Last month, StyleSeat, the online platform for independent beauty stylists launched in 2011, added former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to its board.
It’s the latest in a continuing trend of beauty companies built on the “Uber for” model.
First, in 2011, came StyleSeat and Vensette. In 2014, BeGlammed, GlamSquad and Ruuby entered the market. The list also includes former companies like BeautyBooked, which was purchased by StyleSeat, and the now-defunct Beautified. Together, they’ve attracted much attention in the form of millions of dollars of investor funding and plenty of media stunts. And consumers have taken to using apps to book at-home appointments with makeup artists, hair stylists and even masseuses and airbrush-tanning technicians.
But salons aren’t doomed, despite clients’ shifting habits. Instead, like brick-and-mortar retailers amid the rise of e-commerce, they’ll be forced to change: Physical stores are increasingly doubling as fulfillment centers for online purchases and are being updated with in-store tech, like mobile checkout; salons are beginning to launch online appointment booking, as well as apps to facilitate client-stylist communication. Evolving is necessary for survival in the digital age.
The case for traditional salons
The field may be crowded, but on-demand services haven’t yet usurped the need for a physical salon and the interpersonal connection of a client-stylist relationship, said Venetia Archer, CEO of U.K.-based beauty concierge Ruuby. She said on-demand services are a complement to regular salon treatments.
Arsen Gurgov, a celebrity hair stylist and founder of a namesake salon based in New York City, works with the type of clients who likely can afford regular blowouts and have room in their New York homes to host a stylist. Even so, he said his clients haven’t altered their booking habits.
Nationwide hair removal chain European Wax Center contends that companies offering on-demand services haven’t made a dent in the beauty industry outside of hair care. “We have not been affected by the popularity of these new services,” said Christina Davis, vp of brand relations. She said the company has remained competitive by starting to allow customers to book appointments online or through its app.
At-home beauty service Priv, founded in 2014, adopted flexible scheduling this year as an answer to traditional salons’ services. The company started off as an on-demand service for those in need of same-day styling. Now, the app allows clients to schedule a blowout, a child’s haircut or a facial up to 30 days in advance.
“With Uber leading the on-demand space when we launched, we originally believed the client’s behavior would need to be immediately satisfied, like booking a manicure within 30 minutes. Some of our clients continue to book same-day services within the hour, but we now also have clients who are planning out their monthly beauty and wellness routines,” said COO Courtney Jerden. Convenience is still the key selling point, but the focus has shifted from providing on-demand services to accommodating those who plan ahead.
The future of at-home services
GlamSquad CEO Amy Shecter agrees that “convenience is critical,” both for her company’s current consumers and its future relevance. She attributes part of GlamSquad’s success — it’s the leader in the space, with $25 million in VC funding — to the rise of app culture.
“Since our launch in 2014, consumer needs have become increasingly more reliant on apps and technology-driven services. The younger population is a very different consumer; they experience life through technology and expediency,” she said. “The model of traditional salons feels outdated.”
StyleSeat tailors its services to salon professionals, rather than consumers. Stylists pay $35 per month to maintain a personal website, access tools for managing their own appointments and payments, and get access to the company’s suite of professional insights, like where clients have booked in the past. The platform also allows stylists to request credit card information to secure a booking, a safeguard against the 17 percent of salon appointments that go unattended.
“When we started the company, 80 percent of stylists were [salon] employees. Today, it’s only 30 percent,” said founder Melody McCloskey. More are choosing to remain self-employed. As McCloskey sees it, the future of the on-demand beauty market is professionals that are better connected with clients, not client’s inviting professionals into their homes.
Company founders and clients alike agree the salon environment is difficult to replicate out of context, but sometimes, convenience trumps luxury. As Shecter said, “[At-home services] are simply providing consumers with another way to experience beauty.”