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BeautyTech: Tapping into a £16.6bn industry

The fact the average British female spends an estimated £140,000 on hair and beauty in her lifetime indicates we’re a pretty vain nation. Add to this the rise in popularity of male grooming and it’s no surprise the beauty industry was worth £16.6bn to the UK economy in 2014, according to research by Mintel.

With endless hair and beauty products and services becoming more readily available through a multitude of technological platforms, this figure is only set to rise in the near future.


Tech has already revolutionised many industries, such as the food delivery space (Deliveroo) and the taxi industry (Uber). On-demand allows users to order what they want when they want, changing the way industries operate by maximising ease, efficiency, consumer reach and profits.

Beauty looks like it’s the newest industry to begin being disrupted by tech, with convenient apps, websites and mobile services emerging to make booking easier than ever. Because, let’s face it, who really wants to spend time ringing around salons for an appointment?

But this disruption has been relatively slow. There is a strong culture of loyalty within the beauty industry, where customers stick to the hairdressers and beauticians they know and trust. With a band of loyal customers, salons are often reluctant to move towards technology, because they simply don’t need to.

This reluctance isn’t exclusive to smaller salons, either. Some big names, like hairdressing giant Toni & Guy, which owns more than 400 salons, don’t even have an online booking platform.

A lack of innovation within the beauty space was the source of inspiration for online booking platform Treatwell. Lopo Champalimaud, founder and CEO of Treatwell, created the company following his disappointment at being unable to easily book a massage.

“I found that the hair and beauty industry was a large and hugely fragmented market that hadn’t yet had a digital upgrade. I decided that I wanted to be the one to do it,” he said.

Founded in 2008 under the name Wahanda, the company rebranded in January following a series of acquisitions across Europe, renaming in order to unify the business under one brand.

With five funding rounds between 2008 and 2015, Treatwell has truly taken off this year. For a monthly fee and 20% commission on bookings; salons and independent beauticians can list themselves on the platform of 25,000 venues. They are then visible to users who can book directly through the Treatwell site or app.

Champalimaud believes the UK beauty space is really ripe for disruption: “In the UK alone, out of an estimated 80,000 hair and beauty businesses, only 12% of venues are using salon management software.”

He claimed the beauty industry in Europe to be worth €100bn, adding he has “every intention of continuing to lead the way” in terms of its disruption.

A Northern success

As the beauty booking space is only just catching up with the on-demand technology trend, there’s plenty of space for competition.

Born in Leeds in 2013, Rock Pamper Scissors also has salon partnerships in Manchester, and the firm is now growing in the UK’s capital, with plans to expand further in the near future.

Rock Pamper Scissors closed a $1.7m seed round in May this year to grow stylist and customer usage in London, following success in the North. The firm plans to use funds to strengthen its tech team and continue the development of apps and services.

Mat Braddy, founder of Rock Pamper Scissors, agrees with Champalimaud that there is a sizable untouched market.

“We don’t really worry about other players – almost all hairdressing appointments are still made via telephones and that’s the real competition to focus on. Treatwell has been going a long time and done a good job, but the market has not moved online in the same way you see in other industries like hotel booking or takeaway delivery. Why is the phone so dominant still? This is the issue we focus on solving,” he said.

The goal of companies like Rock Pamper Scissors is, therefore, simple: to encourage customers to make the shift online. With a seemingly large market stuck in the tradition of telephone bookings, there is significant space for new disruptors to enter the space.

The on-demand lifestyle

People’s attitudes are changing. Increasingly, consumers expect to be able to do everything online or via an app and convenience is becoming a bigger concern than loyalty or familiarity.

On-demand is in-demand. And the beauty sector needs to catch up with this new lifestyle trend.

New disruptors are starting to enter the market, however, such as Blow Ltd. Differing from Treatwell and Rock Pamper Scissors, who deal with third party therapists, Blow offers a range of its own services, carried out by a member of its team of freelance stylists, including blow-dries, makeup and nail treatments.

These can be booked online or via the Blow app, and can come to you at a number of locations, including your home, office, party or event.

Although founded in 2013, the ‘fast service’ beauty firm secured £1m in seed funding from Unilever Ventures in June this year to drive its on-demand services.

To date, the company has raised $9m, with investors including high profile founders and angels such as Nick Robertson, CEO of ASOS, and Mark Sebba, CEO of Net-a-Porter.

Blow was inspired by the modern on-demand lifestyle, or what Dharmash Mistry, founder and CEO, refers to as “time poverty”, the millennial workforce and the third wave of on-demand (from digital, to products, to services on-demand).

The evolution of on-demand is thus inspiring innovators in the space, providing a glimpse of hope for the future of beauty tech.

Effective disruption

As previously mentioned, there still remains a strong element of loyalty when it comes to choosing hair stylists or beauty salons, so on-demand players need to offer something extra in order to be an attractive option for customers.

Reduced off-peak and last minute prices are available to users when booking through the Treatwell platform. The site also has special offers, like £10 off your first booking over £25 and £6 when you refer a friend (and £6 for them, too), encouraging new and existing customers to make appointments through the site.

We spoke to Gorilla Warfare, a London-based male grooming business that uses the Treatwell site, to discover what benefits it provides to companies and customers.

Sarah Panter, Gorilla Warfare’s founder, said: “It is a particularly effective way of gaining new clients for start-up businesses, because of the exposure provided by the Treatwell system.”

As well as changing the way salons are discovered and appointments are made, Panter suggested salon services are improved, as businesses are keen to build a positive reputation via Treatwell’s TripAdvisor-style review system.

“This system positively encourages better service standards across the industry”, she concluded.

On-demand beauty tech is therefore not only changing efficiency within the beauty sector, but also the overall quality of treatments and experiences provided, and this is another way new players can offer something extra.

Future visions

The benefits of on-demand beauty are why, despite lagging behind in terms of getting tech on board, innovators within the beauty industry remain positive about the future.

This was the driving force behind Uspaah, a high-end mobile spa service. The idea came from CEO and founder Iglika Ghouse’s own desire to schedule treatments into her busy lifestyle as an investment banker. She set up a company that aims to bring spa services to the doors of its clients.

Reporting a monthly revenue growth of 15%, Uspaah raised undisclosed investment in December 2014, and is now crowdfunding in order to continue growth.

“On-demand beauty is the future, there is no doubt about that. 2-5 years from now, most people will only be going to traditional spas to use facilities such as saunas,” said Ghouse, painting a promising picture for the disruptive future of on-demand beauty tech.

“Everything else that can be done at home, will be done at home,” she concluded.