Camille Albane Franchise Review: John Prichard, Minneapolis
Fantastic Sams franchisee branches into new beauty franchising segment with 5 Camille Albane salons
There’s a big difference between running a walk-in, affordable, full-service family salon and operating a high-end luxury brand that caters to sophisticated women of a certain income level.
Or at least there should be.
When John Prichard and his wife, Patti, started exploring the idea of opening some Camille Albane salon franchises in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area, they were curious about what their competition might be. They visited some local high-end salons and were surprised to find that the service level just wasn’t that different from what they were providing at their chain of 27 Fantastic Sams salons. When they realized that the Camille Albane guest experience was so superior to what’s offered at most upscale salons, they knew they’d hit upon an opportunity to become a leader in their market. They opened their first Camille Albane in July 2014, and they plan to open another four over the next few years.
As the largest franchisee for Fantastic Sams, which is owned by the same parent company as Camille Albane, the Prichards already knew a good deal about succeeding in the salon franchise industry. John talked to us about why they wanted to branch into a completely new category — and why they think others should try it, too.
Why did you want to get into this new beauty franchising niche?
We became aware of the brand when Dessange International acquired Fantastic Sams (in 2012), and so I think we became interested in understanding more about who Dessange was and who Camille Albane was. As we thought about the possibilities in Minneapolis, we realized the premium salon category was very fragmented. We went to several salons just to test the market, and we saw very inconsistent service levels. We believe there’s a good opportunity for a premium salon brand to become established here. We like their commitment to staff training and development, and they excel in guest services. Because we were already a part of the Dessange family, we started to learn about their track record in this area.
How do you think it will differ from what you already offer with Fantastic Sams?
The differences lie in the premium category; Camille Albane offers customized hair design that matches guests’ lifestyles, personalities and tastes. It offers a broader array of services, although Fantastic Sams is full-service. The Camille Albane brand includes cosmetics, manicures, pedicures, hair extensions and more. More services means more opportunities for a salon to grow and develop. That will be a little different, from an owner’s perspective. The revenue opportunities are larger.
What gives you the confidence to be a pioneer for this brand in the U.S.?
The first piece for us was just looking at the premium salon category and seeing the inconsistencies in service and in the training and development of staff. We began to understand when we looked at Camille Albane that there’s a great opportunity, first of all, to bring a brand into our market that has the kind of support, training and development for staff, the seasonal collections and the marketing support that Camille Albane has. We learned with the Fantastic Sams model, as a franchisee, that there’s support with training and development, with guest service training, and we see the consistency happening there. So we see the same opportunity with the Camille Albane brand. That’s what gives us the confidence to step into that category. We see there’s an excellent support system as part of their franchise model. We like the high-level commitment to training and development; we weren’t seeing that as we were looking at other premium salons in our market. A lot of the premium salon staff get stale and don’t realize it. Most of them are locally owned salons; we probably visited at least a dozen, going “undercover” and seeing what their services were like.
I think the other part of the confidence for us is that this is a great industry, and I’m a big believer that if you stand out with your service and do it well and have well-trained people and are consistent, there’s a lot of opportunity there.
As someone who has had tremendous success with Fantastic Sams (the Prichards operate 27 units now and are opening one more by October 2014), what is it about the business opportunity with Camille Albane that motivated you to branch out with five salons?
Obviously, we like the salon industry, and we see that Camille Albane really has an opportunity in Minnesota to distinguish itself from the competition. When we thought of doing the concept, we felt we wanted to have the opportunity to have the brand established and consistent across the entire Minneapolis and St. Paul area. With us committing to the multiple locations, we would be the ones leading that effort. Camille Albane gave us the best opportunity to take on this model — which is a great model, and we already have a great team that knows how to follow a model and a protocol. So we thought we’d be in the best position to represent the brand. If we opened just one or two, another franchisee could potentially open another one or two, and that lent itself to a concern about consistency across this region. With Camille Albane, you have great support from the franchisor. As our track record shows, I don’t think in terms of a salon or two — I think in terms of an entire market.
Who is the competition in your market?
Most of the premium salons are privately and independently owned salons. There are a few premium salons with multiple locations locally, and several of them might have a license with Aveda, but they are not necessarily franchises. What we saw was a handful of premium salon operators with three to seven locations across Minneapolis-St. Paul, but only a handful of those.
What will this salon brand offer to customers that other upscale salons in your area don’t?
The big difference is the guest experience from beginning to end. They have it really figured out. Camille Albane makes sure the guest really feels special. It’s really clean throughout. The guest walks in and is getting robed — the robe is pulled out of a sealed plastic bag, so you know it’s clean. They have these fabulous massaging reclining chairs, they offer a scalp massage. When they pull brushes out to brush someone’s hair, the brush is wrapped. When the guest leaves, there’s this complimentary make-up touchup. In most salons, they come in for their scheduled appointment, they get some products offered, maybe, then they’re out the door. That’s an opportunity for Camille Albane to represent in a way that others aren’t. Couple that with the training and the collections that come out twice a year so the staff has fresh styles and techniques, and how that’s inspiring your staff to get stronger and be creative. Certainly no one in this town is doing that.
What’s your timetable for opening your Camille Albane salons?
We’re looking at opening our second salon mid to late next year. I plan to look at a salon per year, but that timetable could be moved up depending on how quickly Camille Albane grows and develops.
What is the best location for a Camille Albane?
It’s going to work best in communities that have strong demographics, particularly for women from their 20s to their 50s, coupled with really strong retail offerings. Our first location is really quite a mixture. There’s Schuler Shoes, a good quality local retailer; Chico’s; Anthropologie; Banana Republic; Brooks Brothers; Pottery Barn. We’re just a couple of blocks from Shops at Arbor Lakes [an upscale urban retail center]. We also looked at average household income, and the franchisor did some demographic analysis for us. In that area, the family household income is in the $90,000-plus range. That’s certainly important, but there are areas that are a little lower than that average income but draw from a wider area. That could easily work, too. It’s important to see that collection of shops in the area that is likely to draw that mid- to upper-income shopper. You also need strong visibility and accessibility. Customers need to be able to get in and out. There’s a lot of good retail areas with bad parking.
How is the franchisor guiding you through the process?
What parts of it are new for you? Probably the larger part is the marketing, the staffing and the operations planning. It’s similar in some ways to Fantastic Sams, but the marketing is very different for Camille Albane. The recruiting and staffing components are different, too. We’re going from value prices and walk-in salon appointments to a base where we have to be very well-prepared for someone’s appointment because they’re going to be spending a fair amount of money. The Camille Albane management teams are doing a great job of leading us through the process.
What kind of prep work would you recommend to someone investigating Camille Albane beauty franchise opportunities? Do they need to visit a salon in Europe?
I don’t think a trip to Europe is necessary. I think a trip to Boston or an open Camille Albane franchise is important. They should see and experience what the salon offers so they can understand what the brand is and how it does distinguish itself from other salons. For instance, when we went to Boston we had hair services done, and they demonstrated it to us as if we were guests walking in the door. That was very eye-opening, to experience that from the beginning. From that, it’s learning more about the details of the operations and the financial dynamics. You have to understand what sorts of challenges are there, and you need to know there are unique staffing issues in this industry. They should ask themselves, “Is this something I could see myself enjoying being a part of?” Doing an in-depth analysis of the key premium salon, assessing the competition, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of reputable salons in their market. From there, it’s about the demographics and the real estate location.
What would you say to someone considering buying a Camille Albane franchise?
What I tell people when they call, whether it’s about Fantastic Sams or Camille Albane, is to really have an understanding of detailed financial projections. They need to understand how much their real estate and fixed costs will be and build a financial model to know what sort of sales they need to break even to see if that’s achievable. And of course, people want to do much more than break even. They need to see if the opportunity is there to make a profitable investment. They need to make sure they’re working with an experienced accountant or financial advisor. They’ll need to determine how much capital they’ll need not just to open the doors but what to expect over the first couple of years in terms of cash flow. You need to know and really understand the capital necessary the first couple of years before you can have that peace of mind and follow through.
Is there anything else someone should know before buying a Camille Albane franchise?
If somebody is interested and doing due diligence, they should really feel like this is a business where they can roll up their sleeves and help, really get in there and learn the operations and all the components and really be a part of it and really understand it for the first couple of years. Understanding that is paramount in this industry. It’s different — it’s good, very good, but the stylist teams are very skilled doing hair services. They can help with business management components, but it’s the franchisee who has to get it established and drive the growth and development. They have to be prepared to do that so they can be successful the way they want to be.
A business background is important. There are a number of types of people who can do this well. Somebody who’s stronger in some areas, like marketing or hair salon operations, but who understands what he or she doesn’t have can hire the right business professional. I need strong hair salon operations people to support me, making sure we have the right staff, training and accountability. Likewise, if someone came in gifted in salon operations, they’d want a good business person to work with them to provide the components they lack. Most of the people looking at this franchise are going to be business people.
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