we had to find storage space for the pre-purchased stock, it was worth the savings earned by purchasing in bulk. We also took our hiring process to an “as-needed” basis. We didn’t want to have employees sitting around with no customers to service, so we hired and trained as the demand warranted. The irony of this was that it made the appointment schedule appear to be very booked, and therefore, caused a buzz and a growing demand. Apparently, when you have to pre-book your appointment nearly a month in advance, it tells the public that The Lash Lounge’s services are in demand. The effect was a growing clientele.
Q. Did you change your menu of offerings? If so, what effect did that have on the business?
A. We have not added or deleted any services on the menu. Our philosophy is to keep it simple and excel at the few things we offer. With our main service being eyelash extensions, The Lash Lounge only offers five other services. One change that was made was to increase the price on three of the five services, simply because there were so few requests. We were faced with the decision to either remove the services completely or change the pricing. We chose to increase the pricing so that it was worth the technicians’ time and supply cost to perform the service. In the end, the number of these services has picked up with the increased price over the past year.
Q. Do you employ any sort of creative staffing initiatives?
A. As I have grown the business, the hardest thing has been to hire employees who provide the quality of service and customer care that I built the business on. I believe that is what sets us apart from our competition, our reputation. Every employee has to go through our training program and build their skill level up before we allow them to work on paying clients. Therefore, it is difficult to fire someone and have a replacement ready to go the next day. With that said, I have learned it is much better to let a bad seed go immediately than to let them tarnish the rest of the employees’ morale and, ultimately, the customers’ experience. We do have a large number of long-term employees who have been working for the company for more than three years, which in the beauty industry is a great accomplishment. To attract and retain these valuable employees, we have added health benefits to the employment package, as well as semi-annual awards and bonuses. We also found that our employees want regular staff meetings so they can feel in the know and a part of the corporation. During these meetings, we always ask for their input, suggestions for improvement, and ideas for new products and services, and we always make sure they know how much they are appreciated. I believe these measures are what have helped us retain the excellent employees we have.
Q. What have you learned from surviving the recent recession?
A. The Fort Worth salon was built out and opened in October 2008 in a beautiful shopping center with luxury condos in the upper levels. The rest of the strip where this salon was located was also designated to be built out with a variety of shops, restaurants, and living centers. Everything was on schedule to be constructed and opened at the same time or within six months of the Fort Worth location. Due to the recession, everything was at least one to two years behind. The luxury condos whose residents we expected to frequent the business weren’t inhabited until 2010, thus causing a lot of businesses to close in the same center. As a result, the Fort Worth location was the slowest to grow. We hung in there, and while we didn’t make any money for a long time, we were able to break even, which was all we could ask for. By mid- 2010, the rest of the strip was finishing up with development and is bustling today. Consequently, our Fort Worth location is now often the top-grossing monthly earner. It took a while for us to get there, but it has worked out in the end. What I have learned from this has been to make sure to place our salons in existing and thriving shopping centers, or have language in place within the lease that ties the landlord and developer to certain delivery dates or a certain percentage of space rented by other retailers. Positioning The Lash Lounge in the right centers actually allows us to cut back on annual advertising funds.