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Interview with Ron Myers: a positive outlook for aesthetics practitioners and business owners

aesthetics spa business spa industry Feb 19, 2021
Ron Myers, business development consultant at The Consulting Room

As a business development consultant at The Consulting Room, the largest specialist aesthetic information website in the UK, Ron Myers helps business owners to gain industry insights and develop their operations and marketing. As Director of Operations at HydraFacial and Perk UK, Ron is also a business owner himself. We spoke to him to tap into the enormous empathy, positive outlook and sage advice he has for fellow clinics, surgeons and cosmetic practitioners as we move forward and out of Covid-19.

Tell us a bit about your work at The Consulting Room

It comes from my background with a company that launched Botox into the UK. At that time, you had injectables and lasers, which existed under a medical framework, marketing them to consumers who wanted them. Since then, however, the aesthetics market has evolved and emerged in an unbelievable way and it is not all medically led. There are a number of issues surrounding regulation and there are instances where there should be a medic involved in my opinion. At The Consulting Room we have reflected that journey with information for consumers and the industry.

What have been the challenges in the aesthetics industry over the past 12 months?

It’s been really interesting. I am a small business owner as well, so I have lived and breathed everything that clinic owners have been through since the first lockdown. The first reaction was shock and a real need to conserve cash because no one knew how long it would go on for. In some cases, government grants have helped, and a lot of time was spent looking into those as well as the mechanics of furlough and how to handle it.

Then we have started to wrap our heads around what can be done to generate income, looking at the structure of the business and marketing. For example, any business involved in skincare can do remote consultations. My daughter has a small HydraFacial business, which she had just got off the ground last March and she was devastated by the pandemic.

As a sole trader she fell between the gaps of support, which has been the case for many people. She started to do what a lot of people did - educate her client base on social media by talking about her passion – skincare – and offering online one-on-one consultations with products sent in the post. She sold a lot of skincare in lockdown and lined people up for facials when they can next come in safely. Fast forward and she’s started a podcast and put together a lot of video content on YouTube answering questions that consumers have. It really elevates her away from her competition.

Some people have come through this period in better shape than they were before, while others have really struggled. I think this last lockdown especially has hit people more than ever. However, if you have a positive mindset you can come through better because it forces you to do the stuff you should have been doing and engage with people in a way that you wouldn’t have done before.

What are the misconceptions about the aesthetics industry?

From a consumer perspective there are huge misconceptions around what treatments can and can’t do, and where you should or shouldn’t go. Fat freezing, for example, has been around for seven or eight years and we have people who think it is for obesity when it’s really for spot fat reduction. It also doesn’t always work, and you find people who have been heavily marketed to, inappropriately.

In the industry there’s a huge amount of fighting about who can and can’t do treatments. In the 1990s we were approached by people on Harley street who wanted to know how to do Botox, although it wasn’t licensed until later. Plastic surgeons were using it for fine lines alongside more invasive surgeries or where they weren’t necessary.

Aesthetics were very much medically led until the late 2000s, when we started to get non-medical people coming into this space, which we were amazed by. However, there are loopholes in how medicines can be utilised which facilitate it, and the insurance industry had an appetite for it. Fillers, for example, can be more dangerous than Botulinum toxin if they hit an artery. It is not to say that can’t happen with a medic, but they will have the training to spot it and do something about it quickly where a non-medical person can’t.

The other things that concern me are around cosmetic gynaecology, which are not part of a therapist’s scope or training but most of the devices in the marketplace are in their hands. Twenty years ago, lasers were operated by medics too, and now most are not, and the training hasn’t caught up. At the moment there isn’t a legal framework around it to insist on the higher levels of training. That makes it very confusing for both participants and practitioners as well as a nightmare for consumers.

What do you think drives the consumer appetite for aesthetics?

Why is it such a huge industry with so much investment in it? There’s a belief that it’s just about vanity but it’s much deeper than that. A lot of this industry, especially around injectables, used to be around ‘age management’ – where you’re trying to push time back a little bit. Now there’s a greater emphasis on beautification, which is a different thing entirely.

Different people have different ideas about what they do or don’t think looks nice. That does raise concerns with issues such as body dysmorphia. Ethical clinics are aware of this, screen for it and hopefully deal with it appropriately rather than delivering a treatment that won’t make the client happy or distorting them. They would ideally recommend that the client talk to someone about why they think they need this before proceeding.

It’s interesting to see what drives that, but it’s a deeply psychological thing that revolves around confidence. For example, I remember years ago my daughter treated a man in his fifties - not your stereotypical millennial. He had a lot of thread veins on his nose which made people think he was an alcoholic. After his treatment, he was so happy with the effect that he cried.

There is a lot of discussion around the increase in enquiries for aesthetics procedures over the last year. Have you found that and why do think that is?

I think it’s been happening for a long while with the advent of social media and smartphones. Years ago, you didn’t have that many photos of yourself. Now people have photos of themselves that they post daily, and idealised photos of other people that they’re constantly comparing themselves to.

Then Facebook throws you timeline reminders as well so you’re always getting these comparisons. Filters and photoshop throw other things into the mix too. Without a doubt the thing that has grown is skincare and the focus on face shape. It might have accelerated a bit with Zoom calls, but it’s been going on for a long time.

The other thing that has happened is the development of technology. There are far more options available for aesthetic procedures that are not so invasive, not so expensive and are more effective than they used to be.

What are the most common questions that people come to you with?

From a consumer perspective people want to know what is actually realistic and what would work for them. Pictures that are put out there are the best-case scenario and there’s no guarantee around any treatments and their final outcomes. There are lots of things that affect them. For example, there’s a myriad of fillers available, all with very different profiles. Then the expertise of an injector plays an enormous role.

Lots of people want to know who’s the best person to go to, which is an impossible question to answer. I never recommend anyone personally. I usually suggest three or four people who have been around for a long while, perhaps they are educators themselves (I find people who teach tend to be more aware of the potential issues), and those who seem to have a good reputation. I would always tell someone to go and see who they feel most comfortable with because there’s a big element of trust here so feeling comfortable is important.

From a business perspective I think a lot of people are confused by the range of market sectors to choose from. My daughter has gone into skincare because she’s passionate about it. I think you should go into things you’re passionate about because you tend to do that best. Some people are super specialised and are probably the best people to go to for that niche, but others have a list as long as your arm and are a Jack of all trades. Once you have found what you’re passionate about, you should look at the business models that make sense and buy equipment from reputable suppliers who offer support with the purchase. You should also charge amounts that will make you money and be in the premium end of the market rather than cutting your costs to the bone. Otherwise, you can’t invest properly in the things that will support your clients properly.

What are the biggest ongoing challenges for practitioners?

Some business owners have a real issue because they invested heavily before Covid happened, were new in the business and are saddled with a lot of debt. For them, it’s a case of trying to get through the next few weeks and rebuild cashflow. For those who are more established and have been able to “hibernate” their business, it’s hopefully a little easier. Now’s the time to generate leads so you can get back to a good start.

I think the real challenges initially, however, are taking people out of furlough and back into the businesses - getting up to speed when it’s going to be incredibly busy. A lot will be tempted to extend working hours, which will put a lot of stress on everyone. Business owners need to think very carefully about how they will engage with customers as they get back into the industry and how they can ease staff into things.

I did an interview with a psychologist in the very first lockdown and we talked about the strange and different life and pressures that members of staff might be experiencing. Recognising and realising that we’ve all had different paths through all of this is really important. I am not sure how you handle that but discussing non-business issues before getting back into a busy environment is a critical thing.

Hopefully business owners have been in touch with their teams online, but asking how it’s been, explaining how it’s been for you and getting that element of understanding so you’re more sensitive to one another’s experiences is important. Normally, if it’s a well-run clinic, that sort of thing will come out in the staff room and you will have an awareness of what’s been happening in peoples’ lives. I would suggest businesses do that before they get back to work because there’s huge consumer demand sitting there for when clinics re-open and you will need your team to deliver. However, they need to be ok to do that.

What are your predictions for the aesthetics market post Covid?

I think there’s a wall of money that’s going to come into this market. You have that pent up demand for treatments. However, in this business we normally try to encourage business owners to work by putting packages together over the course of the year. Whether it’s laser hair removal (six to eight treatments) or HydraFacial, those packages have been paused and will come back in.

At The Consulting Room we can look at analytics to get a sense of demand, and while web traffic halved in first lockdown, it then rebuilt and by the third lockdown the number of people searching for treatments has been the same as the levels before this all happened. Clinicians are doing everything they can remotely, but the next step is lining up bookings. Some people are not spending money in other areas that they normally would, like a skiing holiday for example. They have that money and want to spend it. So, I think there will be a fast bounce back this year.

The longer-term impact is less clear. What will Rishi Sunak do in his next budget? Will he put Capital Gains Tax at the same level as income tax? Will that have an impact next year? Who knows? There are also undoubtedly businesses that have been sit so hard they’ve left the market, so there’s a slightly smaller pool of clinics out there which is possibly good for them as competition has decreased.

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