Beauty-booking apps are battling to be the last service standing on a consumer’s mobile phone.
This story first appeared in the March 27, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Not everyone wants five apps on their cell to book a makeup or hair service. Like every industry, the winners will stand out and the losers, well, they won’t be in business.
“[Beauty-booking tools] is such a hot space right now,” said Maureen Mullen, cofounder and head of research at L2 Inc. “But I don’t see there being six different beauty-booking apps [on the market].”
Which explains the onslaught of beauty scheduling platforms popping up in app-land. Beth McGroarty, research director at Spafinder, identified four types of booking apps where the majority focuses solely on taking reservations:
• Network: “It’s like a Spafinder or Yelp where you have one app or one site that has a lot of different places to book.”
• Branded: “This is either a chain of beauty businesses or individual spas and salons with their own app so companies can have a relationship with their customers. For example, Drybar or Bliss.”
• Consumer: “This is about streamlining the appointment setting and structuring the experience of waiting to get a call back. This would include Schedulicity or StyleSeat.”
• On-Demand: “It’s the Uber-ization of spa, beauty, fitness and yoga. It’s for busy women or the stay-at-home mom. The things that you would book on demand are not personal, [because it’s a last minute appointment or a quick-fix model].” Examples of these include Priv and Glamsquad.
Vênsette, Priv, Stylisted, Glamsquad, StyleSeat, Zeel, HiLovely, Beautified, Blownaway, BeautyNow, Uber Beauty, BeautyFriend, StyleBee, Beauty Booked, Vagaro, Schedulicity — the competition is fierce, and the range of models share similar visions of delivering quality when and where consumers want it.
According to Parham Aarabi, chief executive officer of Modiface, there’s an opportunity for one or even two apps to become the Facebook or Twitter of beauty booking, but right now it’s not clear which one that will be. “The pace for mobile has been a bit beyond what anyone has seen before,” Aarabi said. “We’ll see consolidation in the market and there will be few apps that people will often use.”
“It’s early days with this category,” McGroarty said. “If the majority of online booking is happening on mobile browsers and desktops, we would say at Spafinder that within three to five years that would be overtaken by mobile apps. Mobile is growing faster than any technology and young people, Millennials, are willing to book anything online.”
While most of these companies won’t share how many downloads they have received, industry sources estimate Zeel, an on-demand booking app that delivers massages straight to the consumer’s door, has been downloaded 100,000 times, and since its launch in 2012, it has generated $10 million. Priv, which includes services ranging from yoga to makeup, has obtained 50,000 downloads and has raised more than $4 million in funds from venture capital firms.
Aarabi noted an app is successful once it surpasses two million downloads. “There are over one million apps on the app store and if you look at the top-ranking ones, most have over two million downloads,” he said. “Most of these on-demand and beauty-booking platforms are far from that.”
So what does one have to do to get noticed?
“Whether it’s e-commerce or an app-based strategy, in order for businesses to grow and get really big you have to have a multichannel footprint,” Mullen noted.
“Companies have to think about how to be useful for consumers for more than just beauty booking,” Aarabi said. “For example, offer them the chance to try on beauty products or try on hairstyles. Selfies are popular; people love taking photos, engaging that interest makes the app more viral and more popular. Other things are sample recommendations. We’ve seen beauty advisers say, ‘Based on your complexion or your hair color, we would recommend you try out this hairstyle or this product.’ The more of these elements, the easier it becomes for people to find the app and be stuck to it.”
StyleSeat unveiled an app component to its online booking platform six months ago and already 60 percent of bookings stem from mobile. The company also offers a solution for beauty professionals to grow their business. Stylists can sign up for StyleSeat and receive a Web site with online-booking functionality. Additionally, the platform does follow-ups and thank-yous for the professional’s clients.
“On average we grow a stylist’s revenue by 70 percent in the first year using our system with our business tools,” said Melody McCloskey, ceo and cofounder of StyleSeat, whose company provides bookings for 290,000 professionals in more than 15,000 cities and just hit $1 billion in appointments booked. Most of the booking is done for appointments in advance, but many other companies focus on providing clients with immediate service, known as beauty on-demand. “We’re not reliant on on-demand. Our research shows us that on-demand is about 5 percent of the [service] industry as a whole. It’s something girls want in New York or maybe in Los Angeles with a certain level of income, but the average woman, person, mom, cannot do that or doesn’t have a house where she feels comfortable with that.”
Most of these companies deliver services — like blowouts and makeovers—but StyleSeat, which has raised more than $14 million from investors, has created a multidimensional business providing services, bookings and a platform for stylists to grow their business.
StyleSeat stands out, but there are a few others driving the market.
Beauty Booked, whose technology powers salon- and spa-booking functionality on Allure.com, works both on-demand and off. The app, which lets consumers book salon and spa appointments under one umbrella, recently added a new element called Beauty Pass. The component lets consumers sign up for a subscription service that allows for unlimited beauty services. Clients can get deals on unlimited blowouts for $99 a month. In the future, the company will add unlimited manicures, spa treatments, spray tans and more. Beauty Pass will also offer last-minute blowouts where consumers can book up to 15 minutes before their desired appointment time and the BB concierge will secure an appointment at a location closest to the client.
“With the launch of Beauty Pass, our mission is to make it even easier and more accessible by being the one-stop solution for all of your beauty booking needs,” said Hillary Hutcheson, cofounder of Beauty Booked, who added the platform is experiencing double to triple digit growth every month. “Starting next week, our members will be able to experience unlimited blowouts at trusted salons anytime, anywhere across New York City. And this is just the beginning.” Industry sources estimate Beauty Booked’s Beauty Pass could generate $3 million to $5 million in sales in its first year as it rolls out to other markets.
Glamsquad, which charges $50 for a blowout and up to $125 for an updo, raised $7 million in funds led by SoftBank Capital with minority participation from Lerer Ventures, AOL’s BBG Fund and Montage Ventures. The on-demand app has expanded to three markets — New York, Los Angeles and Miami — and it’s looking to extend its offering and sell products on the app.
“We’re not a marketplace,” said Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Glamsquad’s ceo, who added the company books 1,500 appointments a week and more than 30,000 appointments since it launched in January 2014. “The app is a tool.”
Priv, whose extensive menu of services consists of yoga instructors, masseuses, spray-tanning specialists, hairstylists and manicurists, is rooted in personalization. Clients can choose their stylist based on reviews and an image of the professional. “We’re seeing crossover in new services,” said Morris Sutton, cofounder and co-ceo of Priv, noting the business is growing double digits every month. “We’re seeing tremendous customer loyalty in the same service. One thing we’re doing, which allows us to scale out much faster, we’re offering agents our platform to build their business.”
But its consumer base isn’t widely diverse. Priv’s core demographic is 25 to 35, predominantly female, empowered working women or the stay-at-home mom. The company attempts to do most services in under 30 minutes and that gives them an edge since Glamsquad can take anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes.
“On-demand seems like it’s going to be a viable model for the 25 to 35 urban market,” McGroarty said. “The problem is the fragmentation, and I’m not so sure how they will do in the suburbs.”
Vênsette, which is focused on high-end hair and makeup services, targets women 28 to 65 looking for a daily blowout or makeup for big events. On Vênsette, clients can book either online or on its app, and because bookings can be done on two different platforms, the company is growing 400 percent year-over-year, the number of clients doubled in the fourth quarter of 2014 and the company has a total reach of 100,000 subscribers in four markets.
Similarly, Stylisted, which is located in Chicago, all five boroughs in New York City and Los Angeles, is focused on booking for special events. Like Priv, the client can handpick their stylist, although Stylisted doesn’t position itself as on-demand.
“The special events [for clients] tend to occur once a month or every other month, that’s who we’re going after,” said Julia Carmona, Stylisted’s chief operating officer. “Stylisted is really born from our personal pain point of not wanting to trust a complete stranger with our hair or makeup.”
According to McGroarty, Zeel is having big success in the spa space. “That’s a fascinating model because massages can be very relaxing at home,” she noted.
There aren’t many on-demand massage players, so Zeel found white space in a market inundated with hair and makeup services. Zeel’s demographic is split evenly between males and females and it is available in the New York City metro area, including Bergen County, N.J.; Fairfield County, Conn.; Westchester, Long Island; the Hamptons; South Florida, from Miami Beach to Palm Beach; the San Francisco Bay Area; Silicon Valley, and Southern California, including the greater Los Angeles area, Ventura County, Orange County and Palm Springs. Soon, Zeel will launch in San Diego and Las Vegas with more locations on the horizon.
“A lot of men don’t want to go to a spa,” noted Samer Hamadeh, founder and ceo of Zeel.
Despite having been downloaded 100,000 times, according to industry sources, even Zeel will need to evolve since booking is its only functionality.
To that end, HiLovely, which is only available in San Francisco and the Bay Area, has found a way to expand to new markets faster without physically being there.
Matana LePlae, founder of HiLovely, who also is the founder and ceo of Lashfully, just launched another element of HiLovely called Beauty Chat. It is a one-on-one personalized video chat with one of the company’s beauty experts. The session is $30 for 30 minutes and clients can choose from a menu that includes services like how to apply foundation and concealer or contouring.
But who has time for that, when consumers are already so busy?
“My hypothesis is that most people will want to do it in the evenings. In this format, we’re able to reach a broader audience of women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who want to [learn different applications] but are intimidated,” said LePlae, who added [Beauty Chat] is more accessible and gets it to Detroit before it gets HiLovely to Detroit in services. “The difference between YouTube [beauty vloggers and Beauty Chat] is that on Beauty Chat you are live with somebody and you can say no or the expert can say you did that wrong, move your arm this way.”
Other companies aren’t only looking to make it easier for consumers, but are hoping to create more jobs. Smoot Carter, ceo of Blownaway, which is an on-demand app for blowouts, was an Uber driver before founding his company.
“Driving 2,500 Uber rides instilled in me a real excitement about on-demand tech, logistics and demand response,” Carter said. “I invested in on-demand tech because the utilization of excess capacity creates jobs for contractors in our communities and our team has been inspired firsthand by the stories of how this has bettered our contractors’ lives.”
“An app is an amazing opportunity for businesses because it’s a way to communicate with customers that’s really personalized and relevant,” McGroarty said. “But that’s the challenge because a lot of apps replicate their Web site and let you book. If that’s the case, they just get deleted.”
“There are a lot of things about app optimization: what keywords you put in, the design of the app, the video you make for the app and the way you actually launch your app. One of the things we found to be successful is really building a grass roots relationship with people [before launching],” Aarabi said. “Because when it comes to mobile, second chances aren’t available.”