Interview with Deb Farnworth-Wood of Australian Skin Clinics

An Australian Franchisor Interview

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Name: Deb Farnworth-Wood

Name of franchise: Australian Skin Clinics

Tell us about how/when the business was started and the motivation behind establishing Australian Skin Clinics?

The original clinic was founded in 1996 by a doctor who had planned to franchise the clinic but hadn't really figured out how to do it. I bought the clinic in early 2007 after visiting the Gold Coast for a holiday with my kids. The moment I saw the clinic, I saw its potential and we did a deal on the day.

We spent time developing the model, creating efficiencies and concentrating on the treatment offering. Our original plan was to run one pilot site for 12 months and then assess whether it had worked. Our first clinic was so successful that within a few months we opened another. My first franchisees were staff from the original clinic so they shared the vision, understood the system and replicated exactly what I had taught them. Our forward thinking mentality and organisational culture of innovation and excellence has seen the company grow rapidly since opening our first franchise clinic just four years ago. We'll have 20 clinics before Christmas and have an aggressive roll out target for 2016.

When and why did you decide to go down the franchise route?

I chose the franchise route because I love that it allows me to share success, as well as see people grow and develop. I considered opening multiple clinics on my own and knew that I could put my previous experience of running multi-site organisations into play. However, after seeing the popularity of franchising I decided to find out more and liked what I saw. In particular, I like that we bring other business minds and ideas together in a way that constantly challenges and promotes improvement.

What have been the company’s biggest achievements/successes to date so far?

We launched our first franchise in October 2011 and will have 20 clinics by the end of the year. We have been described as a hyper gazelle in terms of our growth and have recently been listed at #7 in the BRW 2015 Fast Starters. During this time we have managed to secure an effective supply chain providing value for our franchisees and also established a training academy to strengthen our recruitment process.

What challenges have you had to overcome?

I had to learn about franchising quickly, but I love learning new things, so I found this to be a positive experience. The franchise also launched post GFC at a time when banks were not lending money, so we completely self-financed our growth. Our team grew from seven to 27 in the space of a few months. This presented a challenge in terms of training, development and organisation but it was essential to be able to support the brand as it expanded.

What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow Australian Skin Clinics?

Just about everything! We monitor everything we do to make sure that we spend our marketing dollars wisely and we test all forms of media. Our demographic is widespread in terms of age, gender, earning capacity and location, so each clinic is individually assessed in terms of meeting the marketing needs of the business. Our marketing department has a wide range of skills and their work is incredible.

What differentiates Australian Skin Clinics from the competition?

Our model is very distinctive in terms of branding, culture and approach. Our vision has, and always will be, to make our customer’s look and feel fantastic about themselves. We do this by offering affordable, accessible and effective cosmetic treatments in beautiful, high quality facilities, delivered by experienced, qualified and highly trained team members. Training is one of the unique selling points of Australian Skin Clinics.

Founded in Queensland, we commenced operation in one of the most highly regulated states for laser licensing in Australia and made a commitment to developing standards that aimed to exceed these requirements, setting the benchmark in the industry.

Despite other states, including Victoria and New South Wales having no licensing regulations, Australian Skin Clinics enforces its training standards and protocols across all states to ensure consistent and high quality service is delivered across the brand. We are definitely a medical model rather than pure beauty and have the backing of our medical director and his team of doctors. All our treatments are credible and researched base and we work with highly structured treatment protocols to ensure consistency of outcomes.

In your opinion, what makes a successful Australian Skin Clinics franchisee?

We are looking for service and sales orientated individuals who understand that a profitable business depends on amazing service and customer experience. Our franchisees must be able to interact with staff and clients but most of all be able to build a team and keep them motivated.

Our industry is amazing, exciting and rewarding, but at the end of the day it is a business and all businesses need to be able to offer their customer a fabulous experience.

What changes have you seen in the beauty industry over the past year? How have you adapted to them?

There are five key areas -
1. Traditionally beauty has been something that occurs in homes, garages and small salons in low cost rental spaces. It is now becoming highly competitive and mainstream in shopping centres.
2. A beauty therapy diploma is now only the starting point for a therapist’s education and as a result we are developing more advanced training via our own academy.
3. Recruitment has become more sophisticated. Being a therapist has moved from being a part time position earning minimum wages to being a full time career with opportunities for continuing development.
4. Technologies are emerging at a terrific rate. We have very strict policies in place for new equipment and undertake rigorous testing, business modelling and feasibility profiling before we even consider them.
5. The demographic of our clientele is changing, with younger people looking for prevention of ageing rather than turning back the clock. We’ve also seen an increase in men, both young and middle-aged, wanting to look after themselves. Men are becoming more accepting and genuinely interested in skin care itself. Our treatments are suitable for everyone and at the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether you're female or male, no one wants to look old and tired.

What does the future hold for Australian Skin Clinics?

It will never be fashionable to have bad skin or look old, so the future is bright. We have an aggressive growth plan and are currently averaging 15 enquiries a week.

What expansion plans have you got nationally and internationally?

We have international plans and considerable interest overseas, but the conditions need to be right. In the same way that we demand high standards of our products and equipment we also have rigorous vetting criteria for investors, preferring to wait for the right opportunity rather than any opportunity.

What advice would you give to someone considering franchising their business?

Do your homework. There are many models of franchising and it is not a matter of one size fits all. Take the time to interact with other brands and really assess your business model for ease of replication, sustainability of model and potential competitors. If after that you are sure you are onto a good idea, get help from people who understand the process and that can give you good advice.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?

There is much that I would have done differently, but two stand out areas where I saw immense value:
1. Last year I recruited a highly skilled General Manager who came on board to share the management load. This has meant I can take a few days off without worrying and am able to undertake a more strategic role.
2. A year ago I also brought in an advisory board and the additional expertise and input has sped up a number of decisions as well as added different perspectives. It is also in my nature to always want to continually improve on what we have done and so we regularly review everything about the business. As a result of this we now have more robust policies and procedures, especially around franchise and staff recruitment, as well as many operational areas of the business.

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