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Britain’s Blow Secures Unilever Ventures Investment, Plans Expansion

The company plans a rollout to other U.K. and European cities to cater to time-poor women.

LONDON — Blow Ltd., the London-based on-demand beauty services provider, plans to expand its business in the U.K. and on the Continent, thanks to a new 3.5 million pound, or $4.5 million at current exchange, investment led by Unilever Ventures, the consumer giant’s venture capital arm.

Blow plans to launch its services in Manchester and Birmingham next month, followed by a city in continental Europe in the first quarter of 2018. Stephen Willson, investment director at Unilever Ventures, said that he was drawn to the company’s quality of service and multichannel approach, which will in turn benefit Unilever’s assets and ecosystem.

“Blow is reinventing the service experience and ultimately creating a new route for product distribution,” said Willson of the business, where customers can book at-home appointments via its web site or app. There are also two Blow beauty bars in London’s Covent Garden and in Canary Wharf.

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Investing in technology is another key focus for Blow, which has been growing up to 20 percent month-on-month and is planning to launch an updated version of its app with additional features.

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“It’s about time to make the app more and more user friendly. The new app will allow customers to make repeat bookings and get the same service in the same location. They will also be able to book the same stylist and add extras to a service, like a hand massage with a manicure,” said Fiona McIntosh, the company’s co-founder and a former editor at Elle U.K. and Grazia.

Blow has also been focusing on expanding the range of its services and products on offer. Following a recent acquisition of the on-demand online beauty business Return to Glory, it has added wellbeing services such as massage and yoga to its menu, which includes blow dries, makeup and nail services.

McIntosh also highlighted plans to partner with beauty labels in order to create branded beauty services. “We have a hair brand coming in next month to work exclusively with us, and we plan to do the same with nails,” she said. “Beauty brands now see us as a new route to market, and we want to work with big, premium labels which are prepared to co-market. Our customers are premium customers, so we need to stay in that space.”

To see the company through its expansion phase, Blow has appointed Brian Hickey as its chief executive officer. McIntosh said that his experience of building online food delivery service Just Eat across 10 international markets is exactly the person they were looking for “to scale the business and take it to the next level.”

As it prepares for its next phase, Blow also teamed with Mintel to release a report that provides further insight into the lives of the consumers to which it caters.

Called “The Changing Face of Digital Beauty,” the study highlights how stressed and time-poor modern women are, hence their need for convenient and speedy services. According to the report, 53 percent of the global workforce say that they are closer to burning out than they were five years ago and often as a result lead unhealthy lifestyles – overeating or losing sleep.

Beauty services are part of the ways women on the go disconnect from their busy lives. Fifty-nine percent agreed that such services help them relax, but due to the increasing time pressures of work life, the demand for mobile therapists and flexible timings continues to grow.

McIntosh highlighted that the majority of Blow’s services tend to be booked outside of office hours as the app is mostly used by women aged 25 to 50, who are either working full time or are business owners.

“Seventy-five percent of our app users are working women, and we found that they have to do an average of seven tasks before 9:00 a.m. So this service is about how we can help them save time,” added McIntosh, pointing to the fact that women can save up to 90 minutes by using on-demand beauty services. “That’s precious for these women. There is no travel or waiting time. They have someone coming to their home, and they can feed their kids or answer e-mails while they are getting their nails done.”

The Mintel report also highlights that, due to increased Internet connectivity and smartphone ownership, customers are now expecting instant service and single-click deliveries, so there is the need for services to be more customized and aligned with their schedules.

“There’s now the expectation that you can order anything by pressing a button. It was just a niche idea, but now it’s becoming an expectation. From food delivery to the Netflix revolution to having your laundry collected from your home and delivered back, you now expect so much from an app. The on-demand revolution that we are experiencing at the moment is really growing,” added McIntosh.

The impact of social media on young adults, which is making them increasingly image-conscious, is another key focus of the report.

Dubbed the “selfie generation,” 95 percent of Millennials admitted to having taken a selfie, while in the U.K., 34 percent of women aged 25 to 44 said that the culture of social media and selfies is making them more conscious of their image and their bodies. As a result they seek advice from online beauty tutorials, look to speak to brands via online platforms such as WhatsApp and use apps to book beauty services.

“Mintel’s consumer data shows that women feel more confident when they look good. The pressure to look good is also heightened in the world we live in thanks to the selfie culture – as we see women become more body critical because of this,” said Andrew McDougall, global analyst for haircare at Mintel.

“People also have very busy lifestyles, having a long list of daily tasks to get through and work stresses being more prominent now than a few years ago,” he continued. “Therefore, beauty services that can fit around the consumers’ lifestyle will appeal. We are used to ordering our products on demand, and now it is the opportunity for services, providing they have consumer trust.”

Unilever Ventures has been involved in other investments in the personal-care category, including U.K.-based skin-care brand Ren and luxury hair-care label Sachajuan, based in Stockholm.