Learn how this beauty mogul has launched 3 successful beauty businesses
Transcript for The Marketing Hot Seat Interview with Laura Smyth, video interview below. This is a must watch for any beauty salon owners who are looking for marketing ideas for your beauty salon marketing plan. Click on the video above to view the interview. And you can read the full transcripts below.
So Laura is the director of Lush Skin and Body over in Melbourne. She’s also part-owner in Tulum Tan, which is a new tanning business, and also she runs a beauty agency where she coaches other beauty salons to basically build the empire that she has today. So Laura, what I’d love for you to start off with is talk to the viewers and tell us how did your business journey start.
Laura Smyth: Yeah well, it’s kind of funny, because for me, I actually never wanted to be a business owner.
Vanessa: Okay, you just fell into it?
No, I just never actually… I was never someone that actually thought I was capable of ever having my own business. I didn’t come from a background of business, or marketing, or finance, or anything like that. I was working in a job that I wasn’t super happy with, and I’d actually fallen a little bit unwell at the time, and I couldn’t continue working, so I was working from home, and I thought, “What do I know that I can just keep kind of getting some income in,” and I’m like, “I’ll go back and do a little bit of beauty work”.
So a girlfriend at the time had an osteo clinic, and she was leasing out some spaces in her business, and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do a little bit of beauty work there.” So I think I had $500.00 to my name, and I borrowed… my in-laws at the time, I borrowed $500.00 off them to start off, and I bought my wax potential, my bed, tan tent, I got it all set up. And it’s funny, Lynn who is actually by business partner for my tan range at the moment, she actually helped with all the marketing to set it up.
So she put together a logo for me, and my website, and my brochure, and she did it free of charge, which was obviously super lucky. I didn’t have any money.
Vanessa: That’s what you have to do in the beginning, is you’ve got to take the help you can,-
Laura Smyth: Well, that it –
Vanessa: … and barter where possible.
You do, you’ve got to barter. She would come and get services done, and I’d just do it for free, because obviously what she had done for me. So I started off there, and I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to figure out how to get some clients through the door now, because I had no clients, and it wasn’t your typical salon either.
It was a little room, so I had to think, “Well, why would they want to come to me? What can I be different to anybody else?” So I started off offering the osteo patients there. So I’d offer them a voucher, a voucher to come in and have a service with me in the salon
And then I also… I remember I went and dropped a voucher for a half an hour facial to all the business owners in the area.
Vanessa: Oh, what a good idea, yeah.
So sometimes you do have to give away that little bit to get them in the door. So I did that, and then I did all your basics. I did letter box drops. This was eight years ago, so Facebook and Instagram… Well, Instagram was barely there at that time.
Vanessa: And Facebook was just starting right then-
Laura Smyth: Yeah. And this was when Facebook was free, when marketing on Facebook was free.
Vanessa: Yes it was easy to get your business noticed on Facebook, yeah.
So we did the old walk the pavement, dropped off little brochures, and all my pamphlets. Which in hindsight, it was good, but it was all a waste of money, because those brochures were quite expensive.
Laura Smyth: And I was going 1500 brochures or 2000 brochures, dropping it all off.
Vanessa: Yeah, wow, dropping them all off that’s alot!
Laura Smyth: I couldn’t tell you how much return I probably got from that.
Vanessa: Yeah. But the thing is I guess, you’ve got to do these things to realize what works for you.
Laura Smyth: Exactly.
Vanessa: And letterbox drops, everybody used to do them.
Yeah, I know, I know. But it’s so funny when you do get them, I go, “I got a letterbox drop, this is interesting.” Yeah, sometimes I do read them, but you’re right I do end up throwing them in the bin, I never actually go see them.
So I guess, when you had that one room in the osteo clinic, what was then the main form of marketing that worked for you then, was it Facebook?
Laura Smyth: Yeah. So Facebook was definitely a big thing for us, so-
Vanessa: Paid ads?
Laura Smyth: Well, we didn’t-
Laura Smyth: … it wasn’t paid at the time. You could just-
Vanessa: It wasn’t paid then, you could just post on your page and it would be seen by everyone.
Yeah, I don’t even know how they… how you got people to like it. I think I actually had, because Lynn is very savvy with that sort of stuff. She came from a marketing background, she worked in Crown, so she put the handles and stuff like that on the business cards, and on my ads in my salon, and stuff like that. And we’d let people know if you go online or something check us out on Facebook, and then it just went from there, and-
Vanessa: Plus you would have had an e-mail list as well that you were building.
Laura Smyth: Yeah, definitely had an e-mail list. I don’t think I did emails initially to be honest,-
Vanessa: Okay, yeah.
Laura Smyth: But I would have to say probably one of the biggest thing is word of mouth.
Vanessa: Yes, especially in beauty.
Yeah. And it just… We live in an area that was… it was a newly growing area, so lots of new houses going up. There was luckily no other salon in the area at the time, so we did have that benefit where people were trying to find somewhere to go to get a quick lip wax, or they’d walk in and go… they might have just come in for a half leg, but they saw you do facials here or you do nails.
It would be nails, and then it would be waxing, and then it would be spray tan and the tent up, it was full on. But after 12 months I got to a point where I was fully booked, and I was going, “Oh, there’s something to this.” So that’s when I go, “Okay, I’m going to hire somebody for a Saturday, then I at least have a second room on a Saturday.” And then there was just a little bit of fire burning in me that I wanted to have my own space.
It was lovely being in there, but I was renting off somebody else, and I had to sort of live to their terms, and how they wanted to run it, and their hours, and-
Vanessa: Layout wise, you probably couldn’t do much with it.
Laura Smyth: Yeah, and I wanted to have a frontage where I could have my name.
Laura Smyth: And that’s what I aspired to in the end.
Vanessa: So were you called Lush Skin and Body back then?
Laura Smyth: Yeah.
So I actually was going through my old logos and it’s hilarious. When you look at all that stuff it’s actually quite funny. So yeah, then I saw back in the day they were developing the whole area, so there were shops going up. I spoke with the developer and I said, “I’d love to have a shop,” we did the meeting, and it was the best thrill of my life when I got to design the whole layout myself.
Vanessa: Oh yeah, because they were just building it.
Laura Smyth: Yeah.
Vanessa: That’s amazing.
So I physically got to go in with an architect and design how I wanted, and I’d saved every penny that I had made from that time and invested it back into the business. And I was really lucky with the developer that I had, because he… I paid a certain amount for the fit-out. So the rest of my rent for the next five years for my fit-out, and he popped it on top of that.
Vanessa: On top of that. Oh, that’s brilliant.
Laura Smyth: So I didn’t need to take out a loan.
Vanessa: Is that the same premises that you’re still in today?
Laura Smyth: Yes.
Vanessa: Yeah, wow. And how treatment rooms do you have in there now?
Initially there was four treatment rooms and a spray tan room, and then we turned… We had a manicure section, we’ve turned that into another room, so that’s now… it’s a five treatment room with a spray tan room.
Vanessa: How many staff has it got, 12?
So I’ve got 12 girls… 12 amazing girls. So it just every year grew bigger and bigger. And I think the key was… A lot of people get scared to hire if they’re not busy, they’re not quite there just yet, they’re like, “Oh, do I hire, do I not?” And the only real way for you to grow is to hire … so you can build them up, and then slowly you go, “Okay, I’ve built that one up,” then you hire then build that one up, then you hire. And yeah, so it grew from there.
Vanessa: So have you found challenges then with so many staff?
Laura Smyth: Yes.
Vanessa: Has there been big staff turnover?
Laura Smyth: No, no.
Vanessa: … You’ve been lucky then-
That’s something that I’m super proud of, I have not a very high staff turnover. Majority of my staff have left and had children, and come back. My manager who was with me, she’s been with me from the very beginning,-
Vanessa: Oh wow.
Laura Smyth: … my very first hire.
Vanessa: That’s amazing.
She’s just had a baby, and she’s actually filling in at the moment. So no, all of my staff have been there pretty much from day dot. But in an all female environment, of course you’re always going to get hassles-
Vanessa: A bit of bitching?
But on a whole, they’re all amazing girls. They’re so passionate and intelligent, and they want to be good therapists, and they want the salon to do well. We all get tired, and we all get frustrated, I think that’s just nature.
Laura Smyth: And I’m super lucky… Or I shouldn’t use the word lucky, but blessed-
That’s great, yeah, because I think the beauty industry normally has quite a high turnover, same as hairdressing. I know that… I’ve got a friend who owns a hairdressing salon, she’s like, “I can’t get staff, they don’t rock up when they say they’re going to.” They just don’t take it seriously.
Laura Smyth: Yeah. I think it’s just having a good eye for the right person,-
… and hiring maybe necessarily personality than skill. And I think as a business owner you need to be accountable for the people that you hire, because I do hear that a lot in the beauty agency where, “Oh, my staff aren’t doing this, or they’re not doing that.” Well, you hired them, so you need to either train them … or coach them, or get rid of them. Do you know what I mean?
Vanessa: Yeah, exactly.
So instead of sort of going, “Oh, they’re not doing this,” and complaining all the time, it’s like, “Well, I need to be accountable, I need to take responsibility and go, “What can I do to make them either a stronger therapist, or figure out if “it’s not working.”
So I guess that’s a good segway into the beauty agency. So obviously you moved from Melbourne then to Perth, followed your heart.
Laura Smyth: Yes.
Vanessa: Yeah, and you’re a recent new mom.
Laura Smyth: Yeah.
So how did the beauty agency come about, because I think I met you when you just moved to Perth a couple of years ago it must be now, is it?
Laura Smyth: Yes. I’ve been here maybe two and a half years.
So the beauty agency is something I had long before I moved to Perth, and I had this idea about it, and I had the logo, and I really hadn’t figured out what it was, whether it was online training, was it documents, or was it helping job seekers, or coaching or training.
And I guess as I went on, I had so many people calling me, or speaking with other salon owners going, “Hey, can I catch up for coffee? I’d love to hear how you did your business.” Or people asking me information and going, “Oh, that’s really valuable.” And I was like, “You know, I actually enjoyed…”-
Well, I actually enjoyed giving that information, I enjoyed helping other salons.
Vanessa: Helping people.
So that’s where the beauty agency came about where I can help coach and train other business owners to help them either remove themselves from their business, or help with any staffing issues, or helping them figure out how to market their business a little bit better as well.
Vanessa: And do you find the Perth market different to Melbourne?
Yes, definitely. I think Perth is doing it tougher, I reckon they do it tough here for sure. I think there’s a lot of salons and not as many people as Melbourne.
Vanessa: Of course, yeah.
Laura Smyth: In the Melbourne there’s such a vast amount of people.
Vanessa: What’s the population, about a million I suppose, is it?
Laura Smyth: Yeah. At then end of the day, I think if you’re really good at what you do, you’ll always do well-
Vanessa: Exactly, yeah. Very good. And then how did Tulum Tan come about?
That’s another passion of mine. I’ve always wanted to have my own product range, and my girlfriend and I Lynn, she’s always wanted to have her own product range, and we sort of came together and decided what we wanted to do. We were actually traveling in Tulum at the time, which is the most amazing place in the world. So Tulum’s a place in Mexico.
And so I went to, I think it was Vegas, there was an expo… It’s called Cosmoprof, it’s one of the biggest beauty expos in the world. They had one in Bologna in Italy and Nottingham.
Yeah. And they’re having it in Hong Kong as well in November, which I was hoping to get to but probably won’t. So yeah, met with the developer there, and we wanted our own tanning line. And funnily enough, the developer was Australian.
Vanessa: Okay, so he does all the formulation?
Yeah, so he does all the formulation. So we just went back and forth to Aragon for 12 months trying different formulations, what we liked, what we didn’t like. We didn’t like smell, we didn’t like this, and then-
Vanessa: I know there’s so much in fake tan, and it such a competitive industry as well.
Oh, look, it is a flooded industry, and I guess for us we do it for the love more than anything. It’s definitely a side hustle for us. We’re passionate about it. We’d love it to grow big, but it is a flooded market. We’re still… At the moment we’re working out a few things to find our point of difference, where we’ve got a product that is different than someone else has.
Vanessa: Yeah, of course.
Laura Smyth: So we’ve got a few ideas coming up, so hopefully they’ll come to fruition soon.
Vanessa: Excellent. But you’re selling it mainly into salons aren’t you?
Yeah, so we’re located in a few salons in Australia and in USA. So Lynn does the US side. We do stock globally.
Vanessa: Oh my God, we’re such fake tanners in Ireland.
Laura Smyth: I know.
Vanessa: Ireland and UK’s a massive market for you?
Yeah. So we’ve been sending there to. So we send professional solution, and then we’ve got the retail as well. So we do stock to a lot of distributors who then on sale to salons too as well.
Yeah, very good. So it keeps you busy. So how would you say your business has evolved? So obviously you talked a bit at the beginning about how you did letterbox drops, and wasted a lot of time and money there, and then how Facebook ads worked very well for you then, but I guess fast forward now eight years on and social media is such a different landscape. What marketing works well for you now at Lush? Is it still word of mouth, or are you doing some paid advertising as well?
I have a marketing plan that’s really consistent for me, and it’s what works, so I’ll always stick to it. So I tend to sort of market on certain events, every sort of… your Mother’s Day, your Valentines Day events, and then we just sort of have our monthly marketing sorted.
But the big events, I always do an e-mail blast, we do a text blast. Text marketing for us is massive.
Vanessa: Because it’s straight on your phone. People always have their phones with them.
Yeah, exactly. I think as long as you’re not abusing it, you need to go, “Okay.” So that’s why we stick it to Mother’s Day, Valentines Day, just those certain big events, and that’s massive. So then we do Facebook, Instagram, I think they’re the main ones that we do.
And we’ll do Facebook ads. But you know, it was actually only last week, because I was finding Instagram, I was more focusing on that for advertising, and then I thought, “I’m just going to pop something on Facebook and only Facebook, and see what kind of…”-
So I did a special just on facials, and I said, “We’ve only got seven spots available.” I didn’t boost it or anything like that, and they got filled within three hours!
Laura Smyth: … all seven spots.
Vanessa: And what demographic was it, what kind of age group? Do you know?
Laura Smyth: Well, it was anywhere between… our clients, so 18 to 40, I think.
Yeah. I was like, “I haven’t done that before where I didn’t just focus on Facebook.” I thought, “Well, Facebook’s still working.”
I think if you’re consistent though with your posting, and your messaging, and you’re not just spamming people with sales messages all the time, that people… Like if you can educate them, the products you sell, the different services that you do, that’s what people want to see.
Exactly. And it was sort of like a sale where it was, today and tomorrow only, so it was almost like you needed to get it in quick.
Vanessa: That’ fear of missing out.
Laura Smyth: Yeah, FOMO.
Okay, so final question then of the day. What advice would you give somebody who wants to just start their own business and they’re a bit scared to do it?
Don’t be scared. Take the risk, take action. Take immediate action. A lot of people go, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to do it.” And I think the key for me has always been, I’ve written it down, I said I’m going to do it, and I’ve got all these businesses, just do it. Take action, take each step and go, “Okay, I’m going to do this, this, this,” keep doing it. Tell everybody what you’re going to do, because then you feel like you’re accountable.
You’ve got to be accountable for it. And also, as a business owner, be accountable for your business.
If things aren’t going right, you go, “What can I do to make it better? I need to market, I need to understand my business better, I need to understand my clients better.” Figure out what’s working and what’s not. I think, being accountable.
Vanessa: And I think as well, getting feedback consistently from your clients, it’s a huge thing.
Laura Smyth: 100%.
Vanessa: Do you get Google reviews and that for your business?
We do get Google reviews, and we also do Survey Monkey. So every so often we’ll send out a Survey Monkey to our clients and just say, “A little bit of feedback.” I love feedback.
Vanessa: Yeah, totally.
Laura Smyth: It’s the best.
Vanessa: Yeah, what could you do differently, what could you improve.
Laura Smyth: Sometimes it hurts a little, but you know.
Vanessa: No, I do the same, and then sometimes I go, “I didn’t realize I was doing that.”
Laura Smyth: Yeah, it hurts, but it’s almost like, “Oh no, but it’s good, I needed that.”
Vanessa: It’s good, exactly.
Laura Smyth: I like it.
Vanessa: Yeah, that’s so true. Brilliant. Well thank you so much-
Laura Smyth: That’s okay.
Vanessa: … for joining me in the Marketing Hot Seat.
Laura Smyth: Thanks for having me.
I’m sure you learned loads today from Laura, and I’ll pop Laura’s details below so you can follow her businesses, and I’ll see you next time in the Hot Seat.
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