As Toronto enters Stage 3 of reopening on July, 31 2020, many are pinching themselves recalling a few short weeks ago when the thought of going to the gym or visiting a salon for an eyebrow touch up was a distant dream. As one of the industries brought to a screeching halt by the pandemic, the big business of aesthetics reluctantly closed its doors to consumers.
Regardless of boarded entrances, Co-Founders of FUZZ Wax Bar, Florence Gaven-Rossavik and Jessie Frampton, refused to accept defeat. They instead brought their luxury waxing services into the homes of their faithful customers with at home wax kits.
An overnight sensation for their self-isolating clientele, the kits sustained the company through nearly 5 months of closure. While the initial reality of pausing business for the foreseeable future was an experience they described as jarring, it quickly became a time to focus on innovation.
“That uncertain feeling of ‘How long can we go on like this?’ was crazy. However in that same breath, it allowed us to pivot and be innovative in a way that we can take pride in as a company who has always focused on that as a pillar in our business,” said Frampton.
The issue was not a question of demand or even supply. It was creating a way in which their supply could be safely distributed in order to fulfil the demand. A lofty idea the team had thrown to the back burner while discussing their rapidly growing empire and world domination, the wax kits became the best way to continue bringing in revenue through eCommerce without jeopardizing the health and safety of staff and clients.
For this week’s Women Who Lead feature, Bay Street Bull spoke with Florence Gaven-Rossavik and Jessie Frampton about how agility saved their business, how they maintain a positive working culture across franchises and why selflessness and confidence is the key to being an effective leader.
What was the pandemic like for you guys in the beginning, just kind of having to drop everything at a moment’s notice and reevaluate the entire situation across all locations?
Jessie: The comforting thing with what happened with COVID-19 in terms of the effects it had on business, was that everyone was in it together. It wasn’t just the wax bars closing down. It wasn’t just the restaurants, the entire city, the entire global was closing down. So there was a comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just us. So we prepared like other business owners did and put the health and safety of our team and our clients first. Closing in that stage seemed like the best and safest thing to do, beyond it being mandated.
We’re young female entrepreneurs, so it’s really in our nature to constantly have things in the pipeline that we are either pursuing or have on our radar. A lot of the things that we launched throughout the pandemic, once we got through the shock of it all, were those projects that we just brought to the forefront. That is where our new at home wax kits came from. There were no other wax bars or salons providing wax kits. It was quite a big risk doing something like wax kits. So we targeted them towards just basic maintenance. We still believe that waxing is something you should leave a professional to do for you, but there’s an undeniable convenience and use for having an at home wax kit for basic maintenance. That was both our biggest innovation and our biggest risk and in just the first 24 hours we sold over a hundred kits. in the first 24 hours. As a result coming out of the pandemic, we have now defined ourselves as more than just a wax bar.
FUZZ Wax Bar has always valued the client experience. When innovating with something like an at home wax kit, how did you make sure that the embedded quality of service continues to come across to your clients?
Jessie: Yeah FUZZ has a very client centric model. Flo and I, when we started, had no aesthetics background and no business background. What we did have was a combined 24 years experience with waxing and we saw shortcomings from a consumer level. We wanted fast, affordable, and convenient services that encouraged people to come back regularly. So we hand picked those attributes and instilled them from the beginning. We’ve always been very educational in our approach, helping clients so that they can best manage their aftercare whether it’s with products or general advice.
We’ve always prided ourselves on being educators. So everything that we do in terms of innovation, has to make sense to the educational aspect of who we are. When a client comes in, if they’ve shaved and they have bumps, we’re going to educate them about their skin. Even though it’s not a waxing problem, if we can help them, we’re going to help assist them with their pre and post wax care. That same client centred approach with the education needed to enjoy your service, was taken by our team when developing the home wax kits.
Know what you can do, let other people have a voice and then allow them to be heard. That is such a crucial part of leading a team because it is your responsibility to grow and nurture their strengths not just your own.
You mentioned being two young women in business who see innovation as a necessity. With that in mind what do you think sets you apart as a one of the Canadian companies that have not only come through COVID-19 but were able to broaden your horizons in the midst of it?
Jessie: I would say that one of the things that kept us hopeful and kept our passion alive was knowing that our clients were excited to come back to us. Wax bars and other salons have always been considered to be recession proof in that regardless of an individual’s loss of income, they are something that is always made a priority in comparison to other concepts like restaurants.
Florence: Yeah, and the other thing I think we have to acknowledge as an asset in relation to our young-ish minds is the strength we held in just maintaining positivity. In our lifetime we’ve gone from landlines to smartphones and watches. In that sense it is easy for us to adapt just because we’ve been conditioned to do so growing up in an era of constantly evolving technology. For us it was never a question of, ‘Will Fuzz [Wax Bar] exist in six months?’ We never thought that way, we refused to let that be our mindset. I really do think that was because we chose to be agile, flexible and see the brightness that the future could bring with good strategy– instead of becoming overwhelmed in the doom and gloom of the situation.
One of the stand out features of your locations is the atmosphere and welcoming associates. What do you guys put into team building and creating an atmosphere for both your employees and your clients. How important is that?
Jessie: It’s very important! We’ve actually been focusing a lot on that over the past few weeks. The pandemic allowed for a lot of reflection where Flo and I have been able to look at the business very critically and discuss what we can do better, how we can tighten up procedures and how to get staff involved in that process. Before, [the COVID-19 pandemic] we had secured our expansion plans to launch locations in the United States. This pause brought us back to basics and gave us space to ask ourselves questions like, ‘Is our team happy?’, and ‘What can we do internally to grow and nurture our home team before expansion so we are really prepared?’. As a company when you open your concept to franchising you put trust in those leaders to properly articulate and curate the culture that you’ve evolved. Over the last year and half, we have focused on nurturing our HQ [Head Quarters] team. Through nurturing, developing and putting them in roles that align with their personal and professional growth goals, not just the business, we’ve been able to trickle that positive experience down to clients.
Florence: Exactly, it started as a step by step approach where we acknowledged the needs of our employees and laid out concrete ways to provide them. It began with 15 minute breathers during busy hours so associates are able to take a step back and relax. Then dedicating parts of the monthly budget to coffee. Now within the last two years starting larger initiatives like a family day where we close all locations and have a day together. It’s really small things that we implemented in order to create a real sense of community and not just a store to store culture.
Now looking forward, is there anything that you maybe didn’t imagine for the company before COVID that you’re now implementing on an on going basis?
Jessie: Apart from the wax kits, we’re developing a much larger line for the stories. We never really had an eCommerce mentality, but that revenue source is really what floated us through COVID and we were blown away by the success that. We think that is definitely going to set us aside from different concepts, whether they are franchised or not.
Florence: As a result of the pandemic, we also had to adapt online and virtual training methods. As you can imagine, that was not a simple task to reinvent digitally. What it does allow for is a lot less travel. Franchising in the States and coast to coast here in Canada, that involved a lot of people travelling to a number of places for extended periods of time. That has been cut down on quite a bit because of our digital training. Now we are finding different, more efficient ways to get tasks done at a distance. The bonus to that of course is that it is saving us thousands of dollars as well.
How would you both individually describe great leadership? What makes a great leader?
Florence: I think great leadership comes from being connected to your team and the people that you want to be a leader to. It’s easy when you grow and you scale to feel that disconnection happening without understanding where it comes from. Being a great leader is grounding yourself back down to the people that work with you and around you so you can keep learning and keep going outside of your box.
Jessie: There’s so many things that make a good leader, but similar to what Flo said, I think it’s also knowing yourself. I think sometimes people feel like they have to be a certain type of leader and they go outside of themselves to achieve that. When you can be confident in your abilities and strengths and be grounded in that, a very special energy happens because it’s authentic leadership. Know what you can do, let other people have a voice and then allow them to be heard. That is such a crucial part of leading a team because it is your responsibility to grow and nurture their strengths not just your own.