Selling the feelgood factor
Making people feel good about themselves is all in a day’s work for Becky Woodhouse, though it sometimes comes from unexpected customers.
A 14 year old girl, who’d had her first facial at a branch of Pure Spa & Beauty, heard that the company was raising money for expansion and decided to drop the owner a note.
“She not only thanked us for the treatment, she offered to make a donation to our crowd funding,” says Woodhouse. “It was a lovely gesture”
It’s the sort of feedback appreciated by any business, particularly one trying to attract new customers and raise £150,000 to fund its next phase of growth. Woodhouse launched the business in 2002 with a loan from HSBC, enabling her to open her first outlet in Lothian Road, Edinburgh, still its HQ. There are now eight day spas in Scotland and London and she wants a further 20 across the UK.
But raising money has been a tough task, with the business being turned away by 55 private equity businesses. She explains: “We’re not big enough for venture capital funding and as the business is 16 years old it does not qualify for tax reliefs available via venture capital trusts and enterprise investment schemes.”
She also came up against gender issues. Research last year by the Scale Up Institute found that only 3.9% of VC funds in the UK go to businesses with a female founder.
She is therefore using Crowdcube to raise funds from individual supporters and has so far hit £60,000. There is a deadline at the end of this month and normally pledged funds cannot be accessed if the target is missed. Partner and director Michael Lumsden, the former CEO of an Ayrshire call centre, is confident that if they do not reach the target sum they’ll be granted an extension.
The business is certainly producing results, with Ebitda of £250,000 on turnover of £3.4m net of VAT last year. Assuming the crowdfund succeeds, Ebitda is forecast to double to £512,000 with revenue rising to £5.2m.
Woodhouse has clear ideas on how she wants to position Pure Spa & Beauty in a growing sector currently accounting for £7.6 billion in UK consumer spending and expected to hit £8bn by 2021.
“We are trying to be a disrupter in the market by offering people easier access to beauty treatment,” she says. “Traditionally it has been seen as a special treat, something you get on a trip to a country house. We want it to be part of people’s regular lifestyle, like having your hair done.”
To that end she is targeting shopping malls – with an outlet already in Glasgow’s Silverburn centre – and leisure centres, such as the David Lloyd club in Leith where she has recently opened after switching from Debenhams in the nearby Ocean Terminal.
She reveals that she activated a break clause in her concession at Debenhams “over concerns about its long term viability”. Her first location in Ocean Terminal suffered from falling footfall when the landlord let a nearby unit to Pure Gym.
“The gym customers just came to the gym then left. They didn’t do any shopping. In the meantime, they took up all the allotted parking spaces,” says Woodhouse who was offered what looked like a good opportunity at Debenhams in 2015.
It was a good deal at a time before the department stores business began to hit problems. By the time Pure Spa & Beauty pulled out it was paying £100,000 to Debenhams which, she says, was higher than the average profit the company had been making per store. Woodhouse had seen the problems faced by concessions caught up in the collapse of House of Fraser and was concerned about what may lie ahead.
“We were getting no help from Debenhams and couldn’t risk our business by staying,” she says.
Originally from East Anglia, she studied chemical engineering before making the switch to accountancy with PricewaterhouseCoopers. After qualifying as a CA she was itching to start her own business.
“I saw a big growth in nail bars in high streets and thought I could do that in the spa business, bringing the country house experience to town centres.
“I wasn’t trained as a beautician but in some ways I saw that as a positive as I set up the business from the point of view of the customer.”
While women are the main users, there is a growth in male grooming. Data from 2016 shows 47% of 16-24 year old males had a spa treatment, against 33% a year earlier. They mainly want massages, while there is demand for facials and hair removal.
Woodhouse is “passionate” about natural products and as well as offering an outlet for micro businesses producing them she also has her own range made by a company in England to her formulas.
The range is part of the pitch to investors which is being stepped up in the next few weeks. Events have been held in Glasgow and Edinburgh, inviting customers to learn about the services on offer. There will be others in Aberdeen and London.
“We believe we have a good story to tell in a growing sector,” says Woodhouse. “The high street is changing towards destination venues, such as restaurants and leisure facilities. We see ourselves being part of that change.”
Occupation: Founder and chief executive, Pure Spa & Beauty
Education: Bradford University (chemical engineering)
Career highlights: PwC, qualified as chartered accountant; founded Pure Spa & Beauty
Recently became the first Scottish woman to be accepted on the global EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women programme, which supports high-potential women entrepreneurs.
Do you ever get angry?
I am very impatient. Dithering and bureaucracy annoy me.
What’s the latest fashion in beauty treatment?
Do you have a favourite place?
If you could invite three people, past or present, to dinner who would they be?
Albert Einstein, because he thought differently
Sir Winston Churchill, for his thoughts on leadership
Victoria Beckham, who doesn’t get very good press but is really impressive in how she switched career and built an amazing brand