interior of amazing lash studio
The desire for above-the-mask beauty enhancements is fueling a trend that began before the pandemic — semi-permanent eyelash extensions, and salons that apply them. — Amazing Lash Studio

Forget the lipstick index. In 2020, the leading beauty industry indicator is the eyelash effect.

Estee Lauder’s Leonard Lauder is credited with coining the phrase “the lipstick index” amid the economic fallout from 9/11, but economists have been tracking the phenomenon since the Great Depression. During economic downturns, the theory goes, sales of lipstick and other affordable beauty luxuries always increase.

But in the era of COVID-19, demand for beauty products for the eyes, particularly false eyelashes, has outpaced lipstick and other cosmetics, according to research by The NPD Group.

The desire for above-the-mask beauty enhancements is fueling a trend that began before the pandemic – semi-permanent eyelash extensions, and salons that apply them.

Some beauty experts credit reality TV family the Kardashians, and Americans’ tendency to ‘keep up’ with them, for creating demand for eyelash extensions.

The largest and fastest growing franchise chain, Amazing Lash Studio, is well positioned to benefit from the eyelash effect, thanks to tech investments like its augmented reality Glam Cam app, whereby users can virtually try on lashes.

“I’m on a mission to make us a category killer — not only in points of presence and locations, but also as the innovator and educator in the industry,” Amazing Lash Studio CEO Heather Elrod told CO—.

There’s so much focus on the eyes that the demand for our services has absolutely increased. We’re seeing in several of our markets explosive growth in leads and sales for that reason.

Heather Elrod, CEO, Amazing Lash Studio

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Indeed, Amazing Lash boasts that it created the eyelash extension category, became a category leader, and now aims to dominate the space.

Amazing Lash Studio has 257 locations in 28 states, and dozens more locations under contract with franchise owners. The number of locations has more than tripled since 2016, when Elrod joined the company.

Most customers sign up for a membership plan, which gives them access to several sessions a month to refill their lashes, which tend to thin out with wear. While prices vary around the country, the most common membership plan is $119 for two fills a month.

All of the Amazing Lash locations were closed at some point during pandemic lockdowns, but most have reopened and are seeing strong demand, Elrod said.

“There’s so much focus on the eyes that the demand for our services has absolutely increased,” she said. “We’re seeing in several of our markets explosive growth in leads and sales for that reason.”

Amazing Lash Studio has more than twice as many locations as its top competitors in the franchise eyelash extensions industry, The Lash Lounge and Deka Lash, but those companies also are seeing rapid growth.

 woman using amazing lash studio's glam cam
Amazing Lash Studio's Glam Cam app lets customers virtually try on different lash styles through an augmented reality web cam view of their face. — Amazing Lash Studio

The booming business of catering to ‘lashionistas’

Eyelash extensions are the fastest-growing segment in the personal service franchising category. Personal services, which include health and fitness, beauty salons, recreation and education, had been the highest growth area of franchising pre-pandemic, generating roughly four times the growth of the overall franchise industry, Jennifer Brandeen, chief revenue officer for the International Franchise Association, told CO—.

“If you look within the personal services category, lashes have been number one among the different business lines, both in terms of the number of establishments and employment,” Brandeen said.

Amazing Lash was founded in 2010 by Vietnamese immigrants Jessica and Edward Le.

WellBiz Brands, Inc., which also owns franchised wellness chains Elements Massage and Fitness Together, acquired Amazing Lash Studio in 2018 and retained Elrod as CEO.

Retail landlords are seeing a growing demand for eyelash salon space, Curtis Nassau, a retail specialist for Ripco Real Estate, told CO—. Nassau, who is based in New Jersey, recently brokered a deal for a new Amazing Lash Studio in Edgewater, N.J., scheduled to open in November.

Beauty services have proven to be among the most resilient retail tenants, Nassau said.

“Personal care is something that people invest in, in good times and bad,” he said. “The reality is it’s not something you can get online.”

 woman getting her eyelash extensions done
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer demand for beauty and personal care services has not wavered, with eyelash extensions being one of the most desired services. — Amazing Lash Studio

Doreen Amano, who with her business partner Staci Choi, is opening the New Jersey lash studio brokered by Nassau, said she and Choi decided to open a franchise because they love the Amazing Lash services.

“We are lashionistas,” Amano said.

They were concerned about opening during a pandemic, but have seen that demand remains strong, and that Amazing Lash fans are comfortable with the chain’s safety protocols.

“Just looking at the number of leads that we’re getting — we started our advertising five weeks out from our opening — the response has been unbelievable,” Amano said.

Elena Torres, who is planning to open an Amazing Lash Studio in the Greenwood Village neighborhood near Denver, Colorado, next year, said unlike other lash salons where customers are in the same large room, Amazing Lash Studios have private treatment rooms, which appealed to her during this time of social distancing. “You’re in a separate room, not lying next to someone you don’t know,” Torres told CO—.

Torres, who works for a tech firm, also said she was impressed by the Glam Cam app Amazing Lash introduced in May. The app lets customers virtually try on different lash styles through an augmented reality web cam view of their face.

“What that told me is they are progressive and innovative, and are trying to bring new things to market,” Torres said. “That’s important if you’re going to stay ahead because otherwise there’s always going to be a competitor who’s going to have something newer, or better or faster.”

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Published October 27, 2020