CEO Heather Elrod is staking out a bold vision for Amazing Lash Studio now that WellBiz Brands, KSL Capital and Golub Capital purchased the eyelash extension franchise from its founders last September.
“It’s enabled us to catapult a number of initiatives, including real estate development becoming far more sophisticated, putting a lot more intelligence around our site development, in addition to robust and quick product and service expansion,” she says. As an example of the latter, she cites the launch just two weeks after the deal closed, at the annual franchisee conference, of two new types of lashes and four types of adhesives, something she says operators were eagerly awaiting.
People, too, were part of the ramp-up, especially Sheila Ullery, senior vice president of marketing and innovation who hails from storied beauty brands L’oreal, Aveda and Estee Lauder. “She is a rare talent, and she understands beauty,” Elrod says about Ullery and expanding upon the brand’s focus in the beauty category. “Our vision is, we will own the eyes and play around the face.
“I’m so thankful for KSL Capital and WellBiz, because they invested in people I wanted to bring on even before we did the deal. They were willing to take the risk, because there is always the risk that deals fall apart,” she says.
WellBiz is one of many firms featured in this year’s Franchise Times Dealmakers project that is seeking multiple new acquisitions and brands under one umbrella company, with other examples being Neighborly, Inspire Brands and Best Life Brands/ComForCare.
The key to such efforts, says WellBiz Executive Chairman Joe Luongo, a former Massage Envy executive, is adding companies that share core features attractive to existing franchisees of other brands.
“Franchisees are always looking to grow their portfolios. So for us what’s important, when you’re able to bring on a brand that has the core aspects of the other brands, the franchisees relate to it,” says Luongo. WellBiz’s other brands are Elements Massage and Fitness Together. Private equity firm KSL Capital bought WellBiz Brands in 2015. Golub Capital provided services and debt financing to support the acquisition of Amazing Lash.
Another plus for strategic acquirers is “you’re able to leverage your shared services model if it’s done correctly. For the most part they all need accounting, they all need finance, they all need financial analytics, legal support,” and WellBiz houses all those services in Denver, Colorado. “You don’t have to double the G&A every time you bring on a new brand,” he says, referring to general and administrative expenses.
Jessica and Edward Le are the founders of Amazing Lash, and they hired Elrod specifically to create an exit for them and bring in new capital. Elrod pushed the brand from 75 studios when she came on to 200-plus at the time of the WellBiz acquisition. She praises the founders for their vision, and for their willingness to totally leave the brand when it needed to go to the new level.
“Being a founder-led organization, often they become a cork in their own bottle,” she says. Now Elrod is adding a new description to Amazing Lash as she looks to future growth. “Our founders, we created the category, and then we became the category leader, and now we want to be the category killer and that means we need to own innovation.”