Growing Pains of a High-Growth Franchise: An Interview with Anna Phillips, founder and CEO of The Lash Lounge

Anna Phillips, CEO and Founder of The Lash Lounge

We’re celebrating Entrepreneurship Week with Anna Phillips, founder and CEO of The Lash Lounge. Anna’s franchise is growing rapidly and looking to scale, so we dig into how she got started and what are the growing pains of a high-growth franchise system.




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Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins podcast where we feature business leaders whose exceptional approach to talent and talent management has led to outsize results. My name is Adam Robinson, and for the next 25 minutes, I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring. Today on the show we have Anna Phillips, founder and CEO of high-growth franchise system, The Lash Lounge, the first franchise of its kind which we’ll discuss. The franchise exploded in Texas and has now expanded into Florida, Indiana, and Michigan. Looking forward, Anna, to sharing your story with our audience, so welcome to the program.
Anna Phillips: Thank you so much, Adam.
Adam Robinson: As is the tradition here on The Best Team Wins podcast, we always start off on the right foot, which is the best news, business or personal, that’s happened to our guest in the last seven days. Anna, your right foot for last week.
Anna Phillips: Yeah, absolutely. I was looking at this, and usually it’s always business related, but I have personal excellent news. I actually have an eight-year-old daughter who was diagnosed with a brain tumor this summer, and it’s benign, but it was causing some other issues. She had surgery in August. We had our first MRI yesterday, and everything has come back with a really good bill of health. That’s a load off my shoulders.
Adam Robinson: That’s incredible news. I’m happy to hear that.
Anna Phillips: Yeah.
Adam Robinson: Wow. That’s real stuff right there. Thank you for sharing that.
Anna Phillips: Sure.
Adam Robinson: Well let’s jump right in. First, I’d like to start off with the Lash Lounge story, so folks can understand what it is that the business does and your role in it. Tell us the story. What is The Lash Lounge and how did that come to be?
Anna Phillips: Yeah, absolutely. The Lash Lounge is an eyelash salon. We specialize in semi-permanent eyelash extensions. The story of how it came to be… I actually was in the beauty industry. I started out in IT. After the Y2K bubble, I found myself kind of looking for a job and trying to find what I was passionate about. I knew I really liked working with people and helping people and taking care of them, kind of a servant attitude. It led me into the beauty industry where I got into facials, massage, everything.
The eyelashes started coming to the US from overseas in 2004. I always just tell people I feel like I was at the right place at the right time. I got started into the eyelashes. I had an independent room that I was working in and offering services. My eyelash clients just blew up to the point where I couldn’t keep up with them anymore on my own. I started hiring some friends to work in the evenings and on the weekends when I wasn’t there. It got to the point where I literally had a light bulb moment where I felt like, “You know what? I just need to clone myself,” and I thought, “You know what? We could do a salon just for eyelashes.”
We started the first Lash Lounge in 2006. It was the first of its kind where it was a salon just dedicated to eyelash extensions. That’s what we specialize in. We opened up three locations in three years. I started working on franchising it shortly thereafter.
Adam Robinson: Not many entrepreneurs have the opportunity to say they literally created the first thing of its kind, so first of all, congratulations. It’s pretty awesome. Second, you got to the point where you saw there was success, and not all of our listeners understand franchising and what that means. Can you walk through the decision process that you came to, to say, “You know what? I think I’d like to help other entrepreneurs start a business,” and this thing called franchising? Take us through that decision.
Anna Phillips: Yeah, absolutely. I would preface it by saying I went into it probably a little bit blindly. Like most entrepreneurs, you kind of figure things out as you’re going. My initial goal was just to open up one salon, if you will, and quickly it became apparent when we had a two and three month wait list to get in that we had to expand it into a second and third location. At that point when we had three locations and they were all very successful, which I know is not always the case for most entrepreneurs, but they were very successful very quickly. We started having a lot of clients telling us where else we should be putting in a Lash Lounge. In Vegas, in Hawaii, all over the states. To me, I had a young family, and I realized, “You know what? I’m stretched a little thin as it is already with three corporate locations that I’m trying to keep up with. The next best thing to replicate this is to take it into the franchising world.”
I feel like it really aligned with what I like to do as a person. I’m very much trying to pay it forward, help others find ways that they can feel better about themselves, or do something that is their passion. That’s my thing. Franchising is really just a great fit. You’re able to provide this amazing system that works really well that your customers are excited about to other people who want to have a business and don’t necessarily want to go through all that trial and error that you went through creating the business and creating the processes. It just seemed like a great fit for me.
Adam Robinson: That’s great. I’m excited to talk about the partners you recently brought on. You’ve had some success. You got to the point, as many entrepreneurs do, where you said, “You know what? I want to go faster.” Talk about the decision that you’ve made recently to bring partners into the business to grow and scale more quickly.
Anna Phillips:  In my particular case, I am the sole owner of the Lash Lounge. I started this as a lash technician. I moved to being an owner, a multi-owner, so essentially kind of an area developer, and then into a franchisor. As soon as I did start the franchise business, and going back to my earlier comment on going into this a little bit blindly, I did not realize the business of franchising and what all that entailed. What I do know is the business of eyelashes and then the eyelash salon. I can do that blindfolded.
It got to a point where just running the business, and selling franchises, and making sure that we’re doing right by the owners that are investing in our concept, I realized that I really needed to bring in some more expertise. I needed to do that in order to grow. We were kind of going at snail pace just trying to keep up with everything. We have an awesome concept that is now catching some wind in the industry. I realized that if I need to get to the next step and stay a contender in this game, I’m going to need to bring in some partners. That was an enlightening moment for me when I finally gave into that thought. Then it was trying to find the right partners. Trying to find the people that were aligned with you, with your mission, your vision, everything about it.
Again, I just feel like things happen for a reason. I was very, very fortunate. I brought in some partners in April this last year. For the last six months, we’ve had what I would consider an engine behind us which has been awesome.
Adam Robinson: That’s great. Going from sole owner and CEO and everything else that goes with being an entrepreneur boot-strapping a concept to having partners that are fairly sophisticated with a great reputation as I know these guys have, what has that done for your leadership role, and how has it changed you in your approach to managing your team and to your new partners as they’ve integrated into it?
Anna Phillips: That’s a great question. First and foremost, I think having people that you’re partnered with of the caliber that my partners are, and the experience — they’re very steeped in franchising and just business in general. It adds an accountability layer that you don’t have when you’re running the business yourself. Sometimes you have to look at yourself in the mirror and try to come up with a new process or a system, and you need other people to bounce ideas off of or also hold you accountable. What I had mentioned earlier to Adam is I feel like the last six months has been a little bit like drinking from a fire hose, which has been great. We’ve been able to get in and look at our systems and our developments and our processes, what we would consider our foundational pieces, and assess the gaps, what we need, what we have that’s in place, and create what else we need to fill everything, and do it very quickly so that we can hit that accelerator pedal for growing the brand through sales.
It’s been great because I have people who have been down the road before me, and they know what I’m about to approach and what I need, so that trial … It’s kind of like me doing this for my franchisees. That trial and error has been eliminated. They’re able to give me some guidance and some help. It’s like having someone else running on that treadmill with me keeping it up.
Adam Robinson: Absolutely. Let’s talk about then your senior leadership team and the impact that the partners had on how you approach that. We talked about the impact on you. Talk about how your company’s organized. What are the roles around your senior leadership team table right now and how is that changing as you scale with this partner?
Anna Phillips: Yeah. Because we’re an emerging brand, we run pretty lean. I’ve always had in my corporate office anywhere from four to six at the maximum corporate employees. What I’ve found to be interesting is, especially over the last six months as we’re kind of hitting this gas pedal on everything, and we’re all just running as fast as we can to get everything going. It has been this natural elimination process almost, if you will, of who can keep up, and who’s got what it takes, and who was maybe, for lack of a better term, a little bit of a dead weight. Sometimes that happens. There’s people that come in when you first start a business and they serve a purpose and they do a fabulous job, but when you grow, it’s challenging, and people don’t like change, and it pinches and hurts. You have to get over those hurdles.
We are down to four staff members right now. I’ve got myself. I operate as the CEO. I’ve got a VP of Operations who’s come to me. She’s been with me for about a year-and-a-half. She’s come with about 18 years of experience with another huge franchise concept, so she’s phenomenal. We have a Director of Education that we just hired. We’re also bringing on a Director of Lash Innovation here soon. We have an Operations Support person. Those are the titles, but honestly, we are at the point where everybody realizes that you don’t just have one lane. You’ve got many lanes and everybody is doing multiple jobs at this point in the game. As we grow a little bit more, and we get past this point, we will start narrowing down our focus into what we all specialize in, but right now, everyone that I hire has to be okay and willing and capable of picking up and doing whatever it takes to get it done.
Adam Robinson: You’re saying utility players, then. People who could work in an environment that is hyper growth, where every day is different and they can do lots of different things.
Anna Phillips: That is it. Honestly, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
Adam Robinson: That’s a great segway. Your people are your business and it’s how you’re creating competitive advantage at the Lash Lounge. How do you find the right people for your team?
Anna Phillips: That’s another great question. We obviously, we use Hireology, and we’ve been using Hireology for about three years now. Besides Hireology, I think … I’ll come back to that because there’s some points that I think are really cool about it. In the past, I’ve been guilty of hiring friends, of hiring family, or just hiring quickly because I have a quick need and I want to fill it, and sometimes it seems like a warm body is better than nobody, but I’ve realized that, “You know what? There’s a due diligence process that you really need to take.” Sometimes it takes a little while to get through it, but the people who are really going to be good are willing to go through that process, too.
When we started using Hireology actually a few years ago, it really took the emotion out of everything. We’re able to see resumes and candidates and all of their skill sets and everything else for just that, just factual. Will they be the best person for the job? Will they suit what we need? There’s a fair amount of just gut instinct, too. I would say what I’ve learned through the years because there’s no silver bullet. I’ve hired what has been on screen and on paper seems like the perfect person for the job, and they come in, and within a week, it’s very obvious that they are not going to fit the bill. What I’ve learned is rather than just keeping them on and either trying to mold the job to them, be quick to let them go. Be quick to … Because it’s much easier to empty the spot and try to refill it than keeping dead weight on the team. My experience in the past is a lot of times that results in poor morale around the office.
Adam Robinson: Sure. Say more about that. Why do you think it brings morale down?
Anna Phillips: Well, I think your high performers start seeing that you’re willing to let the low performer get away with not doing what they need to be doing, or you are trying to adjust too much to the low performer. There’s that, and just the fact that everybody else is just burning the midnight oil, and this person is not, or they’re not contributing to it. I think that for me, it seems like it would be easy to try and explain to them, “Listen, we just need help,” and this person can help, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to tell these high performers or expect them to work hard when you’re not doing that across the board.
Adam Robinson: Wow. It sounds like you’re building a culture of accountability there at the corporate office. In addition to accountability, what are some other ways you would describe the culture you’re trying to build as you grow this business as fast as you are?
Anna Phillips: Yeah. I just recently had a conversation about this with one of my partners who is I would consider one of my amazing mentors, too. One of the things that I am not worried about, but fearful of a little bit, and I’m trying to have a plan and stay ahead of the game. I’ve seen a lot of companies grow so fast that the culture suffers from it because it’s hard. Unless you have that foundational culture in place in the beginning, it’s hard to keep them both growing at the same time. My concern is I don’t want to lose that culture around the office.
In our business, especially in our salons, the staff that really touches our consumers are our lash stylists. Our human capital is the most important thing for us. Teaching them how to create an amazing experience. The training on the application is very important, too, but we have it down so pat, we could train anybody to do that. It really is finding that servant’s heart in the staff that we’re hiring. Finding people who understand what good customer service is, how to take care of clients. I feel like the staff in the salons, that is so important. The people that they are looking to for guidance is their owners which is our franchisees. Our franchisees are looking to us for guidance, so it really needs to start from the top down.
I feel like it’s so important for me to hire staff in my corporate office who understand that. They’re patient when franchisees call. Sometimes you’re in a rush or trying to get things done, and someone calls them, wants to talk on and on about something that you don’t feel like is pertinent at the time, but it’s important to me that they realize this is our customer. A servant’s heart is very important to me. I feel like that broods the culture and just communication. A collaborative communication I think is very important. When you’re growing, it’s easy to put your head down, and just get working, and nobody knows what you’re doing. You have to make sure that you’re talking and communicating to people all the time.
Adam Robinson: Absolutely. That’s fantastic. Let’s transition here to what’s on your reading list right now? I know you like to consume all sorts of information. We talked about it in the past. What book are you reading right now? Is it a book you’d recommend?
Anna Phillips: Yeah. I don’t have a whole lot of time to read, so I find myself reading, and it puts me to sleep at night. I go back and forth between a book that I feel like inspires me for work, and then something that is just kind of fills my alter ego desires. The books that I’m in right now is Traction by Gino Wickman. I think it’s an awesome book. I would highly recommend any business owner to read it. It’s all about the entrepreneur operating system. It’s about creating that base foundation and that culture and everything else. It’s been very helpful to me. I’m not all the way through it, and I’ve actually gone back and reread the first few chapters multiple, multiple times.
Then of course my fun book that I just started getting into was Order to Kill, a Mitch Rapp book. It’s kind of my Jack Reacher kind of series.
Adam Robinson: So in your alter ego, you are a super spy? Is that what you’re saying?
Anna Phillips: CIA somewhere, you know, with super skills.
Adam Robinson: Awesome. Very cool. Would you recommend it? How is it so far?
Anna Phillips: So far it’s good. I’m not too far into it, but I love the Vince Flynn Kyle Mills books. They’re really good.
Adam Robinson: Okay. Very good. We are here at the closing question, which we ask all guests who come on the podcast. If you were to come back on this show one year from today, and report on whether or not you accomplish the most important thing on your plate right now that you have to get done in the next year, what is that thing?
Anna Phillips: This is such a good thought-provoking question. When I saw this, I honestly even though I know we are talking with Hireology and it’s a staff, but for me, it is truly building my high performing team. Like I said, we only have about four people right now on staff. In a year, I would like to see this team grow, and really hire the right people, and have that dream team in place, so that I can also move into more out of a task-oriented role, and into more of a visionary role. If I feel like I’ve gotten there, and I can be the leader that I want to be in a year, I will feel like I’ve done it. That’s it.
Adam Robinson: That’s Anna Phillips, founder and CEO of The Lash Lounge, innovative franchise system, first of its kind, growing rapidly, and looking to scale. Anna, thank you so much for being on the program today.
Anna Phillips: Thank you, Adam. It’s a pleasure.
Adam Robinson: That’s the show for today. Thanks for listening to The Best Team Wins podcast where we’re featuring business leaders whose exceptional approach to talent and management has led to outsize results. My name is Adam Robinson. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.