Iconic BrandJanuary/February 2020

Iconic Brand: GS Beauty Group

From inspiring salon and beauty services to defining men’s hair trends, a lot has happened for GS Beauty Group in the last 30 years. From the start, they’ve embraced the business of beautiful from tip to toe, creating iconic brands that have helped shape the face of the beauty industry today.

Beautiful beginnings

The group’s flagship brand, Trade Secrets, pioneered the one-stop-beauty-shop concept by marrying a full-service salon with a retail store that sells high-quality beauty products. “When we developed Trade Secrets, there was nothing like it at the time. It was very unique,” says Doug Warren, director of franchising for GS Beauty Group. “A lot of hair salons were selling a little bit of product, but we were the first to do that, and as a result, we were able to expand into all the major malls as a very unique player.”

Over the years, GS Beauty Group grew to include Glamour Secrets, a retail beauty outlet, Glamour Secrets Beauty Bar, a concept that offers full-service hair and aesthetics, and most recently, Taylor & Colt BarberSpa, a full service offering for men. Today, there are 70 Trade Secrets locations from coast to coast, with 90 per cent of the stores franchised.

A cut above

In the fast-paced beauty business, it’s important to be a cut above with the latest trends. “We deal with a brand that needs to be renewed regularly, looks-wise, concept-wise, and location-wise. We’ve been able to keep the look fresh and keep all kinds of new products flowing through. New is key.”

In fact, Warren says the aesthetics category has grown larger than hair services. “We’ve been able to stay in higher-end malls doing significant volume because we’re seen as the place you can get everything, all the head-to-toe beauty products.”

The company recently expanded to create Taylor & Colt, a barber spa that offers haircuts, shaves, and spa services in a relaxed, upscale environment. The brand first launched in downtown Toronto, and enjoyed early success. “If you open a guys’ place where there’s other businesses, they will come. We were an instant hit at RBC Plaza. People are willing to pay a little extra for an experience.”

Fuelling franchisees

Warren attributes the success of the system to its many franchisees. Some have been with the company for 30 years and own multiple units. “The fact that we’re a franchise chain has kept us in business, because the franchisees have the incentive to deal with the customer and satisfy them and go the extra mile. It’s all about customer experience.”

One of the benefits of partnering with GS Beauty Group is its history of success. Franchisees have seen their initial investments pay off and enjoy the rewards of ownership. “I would say the biggest indicator of success is how many multiple store owners a franchise has. I would say 90 per cent of our franchisees are multiple store owners, and that’s a real feather in the cap,” explains Warren.

He says GS Beauty Group stays at the forefront by scouring the world for new, exciting products and services. They also experiment with different software and systems, creating opportunities for franchisees to learn and grow.

Decades of nurturing relationships with landlords and suppliers is also a big draw. “We’ve been working with the largest landlords in Canada for 30 years. They like us and want us to stay in those malls. I think that says something for our designs, our concept, the way we look. We are in every major mall in Ontario,” notes Warren.

Success factors

The right location is a primary success factor, and opportunities across Canada and the United States are available, as well as master licences overseas. As the company expands, it embraces new and exciting out-of-the-box opportunities, and recently opened six beauty bars in Loblaws Superstores. “We’re still in the one-year category there, so we’re watching and experimenting with it,” explains Warren.

Though franchise locations are available, the challenge is in finding investors who align with GS Beauty Group’s ideals. “Once they are in, they need to follow our system. The formula is everything from cleanliness to dress code to music, to the way we provide our services.”

Warren says successful franchisees have a passion and a deep understanding for the business they are in. “Following the formula is very important because that’s what customers are expecting. You’ve got to provide an experience that is really good so that they remember you. I really think that’s the key.”

Forward-thinking franchisees

Kelly Brown and his wife were looking for an investment, and chose Taylor & Colt BarberSpa, a concept that allows them to retain their current careers without sacrificing family time for a good work-life balance. “We were not looking to change careers, but looking for something that we can operate,” says Brown. They opened their first location in the heart of Toronto, and acquired a second store in April.

With the couple’s background in financial services and technology, they hit the ground running by putting systems in place they felt were vital for business success. They use the latest technology to monitor all aspects of the stores remotely, including bookings, payments, and tips. It also allows them to stay informed on daily happenings, and they can step in and lend a hand remotely when help is needed.

The online presence of the store helps define the Taylor & Colt experience. The online booking system built by the duo also allows them to engage in pivotal marketing practices, like posting pictures of services and portfolios of barbers to help drive traffic.

In a time where everything is online, Brown says they focused on developing a high Google rating right out of the gate. “It’s important to hear from our customer base. We looked at driving the number of reviews up as much as possible online, and obviously, we wanted a high rating from our customers.”

Brown reads and responds to each and every review, a key to their success. “What we found is that our high Google rating has attracted not only customers, but quality barbers.”

As with any new business, the company experienced early growing pains with initial staff turnover, but developing a cohesive company culture at the onset has contributed to a good synergy in the stores.

When first starting out, Brown was advised to “Never outsource something you don’t know,” a principle he still embraces today. “I was always interested in learning all aspects of a business, so I went out and learned accounting, how to do payroll administration, how to operate in-store systems. We’ve both learned a lot of the aspects of running the business, which is something we took away that was positive.”

His advice to prospective franchisees? Do your homework and try to understand as much about the operation as possible before making an investment. He also suggests using the financial programs available to avoid overleveraging finances. Doing so will help minimize personal investment and risk, and lower the exposure to failure.

Above all, he says it’s important to understand the type of business a franchisee is investing in, and what role they will play, and that varies from concept to concept. “What’s the impact to you as an owner? What does that mean to you? That’s probably the biggest thing.”

By Gina Makkar