By bringing hair, makeup and nail pros right to your door, on-demand apps are claiming an ever-bigger chunk of the beauty budget.
Pass the oxygen mask — StyleSeat is sucking all the air out of the room.
This past July, when the San Francisco based startup announced that its Series B fundraising had yielded a cool $25 million—on top of the $15 million in VC money already sitting in its kitty (some even courtesy of Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick)—jaws dropped throughout beauty land.
Why have the money gods smiled on StyleSeat and not one of the umpteen other service-bookings apps? And why a service-bookings app instead of a good old-fashioned, scrappy little indie brand?
Launched in 2011 at TechCrunch’s annual Disrupt NY newbies powwow, StyleSeat was a first mover in this now-crowded field. As such, it paved the way for a slew of similar services, including Glamsquad, Vênsette and many others in the “style” camp, i.e., Stylisted, Stylez and StyleBookings.
While some service bookings entities merely facilitate salon and spa appointments, connecting the dots between potential clients and providers, the newer wave brings the provider right to the client’s door at a moment’s notice. And though a handful are website-only, mobile apps are where it’s at. After all, these companies skew young, and those young ones are on the move.
A Few Little Guys Step Out Onto the Stage
Before we take a deeper gander at StyleSeat — aka King Kong among a sea of Fay Wrays—let’s investigate two up-and-comers: Stylez, an app launched in 2014, and StyleBookings, a website that made its debut this year.
Born in Miami, Stylez is a consumer-facing product by the very inside-baseball, industry-driven Hair Construction Co. Through the creation of mega training materials (look-books, videos, step-by-step “recipes,” product recommendations), three-year-old Hair Construction does the heavy lifting for tens of thousands of salons around the world. Its team of 40 coiffeurs from 10 countries gathers in one locale twice a year to knock out these training tools, and then they take that act on the road—to Moscow, to Caracas, to Colorado Springs. Everywhere, basically.
But stylists and don’t need to hike to a Hair Construction seminar to learn how to execute each season’s trendy looks. For a monthly fee, they can join the digital platform, get access to the materials, and have a mini bookings website built for them, personalized with their portfolio and contact info.
Hair Construction’s Stylez app, which is free, adds an incredibly consumerfriendly twist to all that stylist intel: users can choose from among 400 celebrity looks (300 for women, 100 for men), find a salon, and then get the exact style they’re after because the participating hairdresser or barber can download the corresponding video tutorial, shot from all angles.
Consider Stylez the 3D version of ripping a picture out of Vogue or GQ, and bringing it to a salon or barbershop, hoping for the best. Plus, there’s a social media feature: Users can post before and after shots for their friends and followers to ooh and aah over.
It’s a very smart idea; no wonder Hair Construction beat out 200 other applicants for a chance to present Stylez to Mark Cuban and billionaire hair guru John Paul DeJoria at the first BeautyPitch at CosmoProf Las Vegas this summer. “The crowd of 1,700 interrupted us with applause twice during our presentation, which was very heartwarming,” recalls Hair Construction co-founder Cory Hoffart. “And we were approached by dozens of companies after the event with requests to work together. It was a game changer.”
For some, it’s about the niche, not the numbers…
On the far more niche end of the spectrum—but equally distinctive—is StyleBookings, the brainchild of superstar hairdresser George Kyriakos. Three years ago, after conceiving the idea of bringing top editorial talent to the doorsteps of chic New York women, Kyriakos rekindled an old friendship with makeup whiz and entrepreneur Vincent Longo.
Shazzam: Instant startup synergy. “Vincent and I go way back,” says Kyriakos. “We used to shoot for Vogue and Elle and Bazaar together. And not only is he a brilliant makeup artist, he’s a brilliant businessperson, too. He knows so much about branding.”
Alongside their roster of 30 carefully vetted hairstylists and makeup artists in New York, Kyriakos and Longo expect to add Los Angeles to the StyleBookings mix shortly. But they’re moving slowly and carefully, eschewing outside financial backing—for now—so they can call their own shots while beefing up their track record.
“I’ve been approached by two hedge funds in the last year,” notes Kyriakos.
“I know this sounds crazy, but I didn’t actually want VC money. We have certain milestones we want to hit first, and we’re also in the process of developing our app. With angel financing, they own you lock, stock and barrel, and they make every decision.”
Let’s hope that when Kyriakos and Longo are ready to cede a little control in exchange for investor dough, there’s still some to go around. Especially with the kind of returns StyleSeat must be offering its angels. The company reportedly has 320,000 service providers in its network, spanning thousands of U.S. cities. It has booked 30 million appointments in four years, to the tune of $1 billion.
No matter how you slice it, $1 billion is a lot of money. But it’s actually only sliver of the revenue StyleSeat expects to eventually generate. In 2011, at launch, company founder Melody McCloskey estimated the total bookings market at $40 billion.
The Carving of the American Beauty Budget
Those numbers have to make beauty manufacturers and retailers nervous. After all, for every dollar spent on a salon or spa appointment, or hair and makeup done in the privacy of one’s home or office, that’s a dollar that won’t be finding its way to the coffers of an Estée Lauder or a Saks Fifth Avenue.
“The question is: What are all these bookings services doing to the pie?” asks Wendy Leibmann, CEO and Chief Shopper, WSL Strategic Retail. “The pie isn’t getting any bigger, and it’s being sliced into lots of little slivers.”
Right now, the retail pie-slice is nothing to write home about. “Growth has been incremental, it’s been slow—however polite or impolite we want to be about it,” says Leibmann. “One percent, two percent.”
At between six and 10 percent, growth in traditional online sales is more robust, but still far from stellar. Leibmann says she isn’t remotely surprised that bookings services have caught on. “When you look at the tradeoffs people are making—and we call it ‘the good life vs. stuff’—they’re looking for, and willing to spend more on, things that are experiential rather than just another lipstick, or frock, or something else. That’s where the $75 for the at-home blowout is coming from. It’s not additive to the budget; it’s ‘I’ll do that vs. that.’”
More ominous, says Leibmann, is that consumers got used to buying fewer actual goods during the economic downturn, and they’ve yet to bounce back.
“One of the data points that jumped out at me from our 2014 ‘How America Shops’ mega-trends study is that four out of 10 participants said to us: ‘I had to cut back during the Recession and realized that I don’t need all that stuff,’ she says. “So that isn’t a majority, but it’s still a big number. And it’s the same for Millennials as in all the other demos.”
Still another factor aiding and abetting the bookings services, particularly the Uber-esque, on-demand apps: time deprivation. “People are incredibly overwhelmed and busy,” says Leibmann. “Whether it’s juggling several jobs in this ‘gig’ economy, or it’s the house, the kids, and everything else they have going on, people will step back and say: ‘I don’t have time to do [hair, makeup, nails] myself, so I’m willing to pay for it.”
Getting Off the Sidelines, and Into the Mix
Rather than huddling in a corner, wringing their hands and watching the bookings services and on-demand apps eat their lunch, beauty companies should dive right in to the sector, says Leibmann. After all, most of the biggies—L’Oréal, Estée Lauder Companies, Coty—now have booming professional divisions, and vast networks in the salon distribution channel.
And hair is only part of the equation. Why not build a MAC fleet of on-demand makeup artists? An Essie team of mobile manicurists? Everything these beauty behemoths need to fight the bookings revolution is sitting right in their front yards. “They’ve got the door opened already with a lot of their brands,” says Leibmann. “They have the ability to bring those brands to the shopper. It’s a huge opportunity. And they’re smart. They’ll figure it out.”