2020 was supposed to be Kate Stott’s year.
Her small Aberdeen-based start-up, launched in March 2019, was already making big waves. BeautyBooker, an app that connects individual customers with beauty appointments across a wealth of outlets, saving them the ring around to find a last-minute slot, was growing exponentially. Stott had picked up the Scottish Business Woman of the Year title at the National Business Women’s Awards in London. By the turn of the year, plans for national expansion were afoot. Life was looking rosy.
And then, the world imploded, taking the beauty industry down with it. Clearly, immediate expansion was off the cards. But rather than lick her wounds, within days, Stott had set about creating a support system for those most at financial risk from the brutal shut down of their businesses.
Now, as she launches Scotland’s #GetBeautyBackOnDuty campaign, she sits down with The Flock to give us the lowdown on the mood within the industry, the progress made, and the long road still ahead…
First up, tell us a little about BeautyBooker and why you set it up…
It all started when I couldn’t find a last-minute nail appointment, despite ringing what seemed like dozens of outlets. I set out on a mission to connect Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire hair, beauty, nail and spa businesses with those who use their services, all in one place – north-east Scotland’s first ever dedicated hair and beauty booking apps.
Our aim was to make it faster and easier for beauty lovers to make appointments, and to help forward-thinking businesses pull in bookings galore, whether instead of or alongside an existing booking system.
So you weren’t working in the beauty industry yourself at that time?
Not at all! I’d enjoyed many years working in procurement in the oil and gas industry, then transitioned into marketing, working on business growth and strategy. And that’s when I discovered my passion and skills lay in promoting others and bringing their ideas to life.
How quickly did the business take off?
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when we launched BeautyBooker back in March 2019. It was a brand new concept in the area and while I knew what we had to offer was needed, I still crossed my fingers, toes and eyelashes and hoped for the best on launch day.
Luckily, the downloads and bookings were immediate, and our social media presence rocketed quickly too.
You had just won a major business award and were going great guns when lockdown hit. What did that do to your momentum?
I felt we were heading for trouble the week before lockdown was announced, so my focus quickly turned from running BeautyBooker to supporting the industry as closures began.
My initial fears were for the self-employed as I knew they’d be unlikely to have the support needed to know what to do in the days ahead. My gut reaction was to set up a Facebook group for the industry and start rallying everyone together. I then appealed to my corporate contacts on LinkedIn to ask for help in the areas I couldn’t directly support.
Within days we had hundreds of businesses join and the group became a force to be reckoned with! We started rolling out government announcements and guidance, as well as financial advice and social media support. We were there for everything, from a friendly chat to lobbying MPs on the industry’s behalf via Twitter!
Today, the group has nearly 900 members from throughout Scotland. So, although our bookings stopped, I felt we did the right thing. Supporting the industry was what we had to do for those left in the dark.
We’ve all heard a lot about how lockdown has impacted on the beauty industry. As someone with an eye across all aspects of the industry, what has it been like to watch that unfold?
At times, it’s been excruciating. It’s been incredibly hard to witness the hardship and anguish they’ve had to go through to be able to stay afloat – not to mention the fact that those within Aberdeen have actually endured two lockdowns so far. I’ve had emails from mums who were barely getting by, from business owners who’d heavily invested in their premises and didn’t know if they’d make their rent. Problems like this are still rife, even with a partial return of the industry.
How do you feel about the way the industry has been supported throughout lockdown?
I feel the industry is still somewhat misunderstood at government level, being one of the last sectors to return to business. MPs calling beauty salons ‘parlours,’ didn’t help either – it just confirmed that they’re out of touch.
The very highly-publicised Question Time in the House of Lords was, without doubt, controversial, and proves that the industry must be better represented at government level.
A recent report led by the British Beauty Council found that up to 80 per cent of industry professionals felt unsupported by the government, and 70 per cent felt the government advice and guidelines for the industry lacked clarity. And I really feel that industry regulation would help this.
We’ve now launched a campaign and petition, #GetBeautyBackOnDuty, calling for an end to the most restrictive close contact guidelines that remain in place here, bringing us in line with our colleagues in England.
You set up a Facebook group to support those within the industry. What have been the key concerns shared and what work has been going on behind the scenes to assist?
The ambiguity of government guidance has been a huge topic of discussion within the group. At times, it’s been challenging to answer the questions when the information out there about how people should operate their businesses is so vague.
I’ve heavily relied on advice from my contacts within the British Beauty Council, British Association of Beauty Therapy & Cosmetology and the National Hair & Beauty Federation to ensure I’m passing on the correct information, and have contacted the government when I felt things needed to be addressed.
Lately, I wanted to ensure we also supported mental wellbeing within the group, so we held a live session with a hypnotherapist on the topic of anxiety through lockdown. It was extremely popular, and some of our members have gone on to have further sessions outwith the group. There’s no question that fear and anxiety is rife.
I’m now concentrating on the #GetBeautyBackOnDuty campaign, and on getting further safety guidance for make-up artists and beauticians currently not allowed to carry out any services where the client wouldn’t be wearing a mask. With a little bit of collective power, I’m sure we will get there soon!
What do you think the long-term implications for the industry are?
Hair and beauty will always be in demand – and in that respect, we‘re extremely lucky. I suspect, sadly, that we’ll see a number of closures within the next year as our economy bears the brunt of what’s happened.
My immediate thoughts are that we may see more people diversifying – training in other treatments and increasing their service offering. I also expect to see more movement in the industry – perhaps more moves from staff roles to self-employment as furlough comes to an end and we see more downsizing of premises. Whatever happens, it’s going to be challenging for most over the next 12 months.
You had plans to expand when lockdown hit. How have those plans been affected?
If only I had had a crystal ball back in January!
At the start of the year, we had big plans to push for investment to go after the long-term vision of BeautyBooker. It’s going to be a mammoth task and I wanted to get a kickstart while things were going so well – I’d even started scoping out investors and pulling a team together that could deliver the plans. That was, sadly but obviously, brought to a halt when lockdown was announced.
I quickly realised that the industry needed so much more this year, and that had to be addressed first. So I analysed our future business model, picked out what I thought would be most useful over the next 12 months and I’m now focusing on that. If all goes to plan, we’ll be the industry’s marketing hero, recruitment expert, premises finder and training HQ in the future, with hair and beauty continuing to lie at the heart of everything we do.
Do you think lockdown will lead people to look differently at the way they access the beauty industry?
Absolutely! The past six months have seen us spend more time than ever online, with a huge focus on digital consumerism. If anything, that’s strengthened the need for an app like ours. Convenience is key – people want information fast. During lockdown, an incredible 71 per cent of British consumers received between one and three online shopping orders every week. I don’t think people will move away from that quickly.
We’ll be re-launching BeautyBooker as soon as government guidelines tell us its safe for all treatments to go ahead. In the meantime, we’re supercharging the app to make sure it complies with the ‘new normal.’
How are you feeling coming out of Aberdeen’s second lockdown?
Most that know me know I try not to stress about things outwith my control. I prefer to try and be useful where I can. I have three children and, like so many mums, lockdown has been challenging, working with them at home. But I’ve loved being able to just be with them instead of always being in a rush to get somewhere. I feel optimistic about the future but, more so, I’m looking forward to the journey. Challenging times have proved that we can get through anything if we help one another.
For more information about BeautyBooker, visit the website. For more on the #GetBeautyBackOnDuty campaign, or to sign the petition, click here, or join the BB beauty professionals’ support group here.