Elaina Watley’s incredible Lash Studio franchise empire is just that

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I had the pleasure of meeting Elaina Watley at Black Enterprise 2020 Power Women Summit She participated in a breakout session called “Conversations About Wealth Creation,” which aimed to encourage black women to set goals and empower themselves when managing their personal finances. It’s not often that someone’s personal journey has an effect on me like Elaina’s, so after the session I was delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with her and take it easy. learn more.

If you’re unfamiliar with Elaina’s story, she’s a single mom, her daughter’s co-parenting with her ex-partner, Victor-Cruz, retired New York Giants wide receiver. Over more than 10 years, the relationship had its ups and downs, and finally ended. For many women, the story ends there, but for Elaina, it was just the start of a new chapter. She founded Brand Infinite, a marketing agency that has managed the careers of professional athletes, including Victor. Prior to that, she worked for leading agencies including Creative Artist Agency and William Morris Endeavor, but felt it was time to do something she could fall in love with, which brought her to the Amazing eyelash studio franchise.

Meet Elaina Wately

Black Enterprise: Elaina, thank you very much for taking the time to share your story. In the Women of power session, you revealed that you love eyelashes, which drew you to this business. How did you decide to go into a franchise rather than building your own brand?

Watley: I have several friends who own various franchises, some unique store owners, other Zone Representatives (RAs), and I just loved the idea of ​​being able to grow the business quickly.

Black Enterprise: How did you end up on Amazing Lash Studios?

Watley: I looked for them all! Not only did I want to find the right one for me, but I had to prove to my financial advisor that it was a viable business that could generate solid income. When I first started meeting the Amazing Lash Studio team, I felt a real connection – they were amazing. I also really liked their marketing, they were on every call I asked them to be, and they were very open with their finances. But what sealed it off was how receptive they were to listening to everything I had to say.

When I asked Elaina to expand on this point a bit, she told me that when she was considering investing, Amazing Lash Studio was an emerging brand, with around 65 units open at the time. Everyone, including her, wanted to grow tall. When this emerging brand was ready to listen to its ideas on growth

Elaina Watley – Amazing Lash Studio Franchisee

strategies, she knew she had found the right business. Today, the Amazing Lash Studio franchise has 270 units nationwide.

Growth and scaling

You currently operate five sites, but you own seven in total. How did you start and how are you growing?

Watley: I started out by purchasing a license for a location in NJ, but soon regretted that I didn’t purchase multiple licenses at the start. My advice to people starting out in a brick and mortar franchise business is to really think about your future plans. I knew I wanted to grow, and if I had bought additional licenses early on, I could have secured the surrounding territories to make sure I could grow where I wanted. When I went to find my second location, the territory had already been purchased. Fortunately, through a series of events, I was able to get the territory and location I wanted, but it was a challenge. My third, fourth and fifth locations were actually acquisitions from other owners. Unfortunately for them, they were struggling with the model and were looking to sell. While they were making excellent sales, their profit margins were too low to support the business. Having done well with my first two sites, I knew how to get the profitability numbers where they needed to be.

I’m really excited about my next two locations because I’m moving to New York. One will be in Brooklyn – the first location in the five boroughs and the other potentially in Manhattan.

These are VERY expensive markets, what convinced you to be able to handle rental and construction costs?

Watley: I know! It goes back to my love for the Amazing Lash Studio brand and team. I approached my franchisor and told him that I had found the perfect location in Brooklyn, but the rental and construction costs were outrageous. So I offered them a new concept in interior design that would dramatically reduce construction costs, and they were all in it. Now we have created a more open floor plan and we call it “urban design”. It’s beautiful!

Share the wealth

One of the things that really impressed me during the session was that you made some of your employees the owners of the company. How did this idea of ​​“sharing the wealth” come about and how did you implement it?

Watley: When I opened my first branch, I was still working full time. When it came time to hire managers and team members, I was looking for leaders that I would be comfortable with leading the company while I worked. During my interviews, I asked the candidates what their five-year plans were. Those who responded that they were interested in owning a store themselves, I paid special attention. I was fortunate enough to hire three women who saw the vision, and now I wouldn’t want to do the business without them.

My initial plan was to simply be a business mentor and encourage them to own their own locations. But once I realized I didn’t want to do the business without them, I looked for a way to build together, so that I wouldn’t lose them. That’s when I started to think about offering stocks. I spoke with my financial advisor to learn the different ways to share equity. Then I started offering monthly financial literacy classes to my team so they could learn how financing worked and how to save money that could be used to become a store owner. Not all equity offers are the same. It often depends on what the person wants to do and what they are willing to sacrifice. I make the offer and ask them what they are willing and able to put on. It is usually a combination of equity and monetary investment—everyone is putting money, depending on what they have. As owners, they can earn a salary or a model of ownership based on a percentage of profitability.

Let’s come to what I call a four letter word when it comes to investing in a business: READY. Often our community is afraid of taking loans under the pretext of not wanting to owe anything to anyone (especially the government) and what happens if you can’t pay it back. Have you been afraid of loans and what advice would you give to people who are afraid of taking out loans?

Watley: I’ve always wanted to take out loans because I’ve been told it is important to preserve cash and leverage other people’s money whenever possible. However, my college student loan debt scared me. But I still knew I had to stay as liquid as possible. The more I learned about SBA loans, the more comfortable I felt. SBA has better flexibility than conventional loans, so in times of economic disaster and hardship, they quickly allow deferrals. This week alone, due to the coronavirus outbreak, they deferred loan payments for 90 days.

My advice would be that if you are considering buying a franchise, find out about the franchisor’s preferred lender, most of them have one. They tend to work with the same bank to complete a large portion of their transactions. The advantage here is that the lender understands this particular business, with a number of approvals under their belt, and it will help you get your approval. After getting your first SBA [loan], the following ones become MUCH easier. I knew a lot more about the process and was also able to use my solid P&L statements as proof of concept in the business case.

You were a finance student in college, but you are very open to being afraid to look at your company’s numbers. How did you get over this and what would you suggest to others who find themselves in this situation?

Watley: First I had to ask myself WHY am I afraid to look at my numbers. Why am I afraid to face them? I determined it was because I didn’t want to be disappointed. Once I got over my fear and looked at them, I still didn’t quite understand what the numbers were telling me. I then called on several people, including my franchisor and my financial advisor. My franchisor helped me understand the main benchmarks. My advisor and my personal accounting team offered me various scenarios. If I wanted my profits to be in a certain place, these are the things I had to do differently. That’s when I learned all about using various business credit cards for points, perks, and cash back.

I didn’t want to look at my numbers because I was afraid of failing. But I had to learn not to be afraid of failing. I realized that NOT looking at the numbers was a failure.

A woman of power

I know your plan is to continue to grow with Amazing Lash Studios and help other women become owners, but what other projects are you working on?

Watley: I am so excited about what I am working on. I visited Ghana earlier this year with a group of girlfriends. I absolutely fell in love with the landscape and the people. I had a spiritual transformation on this trip. After I returned to the United States, I started a business called “The Butterfly Effect”. Our goal is to bring the diaspora to Ghana. We plan to organize organized trips to help develop Ghanaian ecosystems, starting at the end of the year. We hope to offer entrepreneurs the same cultural connection and the same experience as us.

In addition, we are building a school in Ghana called “Lilies of the Field”. We consider him to be a disruptor in the community. The current school already has after-school programs in place, so our plan is to expand this by building a state-of-the-art facility that offers classes all day.

Our third component will be to create an investment fund, so that we can connect the global community in Ghana, providing more education on building viable and sustainable businesses.

To learn more about “The Butterfly Effect”, visit here.

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