From the source: Pippa Hallas, Ella Bache

Inside Retail Weekly: Ella Bache is a family business, isn’t it?
Pippa Hallas: Madame Bache was my great aunt. She was a cosmetic chemist born at the turn of the century. My grandmother, Edith Hallas, was a beauty therapist, and the two were founders of the business. I’m the third generation CEO. My father was CEO probably 35 years ago. He stepped out when I entered the business over 10 years ago – there hadn’t been a family member in the business in 20 years. It was a big change for everyone.

Ella Bache CEO, Pippa Hallas

IRW: Your book Bold Moves has just been released. Why did you decide to write about your life and career?
PH: I guess it was an opportunity that came along at the right time and I felt like although most Austalians know the Ella Bache brand, they didn’t know that Ella was a human and her amazing story needed to be told.

I’ve also met so many amazing women because of what I get to do every day: Lorna Jane founder Lorna Jane Clarkson, world champion surfer Layne Beachley, sailor Jessica Watson, designers Kit Willow and Kim Ellery, and Carolyn Creswell, founder of Carman’s Kitchen. I wanted to share their stories and, through that process, share with readers some common insights and provide them with tools and a framework so they can back themselves and just live their best lives.

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These women were just so generous with their time and their learnings – the good, bad and ugly.

IRW: I can imagine writing a book about your life so far would have been quite an introspective process.
PH: It’s really introspective. I wrote it six months after losing my mum, so it was a hard time in my life, but I felt like it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. The opportunity came along for me to get some perspective.

I learned two things: I’m not very good at being in the spotlight – it doesn’t come naturally to me and that’s something I need to learn because the whole world is driven by social media and putting yourself out there. That was something I still struggle with today, because it doesn’t come naturally.

I also learned that when you want to ask a question, like asking those women to contribute, you’ve just got to ask. And women will support each other – it’s not about taking, it’s not about people not wanting to help you. There are so many people who want to help, but you have to step up and ask for it.

IRW: How has the last financial year been for Ella Bache?
PH: It’s been good. There’s been an enormous amount of change. Our business has a lot of layers. While our proposition to the market is all around skin health, we do it across the whole value chain, such as manufacturing and creating products, then we run an education business, where we graduate diploma students. Then we have a franchise business, a David Jones business and an e-commerce business.

Each of them ladder up to providing skin health to Australian consumers, but they’re all at different life stages and being impacted positively and negatively with the changes going on in the retail environment.

The obvious change is our online business which is growing exponentially. Everyone is feeling it in retail, because people are not only consuming products online, they’re booking online.

We also need to take a very content-led approach to our marketing – we’re more like a publisher than a traditional retail marketing team, and there’s been a big change in our marketing model. Now it’s about providing education and conversation to consumers, and I guess our hope is to create a seamless journey both in and out of store. It sounds obvious and quite simple, but putting it into practice has been quite challenging when you run a franchise network with lots of different humans at different stages across Australia.

The good thing is everyone loves the brand and everyone loves the product, so there’s a lot of heart in it. The heart and purpose of the brand hasn’t changed but it’s about how we take it to market, how we’re getting the consumers’ attention because technology has changed so much and the way we treat skin has also evolved.

IRW: Tell me about how the marketing model has changed.
PH: If you think about the traditional beauty marketing landscape, it comes to life when you walk into any Australian retailer and it’s very much price- or gift-driven. It’s ‘buy this, get that’ and it’s been pulled into a very tactical space in Australia, whereas the opportunity of using social media is to become a content-led business, using channels such as Instagram, Facebook, PR and content. And when we push those out, at the end of the day, it comes back to the mobile phone. Everyone’s living through the mobile these days and we have to make sure we’re part of that conversation.

I get really excited because our business has always been based on the knowledge we have of the skin. I feel like the whole model has turned upside down and the power is with the consumer. Consumers know so much these days and are hungry for knowledge. It’s about providing the community with that knowledge and if they want to have a conversation about acne and everyone wants to contribute, then the brands need to facilitate that, as opposed to the old-school traditional retailer who bangs people over the head with their offers.

You have the rise of so many indie bands, which has been fuelled by social media and content-led businesses. They’re coming up through the social channels and back into traditional retailing, I think it’s great, because you see lots of female entrepreneurs doing great things in beauty these days.

IRW: Are those niche brands competitors?
PH: At the end of the day, everyone is a competitor, but we have to know what we do uniquely and for us, it’s about looking at who we are – we’re a skin health brand and we do that through the knowledge of our therapists and our content channels. We also have to pivot and make sure that we’re where the customers are. We can’t sit on our laurels. That’s the worst thing we could do and in many ways, when you’re running a 65-year-old business, you have to let go of some of the things you did in the past because they’re not relevant anymore.

IRW: Has evolving the business been a struggle?
PH: I don’t think humans love change naturally, but once you start to gather momentum, explain it to people and take them on the journey, they get why social media is so important, they get why advertising in a local paper is no longer going to reach people. Being any CEO these days, you have to be really good at change management.

IRW: I know Ella Bache has gone through some structural changes over the years. What did they involve?
PH: We had a whole lot of salons across Australia, like Jo’s Beauty Salon, and they just stocked Ella Bache products. But 15 years ago, we made the decision that we needed to own that customer journey, which means everything from our treatment procedures to the way we communicated digitally had to be standardised. We’re a family business that had to grow and start to use the technology available and formalise the structures.

IRW: What changes are being made to the e-commerce side of the business?
PH: I look at our whole business as omnichannel. For example, I quite often don’t get time to do what I need to do until 10pm when I’m lying in bed. I was on Facebook the other night and an ad popped up for a restaurant in my local area and I thought, ‘Awesome I need to book one for Saturday night.’ I’d seen the ad for the restaurant, I booked it and it went straight into my calendar. That’s exactly how I see how our business has to operate.

It’s no longer about when it suits us as a brand, we have to take it to the consumer when it works for them and their lifestyle. Whether it’s booking a treatment or buying a product or doing both, we have to make it as easy as possible for the customer, or they’ll go somewhere else.

IRW: Can you tell me about your e-therapists and how they work?
PH: Interestingly, we’ve been operating our e-comm platform for 10 years or more, but we always executed the brand and the skin knowledge through a human beauty therapist before e-commerce. So we thought, ‘How do we give customers that expertise and individual skin diagnosis when it’s through a computer or smartphone?’ That’s why we have the support therapists in the head office, where customers can call them and get their skin diagnosed.

IRW: How would you describe the Ella Bache customer?
PH: We have two customers. There’s the 40-year-old woman, Emma, who could be a career lady or a very busy mum. She knows all about skin health, she’s health conscious, she goes to the gym and she treats her skin in exactly the same way, so she wants to use good products that work for her. Personalisation and good advice are really important for her. And she trusts the brand and the products because they work. She is dabbling in non-invasive tech, so she’ll probably come in and do an LED facial or microdermabrasion laser. She is after the most safe, results-driven treatments in the shortest timeframe possible.

Then we’ve got who I call the Suddenly 30 customer, Sarah. She’s probably been in a lot of our salons for hair removal or tanning but she’s starting to get more serious about skincare because she’s noticing her skin is changing with hormones and fine lines. Similar to your hairdresser, you get more loyal to those people as you get older.

IRW: I can imagine that being on that customer journey across skincare can be particularly emotional.
PH: Totally. It’s a very personalised experience and we have to make it that way. In a lot of cases, especially in treatment rooms, it’s one-on-one. We call our therapists skin therapists, but quite often, they’re more than that. I remember talking to Layne Beachley quite recently and when going through hard times in her life, there were two people she spoke to – her dad and her skin therapist. [With a skin therapist] you talk about everything. It’s a really intimate, special relationship.

IRW: What are some of the challenges of running a franchise right now?
PH: You’re dealing with a lot of different humans, they’re running independently owned businesses and everyone has their own flavour as to how they do things. It’s making sure there’s a part of the business they can put their own flavour on, like how they manage one-to-one client relationships. Then there’s a part of the business that’s a standard customer experience that we need to get right – and it’s not just ‘set and forget’.

It’s a constant process of making sure we’re reminding everyone of the tools, why it’s important for customers to do certain things, like giving customer feedback and using data and insights to constantly improve the experience, both for the end customer and franchisees.

IRW: Do you get to visit the salons and meet the franchisees much?
PH: Yes. I really love meeting with teams and franchisees, but it is hard. We’ve got stores from Darwin to Tasmania and everywhere in between, so it’s hard to find the time to do that but when you do, you get so much out of it. You learn so much about not only what’s going on in their business, but what’s going on with their customers. If we’ve got new products and treatments, it’s great to see the girls and hear their feedback.

I try to get on a plane a couple of times a month to see some of the stores. It’s really important.

I was fortunate enough to go on Undercover Boss a few years ago on Channel 10.

I got in my disguise, but because we’re a family business, we have intimate relationships with all our therapists and franchisees and the girls who work in David Jones, so it’s not like they don’t recognise me! I hope they feel comfortable enough with me to have a conversation with me.

I went undercover – dyed my hair, put contacts in, changed my name, went around Australia and lied my way into stores, as a trainee beauty therapist. I spent two weeks in-store. It was awesome. I learned so much.

I really discovered how hard people work and how passionate they are for the brand. Everyone gets up every day to go to work, and most people do the very best they can to make it the best business, the best customer experience and treat skin the best way they can. It was wonderful to see that passion. Of course, there were things we learned that I could bring back to management that we could tweak around education programs and marketing ideas, but certainly the core values and passion are there.

IRW: Isn’t there a big reveal at the end when people find out who you are? What was that like?
PH: That was good. Some people were so surprised, but a lot of the people who work in our manufacturing facility have worked in the business for over 35 years, so they’ve known me my whole life.

The hardest day was when the film crew were keen for me to spend a day there. I said, ‘They’re going to recognise me. I could have purple or green hair or whatever, but if you’re prepared to waste a day, I’m happy to give it a go!’ So I walked in [in disguise] and the first thing one of the ladies said was: ‘Pippa, what have you done to your hair?!’ My cover was blown!

IRW: Tell me about the education side of the business.
PH: That’s another good example of change. We’ve run the academy since 1963 and once upon a time, it was very much face-to-face learning. Now our education business is 80 per cent online. Students all over Australia log into our learning portal and there are forums, videos and chat groups where they do all their theory, then their practical is done in blocks. They’ll do their practical sessions in our stores where they do work experience and hopefully get employment at the end. The whole online learning [platform] has completely changed.

IRW: What plans do you have for the retail side of Ella Bache?
PH: We’ve got a lot of new initiatives going on in the salons. We’ve run a whole new menu of service, which is based on the fact that women have less time and want more results. The part of the market segment we operate in is non-invasive skincare and we needed to make sure the treatments we had on offer really packed a punch and gave results but didn’t harm the skin.

There is so much out there at the moment and it’s a completely unregulated part of the industry. I call it the fast food of beauty – the Kardashians have normalised fillers and botox and all those things, which are so accessible to anyone, but I’m really passionate that if you’re going to do it, do it with a doctor who has the right qualifications.

While we don’t operate essentially in that space, we need to make sure we offer an alternative that can really get results for the skin fast.

Also for our salons, we’re making sure they have all the technology in place so people can book and follow up a service online and it’s a digitised experience for them, even though it’s very much hands-on in-store. It’s also about how they communicate in their local areas, like making sure they’ve got simple things like Google My Business in place and people can find them if they google in their local area. So we’re just ensuring the salons are changing their marketing model as well.

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