No longer are such services only for early adopters. But the challenge these companies face as they mature is differentiating themselves from their competitors — and making sure that they not only attract customers, but they keep them coming back.
Mobile concierge and booking services for hair, makeup and nails hit the scene about five years ago and remain a growing category in the ever-expanding on-demand universe, including apps such as Glamsquad, Vive, StyleSeat and Zeel Massage. Now major beauty firms and established businesses are leaping into the category. Hip New York nail salon Ten Over Ten has started to do in-home appointments, while Bobbi Brown gave the on-demand thing a whirl in September. Through a partnership with Uber, riders in New York and Los Angeles who requested a makeup touch-up were picked up in a car with a Bobbi Brown artist on hand to do their makeup on the go.
Last year, The Red Door by Elizabeth Arden acquired Manicube, a pioneer in bringing manicures to office spaces, and in January purchased CityMani, which offers nail services to small group parties in New York. This summer, Red Door merged the two to create Red Door at Work, a venture that brings $15 to $35 manicures, as well as haircuts and massages, to employees at participating companies and small groups.
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But today, offering a blowout or manicure is not enough.
To differentiate itself from competitors, Lauren Remington Platt said the five-year-old on-demand beauty app Vênsette she founded is geared toward a more affluent customer. In addition to its regular blowout offering, which costs a flat fee of $100, there is a VIP blowout for $150. It’s a more elevated experience, Remington Platt contended, which affords the client more time with the stylist and allows them to try several styles.
“For the past 10 years, it’s been about e-commerce and easily accessing…the fastest, cheapest and flash sales,” Remington Platt said of the concierge beauty space, noting that Vênsette sees 40 percent of its revenue coming from B2B ventures including partnerships with Saks Fifth Avenue and corporate clients from Michael Kors to Carolina Herrera.
“The next wave and mature phase I see is women wanting more — an experienced stylist who is charging $500 for a haircut and blowing her hair for $100…or a makeup artist who does runway shows who can expose the client to the newest makeup launches. That’s an experience that clients are willing to pay for,” she said.
She has no interest in serving the mass market, or having the cheapest blowout on the market.
By contrast, market leader Glamsquad charges $50 for a blowout and, including a $10 tip and tax, the service comes out to $62.25, about 60 percent less than Vênsette’s price.
This, Remington Platt said, is why she doesn’t believe she’s vying for the same customer as Glamsquad. She believes the woman who forks over $100 for a blowout in her own home is likely a different customer than one who opts to book the $50 Glamsquad option (before tax and tip) or the one who books a last-minute $40 salon appointment through Vive.
Rebecca Kaden, a general partner at venture capital and private equity firm Maveron and investor in Vive, isn’t so sure.
“It’s a very competitive category because there are a lot of players going for the same customer and spending a lot of capital on the acquisition,” Kaden said.
While a clear line of demarcation exists within the mobile beauty landscape — at-home service providers or solutions that simplify the in-studio experience — they are vying for the same consumer, Kaden believes. She thinks the client using Glamsquad to book a stylist to come to her home the next day for a blow-dry is the same client who might use Vive to book a last-minute blowout near work so she can head from the office to her night out.
But no matter which model one follows, Kaden explained, the unit economics are challenging because beauty services are a low-margin business. It remains to be seen whether taking a cut of a salon’s blowout or making a profit on an in-house blowout will prove to be a sustainable business model, but the former has an added layer of friction. Players going after the supply side (apps that make it easier to book in-studio) must get a large number of salons to participate, and in the case of taking a percentage of appointments booked à la StyleSeat, the cut could be quite low.
“The sell-in of coverage to get studios on board is really hard…to evangelize them [the studios]. It’s an open-table strategy. It’s a hard and a long-term play,” Kaden continued, adding: “Now — the prize is very big. There’s evidence that if you do it well, it’s sticky.”
Kaden believes the in-home service model could be more forgiving, which includes Glamsquad — her pick for the early winner in the space so far; Vênsette, and, most recently, the Atlanta-based app Colour, which caters to women with textured hair.
Amy Shecter, who joined Glamsquad as chief executive officer in June, said the company is experiencing substantial growth, including several launches that span services to product in the past year. She said more than 700 stylists work throughout the company’s three markets, and by the end of the year, more than 150,000 appointments will have been completed.
This spring, spa service add-ons for its manicure and pedicure services were put on the menu, and in October, Dyson’s Supersonic became the mobile app’s exclusive blow-dryer. Nail art will launch next month and additional add-ons such as face masks will become available before by year’s end. Early next year, Glamsquad will enter two markets, and add another service.
Vive, although it doesn’t offer in-home services, is coming at the mobile beauty space from a different angle. The app, which launched in May, focuses on salon services with an emphasis on “last-minute” appointments.
Alanna Gregory, Vive founder and ceo, said the app offers last-minute blowout appointments in New York, the Hamptons, Chicago and Los Angeles for a flat fee of $40. More than 50,000 appointments have been booked to date on the app and a new flexible member plans allow clients to buy packages of three, five or 10 blowouts at a discount.
StyleSeat doesn’t focus on the “last minute” aspect — but instead has built a mobile marketplace that allows independent stylists to connect with clients. It has bold-faced investors that include Uber ceo Travis Kalanick, Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary and has raised $40 million to date. The app has more than 400,000 stylists in 16,000 cities and has seen the equivalent of $3 billion in bookings since 2011.
Colour, the latest addition to the group that launched in May, is perhaps the surest signal that the space is maturing. There’s a real demand for specialized beauty — especially in-home hairstyling for textured hair, according to Debra Shigley, founder of Colour.
“The entire industry has looked at this through one pair of eyes; it’s geared towards one kind of customer,” said Shigley, who previously was the beauty and style editor for Atlanta Magazine, a contributor to Allure and a lawyer. “The ethnic, multicultural market has been put to the side and therefore underserved…[But] up to 50 percent of women actually have textured or ethnically curly hair.”
She noted that while the service caters to texture — as opposed to ethnicity — it was still important to enter the market as a company that’s “by women of color for women of color” because that hasn’t existed.
Shigley said in terms of how the app works, its very much like a Glamsquad. Clients book a hair service — which could range from a blowout or braided looks à la Ciara’s fishtail halo braid or putting in extensions — and a stylist comes to their home at the desired time. Prices range from $65 to $85, including tip, with a membership option for $200 a month.
Shigley said she’s testing a tiered membership option and looking to expand Colour’s services to Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, and New York.