Beauty on the move: how one start-up grew by staying mobile

Cathy Stewart, 45, and Ros Lewis, 40, launched their first beauty treatment studio in Witney, Oxfordshire with three members of staff. The perceived wisdom was that a high-street "flagship" studio was essential but the founders also believed many customers were based in smaller villages. "We searched for a city flagship studio," explains Cathy, "but that's when the problems started. Landlords weren't prepared to rent city-centre outlets to an unknown business although this turned out to be a blessing in disguise."

"Lots of enquiries had started to come in about providing a mobile service," says Ros, "and so we looked at what would be involved." After a lot of research the founders decided to develop a franchise model for their business and so enlisted the help of the British Franchise Association (01491 578 050). The BFA assesses and accredits franchising companies against a criteria that includes business structure, terms of contract between franchisor and franchisee, and its success as a franchise. Plus, all members of the BFA are vetted against a strict code of business practice which was, as Cathy points out: "A very worthwhile exercise because the BFA examined every aspect of our business."

The duo launched a pilot programme for their mobile franchise operation with just three women. It was so successful they now have 31 mobile franchisees in addition to their two studios. And, they've been able to attract top suppliers as well. Jeremy Bacon, sales and marketing director of Australian Bodycare, says: "We linked with Cuticles in November 2004, impressed by their innovative concept of 'beauty on the move', and have watched them grow from strength to strength, offering a unique and professional service."

The concept of a franchised business is very appealing to those that seek the flexibility of their own business but want a ready-made format with back-up when they need it. Carole Loftus, the first Cuticles franchisee, says: "Whenever I doubt myself or feel lonely, all I have to do is pick up the phone and the company is there to support and encourage me." So, what's next - rolling out the model nationwide? "Certainly," says Ros, "but we're also looking at opening our own school of beauty to offer training for our franchisees."