July/August 2023Next Generation in FranchisingPrevious IssuesWomen in Franchising Article

Next Generation in Franchising: Dedicated to Dermatology

Franchisee Alicia Baker doesn’t let her age stop her from making business moves

By Daniel McIntosh

While most 19-year-olds are busy with college and planning their careers, Alicia Baker was laying the groundwork for owning her own business. At the end of 2018, Baker started as an employee with DermaEnvy Skincare, a medical aesthetics and skin care clinic franchise. Over the next few years, she watched the company grow from a few locations to a full-fledged franchise system, now with 11 locations across Atlantic Canada and Ontario.

When she moved back to her home province of Newfoundland, she decided to franchise a DermaEnvy clinic of her own. After more than two years working with the brand, Baker opened her St. John’s clinic at only 21 years old.

The young businessowner spoke to Franchise Canada from the office of her clinic, shortly after the second anniversary of her grand opening. The timing coincides with some other milestones as well: the date of the anniversary is also Baker’s birthday, and, considering the business began generating income in its first year, there’s a lot worth celebrating. “It’s not always a given to become profitable in a business within a year,” says Baker. In fact, it normally takes up to two years for a business to become profitable, so she once again finds herself ahead of the curve.

Girl meets brand

Before she was a franchisee, she was the sole employee of Halifax’s DermaEnvy location, noting the privacy and consistency the small space offers. The clients received service from her, rather than a revolving door of estheticians.

Baker describes the then-new franchise as a micro-clinic concept; each location has up to two treatment rooms to perform services on clients. Baker says starting as an employee gave her an insider’s view of managing a business. “I was really able to see the front end as well as the back end of the business.” Baker acted as a medical esthetician, providing dermatology services, while also managing the day-to-day operations of the clinic.

When the pandemic-induced shutdowns forced her to consider her next steps, she returned to her native Newfoundland. Growing into her new role as franchisee meant learning new aspects of the business including financial management, which she says is an increasing part of her job. In addition, she hired her first esthetician in January, taking weight off her shoulders and doubling the availability of services for clients.

The rest of her time is filled with managing marketing rollouts, making payroll calculations, answering emails and phone calls from clients, and ordering stock for the treatment rooms. Overall, Baker says she could work from home if she wanted to, although her personal preference is to be on-site. “Typically, I try to keep to the set open hours of the clinic,” says Baker. “We’re open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11 to seven.” She arrives at 10:30 a.m. to complete opening duties and leaves around 7 p.m. Nowadays she splits the responsibilities—sanitizing treatment rooms between sessions, restocking product displays, and processing clients’ memberships among others—with her employee, which improved her work/life balance.

Franchisee finds hometown success

For Baker, the franchise model allowed her to first find employment and then provided a pipeline to becoming a small business owner. With the established system, she was able to bring over her existing workflows and absorb new processes to take the next steps toward business ownership.

In addition, recent system-wide changes led to improved operations for payment processing. “We just started working with a new point of sale and booking system that does a lot of financial things automatically,” says Baker. Formerly, for clients with monthly memberships she would have to manually process those transactions twice a month.

Furthermore, Baker enjoys having the backing of a national brand. “When you’re a recognized, reputable business with multiple locations it really gives the clients more peace of mind with trusting you, and putting their faith in you, and making purchases with you.”

The faith in question needed to be earned, Baker says, especially as a young face in an industry traditionally populated by people with established careers or decades of working experience (and working capital) to fall back on. But Baker says her youth has benefits and downsides. For one, clients can be dubious about her expertise, thinking she couldn’t possibly have the experience to back up her opinions. But for every potential naysayer, there’s a city full of champions. “People love to see a young person—especially a young woman, and especially in a local market—thrive.” According to Baker, Newfoundlanders happily rally around one of their own making their business dreams a reality at such a young age. “Sometimes you don’t get the respect you would hope, but then at the same time you get a bit more praise for being so young,” she says.

The intimate nature of her St. John’s community, where “everybody knows everybody in some way, shape, or form,” means that Baker’s DermaEnvy location sees a lot of repeat business and referrals from families and friends. “I’ve had whole units in our hospital—four or five of the nurses—all come see us,” Baker says, adding that she’ll often see family members trickle in one after the other throughout a given week. “When the good word spreads, it spreads quick.”

Even with customers trickling in via word of mouth, Baker must be aware of wider current events that impact her business—namely the increasing cost of living. “As much as people do love to support small and support local, with the price of everything these days, people want a name they can trust,” says Baker, adding that being connected to a well-known brand makes customers trust franchisees more readily.

For the next entrepreneurial teen that wants to follow in her footsteps, Baker says success is not a guarantee, but support from the franchisor team, the marketing director, and other franchisees are a huge driver of possibility. “It’s a small team, but it’s a really tight-knit team and there’s a lot of support from every angle.”