Behind Blow Ltd

Breakfast appointments and 15-minute manicures: Lucy Douglas goes behind Blow Ltd, the new salon brand introducing the concept of fast beauty

It’s hard to believe that something as unglamorous as a fast food restaurant has anything to offer the beauty industry, yet that’s the inspiration behind Blow Ltd, an innovative new beauty business with ambitious plans to go nationwide and generate impressive retail figures.

Opened in Covent Garden in November, the bar provides “fast beauty”, catering to time-poor, demanding women by offering quick-fix, finishing touches at affordable prices and convenient times. In under an hour, a client could have her nails and make-up done and her hair blow-dried, ready for a party, dinner with friends, or a corporate event.

It doesn’t sound like the high street salons we’re used to and, indeed, the brains behind the new brand may have big business backgrounds, but they are not familiar faces in the industry. Co-founder and creative director Fiona McIntosh’s career has included stints as editor-in-chief of Elle and Grazia magazines, while her partner Dharmash Mistry, chief executive of Blow Ltd, is a venture capitalist and board member at companies including Achica and Lovefilm.

However, the Covent Garden site is just the start of the venture. Mistry and McIntosh currently have other London sites in the pipeline at Canary Wharf and Soho. And while they claim that they are not targeting 100 sites, as suggested in recent reports, they certainly have plans to take the brand nationwide once the London sites are more established.

Blow Ltd

Target markets

“It’s very much about the consumer experience,” explains McIntosh, who describes Blow Ltd as a “beauty pit stop”. “A number of my friends were saying, ‘It’s impossible to get anything done for a 9am meeting.’ So we open at 7am, and you can get the whole lot done and walk out ready for work.”

According to McIntosh, there are three target markets for the brand – the glamorous, work-hard play-hard 20-something, the 35-plus professional who is under pressure to look her best at work, and the yummy mummy, although she says this market will come into its own when sites open up in wealthy suburbs. “What we don’t want to do is make it age specific,” she says. “This is for anyone who doesn’t have time, and it was important that we didn’t make it too young, just quietly stylish.”

As well as opening from 7am, Blow Ltd offers appointments until 9pm for three days a week. The speed of the service is the key to the business and McIntosh says Blow Ltd will complement the offering of traditional beauty and hair salons, not replace it.

There are 15 services on offer – three nail looks, three make-up looks, and nine blow dry styles – and it’s the result that clients pay for, not the experience. Nail services are limited to a quick file and polish, as opposed to a full manicure, for example, and take just 15 minutes.

And this filters down into the branding. Blow Ltd’s menus, which are presented on iPads in the bar, show images of the services rather than descriptions, so clients can see what they will look like at the end of the treatment. “What we’re selling is the look, not the process,” says Mistry. “The process is what most people sell – the blow dry, the cut. To be honest, why does anybody care about the process?”

However, ensuring that treatments are up to scratch is crucial for the business. Staff must be able to deliver the services in the required time and to the necessary standard, so they have been put on a three-week “boot camp”, which will be followed up with extra training in the evenings.

Blow Ltd

Plain selling

The services on offer at Blow Ltd are just one part of the business proposition. Mistry and McIntosh have ambitious plans to drive around 50% of the brand’s revenue from retail sales, most of which will come from its website. “We see this as fusing service and retail, online and offline,” explains Mistry. “The salon is just one part of the mix.”

Blow Ltd’s brand philosophy is not just about making clients look good at their convenience, but also about giving them the tools to create the looks themselves, with online how-to video tutorials including a run-down of all the products needed. The website allows clients to book appointments in real time, as well as buy their favourite products and have them delivered the next day. “If you were to launch a retail business in the future, the store would be theatre and experience, and you’d buy the product online,” says Mistry. “We’ve had a chance to do that.”

According to the founders, research from their focus group indicated that clients are frustrated by pushy sales tactics in salons. So the Blow Ltd team decided not to incentivise staff with commission on the products they sell. Instead, clients are required to submit their email address when “checking in” for an appointment and subsequently receive tailored email newsletters featuring products that are likely to be of interest to them. There are currently 25 brands in stock at Blow Ltd; a number Mistry says is likely to grow in the future. “We wanted some anchor brands – Kerastase for hair and Laura Mercier for make-up,” explains McIntosh. “Then we really wanted to build some discovery brands around those. People haven’t necessarily heard of these brands, but they want to try them. We want to encourage people to experiment.”

Other brands on offer at Blow Ltd include Essie and Leighton Denny nail polishes and Ren skincare alongside consumer brands such as Lord & Berry and Emma Hardie.

Blow doesn’t stock whole ranges. Instead products are selected from each range to fit the brand’s values of quality, value, and efficiency. There is also no brand marketing on display in the bar, only merchandising material from Blow Ltd itself, which recommends selected hero products. On the website there is matching editorial, to promote those hero items to online customers. “We wanted to get everything integrated,” says McIntosh. “We’re trying to get a 360-degree media-retail-service business.” 

Blow Ltd in numbers

Opened: November 2013
Brands: Essie, Leighton Denny, Kerastase, Laura Mercier, Ilia, Ren, Emma Hardie and more
Size: 1,500sq ft
Capacity: 13 beauty stations; four make-up tables
Staff: 40, with plans to recruit another 30 for new stores