A franchise fast-starter: how Australian Skin Clinics grew and grew
Deb Farnworth-Wood heads up the fast-growing Australian Skin Clinics business that has been ranked seventh in the BRW Fast Starters list for 2015. In this Q&A she reveals her tips for managing a speedy expansion in a franchise set-up.
What were your expectations when you started the business?
I saw an opportunity to change the way consumers experienced and viewed the cosmetic industry and set out to make that a reality. We spent time developing the model, creating efficiencies and concentrating on the treatment offering. Our original plan was to run one pilot site for 12 months and then assess whether it had worked. My expectations were well and truly exceeded with our first clinic being so successful that within a few months we opened another.
What role has innovation played in your growth and success?
I’ve learned that owning a successful business isn’t necessarily about being the first, it’s about being the best. The best at what you do. We’re always looking for ways we can innovate our offering. The obvious innovations are the technologies we use, our focus on research and development and the way we deliver treatments, but there are less obvious innovations too.
We have had to be innovative at every single step, from restructuring the business model to equipment, training and marketing. Our forward thinking mentality and organisational culture of innovation and excellence has seen the company grow rapidly since opening our first franchise clinic just four years ago.
What has been the biggest challenge for the business?
I had to learn about franchising quickly, but I love learning new things, so I found this to be a positive experience. The franchise also launched post GFC when banks were not lending money, so we completely self-financed our growth.
Our team grew from seven to 27 in the space of a few months. This presented a challenge in terms of training, development and organisation but it was essential to be able to support the brand as it expanded.
How have you managed such fast growth?
We made sure we spent time developing the model, creating efficiencies and concentrating on the treatment offering.
I am a believer in careful planning and coming from a background of both health and multi-site retail businesses, I had a clear picture of what we needed from the onset. Every spare dollar along the way has been re-invested in either equipment or staff to ensure that our support structure meets the needs of the franchisees.
We have managed to secure an effective supply chain providing value for our franchisees and also established a training academy to strengthen our recruitment process.
How has the business funded its growth?
We currently have no debt and have self-funded this journey. In the early days there were times when I didn't draw a salary or when I tipped my personal bank account back into the business but I always knew it would pay off in the end.
What are the dangers of swift growth that you’ve managed to avoid?
The dangers of rapid growth include poor cash flow, falling standards and customer dissatisfaction and we have sought to avoid this. Even early on we were described as "hyper gazelles" because of the pace at which we were growing. In fairness though, I had deliberately over staffed the franchise office so that there was no danger that we wouldn't cope.
I hired a team who shared the vision, understood the system and replicated what I had taught them. My team are an amazing group of individuals who have pulled together and overcome every hurdle.
We have more sophisticated systems and structures than many established franchises and are constantly striving to do better.
How long do you expect this rate of growth to continue?
Beauty treatments have been around for centuries - Cleopatra was known for her goat’s milk baths. The current accelerated growth comes at a time when it's now OK to spoil yourself. There is great emphasis on looking good, combined with technological advances in treatments. I believe that the industry will continue to develop new technologies and products, but the current rapid growth will continue for 10 to 15 years.
How has the company changed in its four years?
Size is the obvious one - we've gone from a staff of 16 to over 200. Our clinic model has changed only subtly but our standards, training and philosophies remain the same. Our head office team has gone from seven to 27 in the last 18 months and we now have our own training facility (The Advanced Skills Academy) and even our own shop-fitting company.
What is your business philosophy?
I believe that to be successful in anything you have to love it but also that you don't need to be the biggest but definitely the best. I have a three point policy to life:
1. Never have regrets - just make sure you make the best decision you can based on all the information available at the time
2. Always have plan A, B and C - it's good to have options
3. Learn everything about everything you can - you don't know when you will need it
How has the company’s culture had an impact on the business success?
Culture is very important and we invest heavily in maintaining it. All our systems, including training, meetings and communications are geared towards improving our fun factor. The staff post selfies on our internal communication hub and we employ a number of gamification strategies to keep fun in the work place.
What would you do differently if you had the time again?
I would be less hard on myself! I am my own biggest critic and need to give myself more space.
What has been the best lesson learned?
Employ the right team, set expectations high and you will achieve your goals.