12 mins | 1,900 words
By: Randy Gaudreau
Like many other business owners, the challenges of the past year have made it anything but business-as-usual for Lucie Rosano, Owner of Esthetics by Lucie. Throughout the pandemic, unpredictable conditions and closures restricted her business and forced her to rely on finding support to keep it going.
According to Lucie however, the closures provided her with a bit of breathing room and a rare chance to examine how the in-person business she built could thrive in the digital economy – with the help of the Transformation Team from the Digital Main Street Future Proof program.
Lucie got her first opportunity as part of the first group of graduates of Ottawa’s Versailles Academy in the early 1980s, after the downtown Ottawa Holt Renfrew location reached out to the school looking for the best candidate to help launch the upcoming Prescriptive line of Estée Lauder.
However, after a year of working to build the brand in close proximity to strong fragrances, Lucie developed a medical condition that made her unable to continue in the role that she loved. But despite the setback, it wasn’t long before an entrepreneurial opportunity came her way that would give her another option to get her young career started.
Shortly after walking away from the position she loved, Lucie heard from her former instructor from the academy, Joan Hart. After operating her own esthetics business and building a legacy of her own for 18 years, Joan decided she was going to move back home to Denmark to get married and take care of her father.
To be sure the clientele she’d build was in good hands, Joan reached out to her former student Lucie to see if she had any interest in buying the business and taking over its clientele after she left.
Lucie’s reaction at the time was understandably one of disbelief.
“I basically laughed,” she said.
“She had 18 years of experience and she was amazing. But after laughing at Joan, I decided that maybe it could be the best thing for me,” she added. “And so, she took me under her wing and stayed with me for six weeks and trained me in her techniques.”
Strategically, Joan kept the transition under wraps as to not upset her regular clientele, who both Joan and Lucie felt would simply not stand for a rookie replacement.
“She told all her clients she was going away on a holiday,” Lucie added laughing. “She didn’t tell them that she was going away permanently, because she didn’t feel like they would give me a chance. They were with her for 18 years, and she was in her 50’s. They’re not going to trust somebody that’s 25 years old,” she added. “She just basically said, ‘I trust Lucie. Lucie is going to look after you.’ So, they stayed with me.”
But according to Lucie, it wasn’t the smoothest of transitions.
“Let me tell you it was brutal for those poor clients,” she said. “It’s one thing to go to school and another when you actually get the practical experience. And those customers were very, very loyal to Joan,” she explained. “Had they thought I’d purchased the business; they would’ve run out that door and never looked back.”
A local favourite despite changing locations and a changing industry
Now, 35 years later, she’s still running her own business, offering facials, waxing and sugaring, as well as nail and eyebrow services.
And after being voted as Best Esthetician in Faces Magazine for the past four years, it’s safe to say Lucie has built a loyal clientele of her own, gaining a reputation for what she describes as the best Brazilians in town.
“We do everything, but we’re famous for our Brazilians,” said Lucie. “I’m the queen of Brazilians. That’s 90 per cent of our business, that’s our specialty and that’s what we’re known for because of our method, our prices, our product, the knowledge we have, and our speed.”
The success comes despite having relocated the business several times – from the original Esthetics by Joan location on the second floor, to the third floor, then to Laurier Avenue and come back full circle, to locate once again in the Sparks Street area, only this time, with a street-level location.
But much more than location has changed over the past 35 years. Gone are the days where if you wanted anything done, you’d have to head downtown to where all the action was. These days, according to Lucie, consumers are opting to make their longer appointments a little closer to home.
“Back in the day, downtown was the happening place,” she said. “So, if you wanted your hair done or massage or esthetics done, you had to come downtown.”
“Today, it’s the reverse,” she explained. “People come in for their quick service at the buildings when they’re downtown. But if they’re going to have anything more than that done, they’re going to have it done in their area in Manotick, Barrhaven, Orleans, or Stittsville – wherever they’re living.”
Regardless of changes in the industry, according to Lucie, her reputation for quick service and her skillfully delivered services at reasonable prices keeps customers coming back.
“Our technique is amazing,” she said. “We have a great location and have great prices and we use the best products. And I do everything I can to make sure that people who are getting waxed, get the best service that they can.”
Unpredictable pandemic conditions – and a changing game plan
From experiencing the initial lockdown restrictions, it was clear to Lucie that getting people in and out for fast services approach wasn’t going to work, and she needed to adapt her business to stay profitable.
“We had our door locked once we brought a customer in, and then it’s a one-hour process,” she said. “Generally speaking, it’s a 15-minute service. But by the time you sterilize, cash out the customer, they fill out the form, and you do the service, it’s an hour. We are not priced for one-hour service,” she explained. “We’re priced for half an hour at maximum.”
Add in a lack of foot traffic, and a population focused on shopping online, and it’s a perfect storm that she says will continue to adversely affect her business until things fully get back to normal.
“When we go back to work, we have no business because we’re in a downtown location,” she explained. “All the government customers, all the students, everybody’s doing things online, and there’s zero traffic. We depend on the people who work in the building and say, ‘what’s new on Sparks Street?’ And then we also get visitors.”
“Well,” she added, “there’s no visitors because there’s nobody staying at the hotels. And there’s no people in the buildings.”
Updating and upgrading online – with a little help from the Sparks Street BIA and Invest Ottawa
According to Lucie, the various levels of government and the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area (BIA) have been beacons in the dark times of COVID-19, providing hope through resources and opportunities for small businesses in the area.
One resource forwarded by the Sparks Street BIA introduced Lucie to the services available from the Transformation Teams of the Digital Main Street (DMS) Future Proof program, made available through Invest Ottawa – and she reached out.
“I just reached out, and spoke to a representative,” she said. “And he said, ‘OK, tell me a bit about yourself, and tell me what you need’ and then they set me up.”
Working with the Transformation Teams of DMS Future Proof
During a two-week period of digital transformation, the Future Proof Transformation Team was able to help create a clear and cohesive brand for Esthetics by Lucie by updating existing logos and graphics, creating marketing materials, and fresh new web-copy, which was also translated to offer corresponding French content on the website.
They also helped Lucie create a new Squarespace website, which would replace their dated existing site with one offering e-commerce and scheduling capabilities.
“They helped us with our website, they did the translations to French, they had somebody to help us with our social media, they just basically helped us put everything together,” she said. “We wouldn’t have ever been able to afford something like that.”
More than just digital tools
Aside from website improvements, Lucie explained that the DMS Transformation Team helped her understand how to reach out to new markets with her core customers of student and government workers working and studying remotely.
“This is what I asked Digital Main Street,” she said. “How do I market? How do I reinvent myself in the downtown core? I’ve never had to worry about downtown because I had my own established clientele. They said, ‘you have to reinvent yourself. This is how you have to do your social media; this is how you do your blogging.’ They re-educated me basically, and now, we’re going to implement something completely new.”
Putting the digital plan into action
With the right pieces put in place by the Transformation Team, Lucie is hoping that to put everything into action – with help from her family.
“We have to work on it still,” she said. “My husband is still working full-time from home, so he took the time out to sit and down and talk to the team, and my daughter is going to be doing the social media. So now, honestly, it’s just a matter of putting everything together and implementing what they gave us.”
I think by September, we’ll be fine again,” she added. “We can only do our best and hope for the best.”
The results are on the way
With many of the changes just starting to be integrated, Lucie is optimistic that the work done by the team has already put her business in a better position.
“I’m very happy with the work and I’m sure it’s going to change things 100%,” she said. “It’s something that was unaffordable, and something I couldn’t imagine doing – especially in these times when there’s no income coming in at all.”
“I’m very blessed and grateful to have a team of experts like this,” she added. “I have spent tons of money on people working on my website and designing my website. And I didn’t have one-tenth of the service that got from Digital Main Street. I had hired people to do my social media, and paid an exuberant amount of money, signed contracts. And nothing came out of it,” she said. “Zero.”
“And now, I am 100% sure that it’s going to be a 100% turnaround.”
“Moving forward, if a pandemic like this happens again, or if I want to retire, I’ll be able to go online and sell products to be able to survive because of Digital Main Street and how they helped us.”- Lucie Rosano
Along with the strengthened online presence, Lucie plans to take advantage of the e-commerce capabilities of her improved website to venture into retail, giving her, and a bright future.
“I’ve never been in the retail end of it,” Lucie said. “I don’t know what to buy, what’s going to sell, what isn’t. Especially with these economic times, how do you guess? How do you attract them to your website to purchase your products? I didn’t really want to take that leap.”
“Now we’re going to go online, because of Digital Main Street,” she said.
“When we went on lockdown, a lot of businesses were prepared to sell online, because they were already selling things. But we’re more of a personal business, one-on-one, and we didn’t sell products.”
“Moving forward,” she continued, “if a pandemic like this happens again, or if I want to retire, I’ll be able to go online and sell products to be able to survive because of Digital Main Street and how they helped us.”
Visit the Digital Main Street Future Proof success stories page to find out how to support local businesses and hear from others who’ve been able to get online with the help of Digital Main Street and Invest Ottawa.
Though the Future Proof program is no longer accepting applications, Invest Ottawa has a wide range of programs to help businesses of all levels – whether just getting started or well established. Visit the Invest Ottawa webpage to learn more.
Also, be sure to sign up to Invest Ottawa’s newsletters for updates about small businesses, available programs, and upcoming events.
A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.