Part of the Aging and Innovation Special Report
Most people will agree that a fresh haircut or manicure can do wonders to lift spirits.
But what happens when you can no longer leave your home to visit your favorite salon? Grooming and beauty affect the body as well as the spirit. With loneliness and isolation in older adults cited as one of the most pressing issues in the U.S., even something as seemingly mundane as a cut and style can be a tool in combating an increasingly pervasive public health issue.
Belle Cares is an Uber-like service that lets people order a stylist, manicurist or massage therapist through an online appointment system. The startup, founded by Armand Lauzon and based in Nashville, allows older adults who can’t leave their homes (and their caregivers) to easily experience the feeling of going to a salon in their own homes — and even their own beds.
A large roster of highly-trained, licensed professionals are dispatched as they indicate their availability through Belle Cares’ online system. Services include manicures, pedicures, haircuts, hairstyling, massage and fitness. (A women’s cut is $69, a manicure is $27 and a 60-minute massage is $79.)
“We follow the sharing economy model where everyone who provides services for us is an independent contractor,” Lauzon said. “That’s part of the value we offer to the professionals as well — you can do one appointment per month or 100 appointments or month. You can build your way up or scale down when you need to, and it provides them with flexibility.”
A Pivot to Serve the Most Demand
The original point of the company was to provide in-home salon services, yoga and massage therapy to customers of all ages. That business, Project Belle, still exists and runs, but nine months after its launch in 2015, company leaders were surprised when they looked at the data they had amassed. Overwhelmingly, customers were older adults and their adult children, who served as family caregivers, booked their appointments.
“We decided late last year to pivot and embrace it, and that is how we started Belle Cares,” Lauzon said.
After doing a “deep dive,” he noted that it was obvious to shift the business, given the booming market and trend for aging in place. Lauzon views the services as lacking and necessary for older adults and their caregivers.
“When you move into older adults, they absolutely need to have it. Their drivers license may be revoked, they may be recovering from surgery, they might have mobility issues or it might be dangerous for them to travel,” he explained. “When we send professionals into their homes to offer services, you can see the impact immediately and in a tremendous way.”
For example, he mentioned a woman in her mid-80s who had a stroke and went for months without having her hair or nails done. One of her sons found Belle Cares and booked a hair appointment. He then began to book different services for her at least three days a week.
“Everyone absolutely adored this woman and was touched by the experience of working with her,” Lauzon said.
Working With Older Clients
Lauzon noted that not all stylists are used to working with an older clientele. The company, he said, has a “thoughtful and intense recruiting, on-boarding and training program” to work with the professionals who will be serving Belle Cares clients. Monthly meetings are held for stylists of various specialties to share their knowledge and best practices and to talk with Belle Cares management about product needs and customer feedback.
They have learned from client requests about what is most important to know and what they need to learn.
“Hair, for instance, is very different with older people’s hair. The texture is different and the style preferences are different,” Lauzon said. “For example, wash and sets are really popular in the South in the elderly population, but younger generations — well, that doesn’t really exist. We have to make sure stylists have experience in doing that, so appointments go smoothly.”
However, even stylists and nail techs working with older adults for the first time in their careers are often gratified by the work, he said, and many are willing to learn new techniques to make clients happy.
“The really cool thing we see is that professionals who work with seniors say they have a huge amount of fulfillment and personal satisfaction in working with them,” he said. “It’s very different from Project Belle — our demand beauty and wellness for a younger clientele — where having an in-home service is a convenience and luxury. In the case of our older clients, it is a powerful thing to be able to serve them when they need us.”
Additionally, the Belle Cares staffers have learned to recognize that the work they do contributes to better health for some clients.
“This service is not just a way to improve a quality of life, but we’ve realized nail care is an important aspect of health. Many older adults cannot take care of their feet like they did when they were younger — it is a serious condition. We never thought of that, but it’s an important service that we provide,” Lauzon said.
A Growing Company
Lauzon said that Belle Cares serves retirement, assisted living and nursing home communities — some of which have an on-site salon space but need staffing — in just the Nashville and Middle Tennessee area. Although people from other states have approached him about expansion, Lauzon plans to hone the current model until he feels comfortable with moving to other states. When that happens, he said the company will work in the footprints of existing groups of assisted living centers, which often are owned by single companies but spread across regions or the entire country.
In the meantime, Lauzon said, Belle Cares will continue to improve itself, reading every customer review and continuing to better understand the needs of its clients and their caregivers.
“It’s a powerful thing to be able to offer these services to this group,” he said.
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