Skin deep: How Pippa Hallas is leading $60 million family business Ella Bache into its next stage of growth

Skin deep: How Pippa Hallas is leading $60 million family business Ella Bache into its next stage of growth

 

Pippa Hallas joined her family’s cosmetics business Ella Bache 10 years ago. After a successful career in advertising and marketing in Australia and the UK, the now 39-year-old Sydneysider felt it was the right time to join the business that had filled her childhood.

Ella Bache was founded in Paris in the 1930s by pharmacist and Pippa’s great aunt Ella Bache and beauty therapist and Pippa’s grandmother Edith Hallas, who brought the brand to Australia in the 1950s with her husband George. Their son John Hallas, Pippa’s father, is the sole owner of the company and is still involved as chairman of the board.

There are currently 170 Ella Bache salons in Australia and New Zealand and Ella Bache products are sold in David Jones outlets around the country. The Ella Bache College of Skin and Beauty Therapy operates out of North Sydney and online, and excluding its franchised stores, the company employs 70 staff and 90 David Jones consultants. The Ella Bache salons and retail business has annual turnover of $60 million.

 

Ella Bache was my great aunt and as a chemist, her life’s work was about creating the highest quality products. She was very much a pioneer in that area. My grandmother Edith Hallas was a beauty therapist and she was interested in treating the skin and the behaviour of skin.

The combination of those two amazing women laid the foundations for what Ella Bache is today.

When I left school I did a bachelor of business marketing and I worked until I was 30 in advertising in Sydney and London. I worked across a number of different fields, from consumer products to not-for-profits, government and services business.

When I turned 30 I thought it was an opportunity to make a change in my career. At the time I could have gone down two different pathways. I could have gone back overseas and pursue advertising in London and New York, or I could join the family business.

Being a marketer, it was such a good opportunity to work with a brand like Ella Bache. I feel very lucky the family business was such a fabulous brand and not knives and forks or tyres.

I headed up marketing for Ella Bache for around four years. The chief executive left at that time and the board and I made a decision that although I was still quite young, I would take on the role of chief executive.

It was daunting becoming the CEO of my family’s business. On a personal level it took a good 12 months for me to actually perceive myself as the CEO. I was very comfortable as the head of marketing but taking on the CEO title was a challenge.

Ella Bache is a sales, marketing and education company first and foremost. Given that marketing is the lead function of the organisation, my background helped me enormously.

My father John was the real entrepreneur and I get that from him. I knew my great aunt and grandmother but they were completely different operators. They weren’t business people, they weren’t marketers and they didn’t start with a business plan. They ran the business on their passion.

But I feel blessed to be born into a family that certainly respected women who ran businesses. Here were these two amazing women at a time when women didn’t go to university and didn’t run businesses.

We rebranded Ella Bache last year. It was our 50th anniversary in Australia and it was really fantastic to mark that milestone with a new look and feel for the brand.

In our brand DNA, we’ve always done things differently and we love to be brave in the way we express ourselves in the market. We created a new campaign and imagery, a new look for our salons and a really exciting collaboration with Australian designer Ellery, who designed our new uniforms.

We want to make sure Ella Bache stays relevant for this generation and the next generation of Australians.

The Ella Bache customer is probably around 35-40 years old and someone who values skin health. We always say someone starts to get serious about their skin care when they turn 30 and they make a decision to develop a relationship with a skin therapist and learn more about their skin.

We’re not about vanity or miracles. We believe in long-term skin health and our philosophy is every skin is as individual as a thumbprint.

We started selling Ella Bache products online last year. It is no secret that digitisation and technology is such a big part of the world we live in today and our customers are using technology like never before.

We wanted a solution that gave our customers an online experience that was unique to our brand and it came from our beauty therapists being at the heart of the brand. We literally have a few e-therapists sitting in our head office, educating people online about their skin and prescribing solutions.

Online sales are not the biggest part of our business but we are really happy with the take-up. It’s important for new clients, especially in areas where we don’t have bricks-and-mortar salons.

Our growth plan is based on growing the number of franchise salons. It’s not a high volume strategy but it’s about having the right Ella Bache salons in the right locations.

We launched our education program online last May and we certainly plan to grow that side of the business. It’s pretty amazing; we have chat rooms and virtual classrooms and the students do all their theory online, before coming in to do their practical training face-to-face. This feeds into our salon and retail business.

Expanding internationally is something we would definitely consider but not in the short term. Our focus is here in Australia but to take our franchise model overseas, that’s an opportunity for the future.

I believe in structure and we have a really robust strategic plan that everyone understands. It’s important for everyone to know the vision and the values of Ella Bache but also how they can feed into that.

But you do have to be flexible and resilient enough to change that plan.

What keeps me awake at night is innovation and the experience of Ella Bache customers. The world is changing so rapidly. I am constantly thinking about what the future of Ella Bache will look like from the customer’s perspective and what else we can do to delight our customers and attract new ones.

The influx of international retailers in the beauty and fashion markets means all retailers have to sharpen their pencil a bit more. In retail, you have to be really good at it. You can’t get away with just being OK anymore.

Ella Bache is in my blood. Even when I didn’t work for the company it was a big part of my life. I grew up in a family whose lifestyle is also the business’ lifestyle.

Being a working mum, getting that balance is a constant challenge but I also feel very blessed. 

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