When most people think of beauty there is an almost instant association with the young and the glamorous. Sure there is such a thing as beauty at any age, but our society tends to associate beauty and interest in beauty with the young. Similarly, though for very different reasons, we also tend to associate service on demand with the young, or at least the youngish.
Which can make Belle Cares, an on-demand firm that offers professional beauticians who make house calls, seem like something of a surprise on first glance because the Nashville-based startup’s customers are not young by any definition.
But as it turns out, that doesn’t matter quite so much as one might assume because people of any age actually like the experience of feeling good about how they look. For some seniors, particularly the housebound or mobility impaired, access to the tools of beautification that most consumer take for granted can be limited.
And that is a problem that Belle Cares thinks it can solve. Anyone who has ever ordered up an Uber understands the basic structure: Customers can order up a hairstylist, manicurist or massage therapist through an online appointment system. The customer chooses what she wants, manicure, pedicure, haircut, blow-dry, massage, etc., pays up ahead of time and books the appointment.
“We follow the sharing economy model where everyone who provides services for us is an independent contractor,” noted founder Armand Lauzon. “That’s part of the value we offer to the professionals as well. You can do one appointment per month or 100 appointments per month. You can build your way up or scale down when you need to, and it provides them with flexibility.”
Find Their Niche
Belle Cares did not start out as a senior-focused product. Initially its various spa services were pitched to customers of all ages. And that busienss is ongoing under the name Project Belle.
But after just short of a year, the founders of the firm noticed something unexpected in their data. Instead of the waves of millennials they had expected to see signing up for their service, what they found instead was that their customers were overwhelmingly older adults or the children of older adults booking services for their parents. But surprising news isn’t bad news, Lauzon noted, and it gave the firm a new direction.
Some supplemental research also convinced the Project Belle team that this was a particularly booming market driven by an increasing preference among older baby boomers to age in place. But that preference, he noted, has not been met with enough services that cater to older adults specifically.
“When you move into older adults, they absolutely need to have it. Their driver’s license may be revoked, they may be recovering from surgery, they might have mobility issues or it might be dangerous for them to travel,” Lauzon explained. “When we send professionals into their homes to offer services, you can see the impact immediately and in a tremendous way.”
But creating that desired effect is work. Stylists are not always used to working with older adults, which means Belle Cares has had to invest in building a recruiting, hiring and training program for the contractors they bring into the business.
“Hair, for instance, is very different with older people’s hair. The texture is different and the style preferences are different,” Lauzon said. “For example, wash and sets are really popular in the South in the elderly population, but younger generations — well, that doesn’t really exist. We have to make sure stylists have experience in doing that so appointments go smoothly.”
The experience, he noted, is considered well worth it by the stylists, who mostly report a favorable experience working with the older adults. Younger beauty and wellness clientele — he noted - view having an in-home service as a luxury. Older clients, on the other hand, are enjoying it on a much more fundamental level as a service.
In addition, he says, health and beauty are linked categories for a reason.
“This service is not just a way to improve quality of life, but we’ve realized nail care is an important aspect of health. Many older adults cannot take care of their feet like they did when they were younger. It is a serious condition. We never thought of that, but it’s an important service that we provide,” Lauzon said.
These days, the only way to access Belle Cares would be as a Nashville or Tennessee resident. Lauzon has noted that the firm has had lots of interest from out-of-staters looking to see the service expand, but for now Belle Cares is holding off on expansion as it perfects its offering.
The firm does plan to expand and continue to work with existing senior and assisted-living centers.
We may associate beauty with the young, but the services that make it possible are, as it turns out, quite important to older adults.
“It’s a powerful thing to be able to offer these services to this group,” Lauzon said.