Skip to main content

Beauty Services War: Beauty ‘Bars’ Versus On-Demand

It's Drybar versus Glamsquad in the beauty services space right now, which is seeing an uptick in both retail "bars" and in-home offerings.

NEW YORK — Forget full service salons. Any beauty service provider today is likely to want to do one of two things: Open a “bar” or go the concierge route with an on-demand mobile app.

Consumers today are go-go-go, and long swaths of time once dedicated to all-day pampering are far and few between. Women want to make a pit stop at their local Drybar for a blowout before heading into the office, get a 15-minute laser and light facial at Skin Laundry during lunch or, on their way home, get their roots done in 45 minutes flat at new root touch-up salon Madison Reed in the Flatiron District here.

Beauty “bars” dedicated to singular-focused services — including makeup applications, facials, laser facials, chemical peels, root touch-ups, eyelash extension application and blowdrys — are popping up all over major cities. This year is primed for an even greater proliferation of these brick-and-mortar beauty outposts as they trickle into other key markets. Chicago has two Blowtique locations, and Canadian facial bar Skoah, while predominantly West Coast based, now has three doors in Boston.

Related Galleries

Whether the draw is speed (Madison Reed’s root touch-ups can replace often lengthy visits to a traditional salon), accessibility (facial bar Heyday’s two shops here want to deliver a spa service for $90), or both (seven-month-old facial bar Silver Mirror on the Upper East Side bills itself as “fast and affordable”), one thing is clear: consumers want these services when they want them.

You May Also Like

And in some cases, where they want it. This is where another fast-growing sector of the beauty service space — mobile apps facilitating on-demand offerings à la Glamsquad — comes into play.

The beauty services industry is seeing an uptick in both on-demand and “bars” and which one is better primed for success — from market share to consumer mind-set — is being debated by financial experts and venture capitalists.

“My gut says speed beauty is more compelling as a business model,” said Kirsten Green, founder of venture capital firm Forerunner Ventures that counts Warby Parker, Hotel Tonight, Dollar Shave Club, Glossier, Outdoor Voices and Draper James among its investments.

She noted that while both “speed bars” at brick-and-mortar shops and in-home services are likely viable in certain markets, concierge entities, including Glamsquad, could really only work “in dense markets where platforms are able to aggregate demand and [give] service providers a consistent stream of work.”

An upside for bars and speed services is that they can exist in more markets. It stands to be a healthy business and she believes it’s an equally compelling model for consumers.

For Green, Drybar has demonstrated that building a routine with a customer is possible, and while skin treatments might not occur as often as a blowout, one time a week for a laser and light facial, for instance, is not unlikely. Success for facial bars in particular hinges on three things, she explained, and if a company can nail positioning, price and convenience, she believes fast facials could be strong sellers, with room for add-on services.

“When the service location is convenient and the offering is optimized for experience, the out-of-house offering, I think, stands to be more compelling. It certainly offers a stronger place to build a brand and experience from, as well as upsell,” she added.

Madison Reed is the latest to join the fast-growing beauty bar space. Founder and chief executive officer Amy Errett is taking her e-commerce brand of at-home, prestige hair color and bringing it to life with the Madison Reed Color Bar, which officially opens Jan. 12.

Located on 19th Street in the Flatiron District here, clients can get root touch-ups for $45, available in extended early morning and late evening time slots (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) to accommodate working women. The salon will offer Madi, a color-matching technology that the company rolled out on its site this fall. Through a selfie upload, Madi gives recommendations on current or future color. Madison Reed Color Bar will see a grand opening next month.

BeautyRx Peel Bar, which specializes in two-minute peels, was one of the earlier adopters on the express beauty scene is. Founded by Dr. Neal Schultz, the concept opened its first space in fall 2014 at Butterfly Beauty. Since then, Schultz has introduced his Peel Bar via pop-ups in six Saks Fifth Avenue doors nationwide and in May, a permanent Peel Bar launched in five Blushington locations.

For $55, clients can receive one of Schultz’s 40 percent strength Glycolic peels for less than a quarter of the price of the same procedure performed in his Upper East Side office. Clients are in and out in 15 minutes flat. Additional doors for 2017 are in the works, according to Stuart Schultz, president of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz.

Heyday exclusively performs facials in its Flatiron and TriBeCa locations, but is not focused on the “express” aspect of beauty, said Michael Pollak, Heyday cofounder and chief brand officer.

“We’re trying to make professional skin care more accessible, and for a long time it’s been tucked away in luxury spas,” Pollak noted.

Beyond accessibility, efficiency also comes into play. A traditional spa typically has two or three dedicated facial areas, while Heyday has eight stations in its Flatiron location and seven in its TriBeCa one.

Unable to disclose the next location, Pollak said more doors will open in 2017 in New York.

Even though Heyday, Madison Reed, BeautyRx Peel Bar and others are reliant on a brick-and-mortar business model to scale, they do share characteristics with some mobile-first, concierge players, including Zeel Massage, The Ritualist, Glamsquad, Vênsette and most recently, Colour.

These mobile booking services for hair, makeup, massages, facials and nails hit the scene about five years ago and continue to be a fast-growing category in the emerging on-demand space. Glamsquad is considered the current market leader, and has raised $24 million to build an app and network of stylists that lets users book blowouts and get their makeup and nails done in their homes.

The environments where the services are performed are different — Heyday is a retail operation and The Ritualist’s facials take place in-home — but the services are similar, if not the exactly the same. Both brick-and-mortar and concierge businesses are highly specialized, with the exception of Glamsquad, the broadest when it comes to the services it offers. Its menu includes hairstyling, makeup applications, manicures and nail art and soon, face masks.

Pricing, for the most part, is competitive — and this includes comparing beauty bars to concierge, in-home prices as well as comparing both new models to traditional salon rates. For instance, there is just an $8.25 difference between a Drybar blowout and receiving the same service in one’s home via Glamsquad. The former charges $45 for the service, and including a 20 percent tip, comes out to $54, and the latter charges $50 for a blowout, and including a 20 percent tip and tax, comes out to $62.25. Higher priced concierge option Vênsette offers in-home blowouts for $100, as well as a VIP blowout option for $150. The same service in a traditional salon is priced similarly, where blowouts often start at about $40 to $45 and can go up to over $100 if performed by a senior stylist.

A 60-minute, Swedish in-home message with Zeel costs $130, and including an 18 percent tip and tax, comes out to $159.25. Comparatively, Exhale Spa charges $140 to $155 for its 60-minute massages and Bliss $160 for its Blissage 75 full-body massage. If you compare cost per minute, this means that an hour at Bliss costs $128, only two dollars less than what Zeel commands for its in-home service.

Heyday is a bit different. The facial bar was created expressly as a more accessible option, with facials costing about 40 percent less than many New York spas that charge $150 or more for an hour service, and increasingly, well over the $250 to $300 mark. And while Heyday’s 50-minute facial for $95 is definitely a draw, it still costs 40 percent more than Mario Badescu’s classic, $65 European facial.

Overall, beyond the obvious “where” the services are happening, there are parallels in services and pricing for the two business models — but when factors like unit economics and overhead costs come into play, the stakes change.

Beauty bars have top dollar real estate to contend with versus travel time for independent contractors that could greatly reduce the efficiency of a concierge operation, but from a consumer perspective, none of this matters. It’s likely that beauty bars and concierge services have overlap in client bases. A consumer can go to Drybar when it’s convenient for her, but also opt to have someone come to her home via Glamsquad if that fits better with her schedule.

Which model has the advantage and clearer road to profitability is yet to be determined, but Rebecca Kaden, a general partner at venture capital and private equity firm Maveron, believes the on-demand model poses challenges because it’s such a low margin industry.

Kaden told WWD last fall that it’s too early to determine if making a profit on an in-house blowout will prove to be a sustainable business model.

Ilya Seglin, managing director at Threadstone Advisors, had a counter argument. With a retail space, there is pressure to fill the salon at all times to justify rent. Even if it’s a slow time or day, there is no overhead cost for a concierge service.

He believes both “in-store” and in-home services have a place in the market and that neither has an edge — yet.

It just boils down to a different customer acquisition strategy, Seglin maintained. One uses retail to lure and hook customers and the other must acquire customers online, but the same consumer wants both at different times.

“Ten percent of Blushington’s business is actually in-home services. They do effectively what Glamsquad does…and I think what’s going to happen over time is there’s going to be some consolidations and these services will come under one umbrella,” Seglin said.

Similar to how Warby Parker and Bonobos were born online but had to adapt and venture into brick-and-mortar — retail or wholesale — to grow their businesses to scale, beauty services will have to do the same.

To win in this space, he thinks a start-up needs an app for consumers to go and book an in-home service or appointment in a physical environment.

“Those businesses will evolve, whether they do it organically or merge with businesses that do what they don’t do. If we look two, three, four years out, they will have to provide full services,” Seglin said.