WhatSalon, a new app firm launched by Cork businessmen Kieran Walsh and David O’Flynn, promises to connect consumers in real-time with beauty salons and hairdressers via their smartphones. The app, which goes live in Cork today, has 260 salons across Ireland signed up and has ambitious plans to grow the business overseas, starting with the UK.
The app – a kind of ‘Hailo for Hairdressers’ – allows consumers to access last-minute hair and beauty appointments in high quality, local salons, and salons can generate additional sales by filling gaps in their appointment books.
WhatSalon’s business is based on a commission model where it charges a booking fee of 10pc per booking. On arrival the remaining 90pc is payable to the salon.
Beauty treatment? There’s an app for that
WhatSalon’s CEO Kieran Walsh is an e-commerce entrepreneur and founder of Frownies.ie and BeautyMatters.ie and has a track record in distributing beauty products and working with retailers like Avoca, The Loop, Sam McCauley’s and McCabes. He signed a deal in 2012 to represent Lord Sugar’s beauty ranges, including Stylfile and Tropic Skincare.
The company’s chief operating officer David O’Flynn is the CEO and founder of Tolisons Private Equity, specialising in early stage technology investments, and the firm has invested in eight separate technology investments to date. He is also a Governor of the University of Limerick and chief financial officer of HKPB Scientific.
The WhatSalon app gives consumers the ability to outline the kind of treatment they are seeking, set up an appointment and use their phone’s GPS sensor to guide them to the correct location.
“Salons have a problem with marketing and digital and wages account for 35pc of their operating costs,” Walsh explained. “The digital world is bewildering for them but we have built an engine that brings business to their front door.
“We have 260 salons across Ireland signed up so far, a 94pc success rate.”
Disciplined execution of a plan
Walsh and O’Flynn sparked upon the idea nine months ago and hired CTO Gordon Murray to build the infrastructure while they focused on business development and social media engagement.
In terms of social media the app firm has 3,600 followers on Facebook and 11,400 followers on Twitter.
O’Flynn explained that they were very much inspired by the success of last minute booking apps like Hailo for taxis and Hotels Tonight.
“15pc of people who book hotels do it on the same day, and while there are no figures for the beauty industry the truth is people don’t want to ring salons and be turned down because there are no available slots. What our system does is send in enquiries on behalf of consumers rather than having them hanging on a telephone. They can instantly see if what they are looking for is available to them,” O’Flynn explained.
For the salon owners WhatsApp intends to help them counter a typical problem in their industry – 31pc of bookings end up as no-shows – creating a conundrum for the owners since 35pc of their operating costs are staff wages.
Walsh said that the plan is to focus primarily on cities, starting with Cork today followed by Dublin in the coming weeks. “The key thing has been that the salons who sign up are of a high standard and are willing to work with the system so we focus heavily on training to ensure they get the benefit.
“We have 71 salons in Cork signed up and the majority – 170 salons – are in Dublin, followed by 15 in Galway and 10 in Limerick.”
O’Flynn added that the strategy is to build out new territories one by one, beginning with cities in Ireland before targeting the UK, starting with Manchester and then London.
“Ireland is the perfect market to start with and our view has always been to target the UK and we are looking at other markets like the UAE before we target the US. The key to this is a quality experience for consumers and salon owners which can only be underpinned by a disciplined approach to each territory and the right training.”
O’Flynn said the idea sparked when his fiancée was struggling to find a salon on Google and then had to ring around. “We built it from there and we’ve put a lot of 16-hour days to make it possible.
“This has been an all-consuming start-up but I believe we can truly make a difference in the beauty industry and bring it into the digital age.”