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Francesca Webster

05 April 2011


Name: Francesca Webster
Position: Founder and franchisor Brazilian Beauty

What has been your best financial decision? Without a doubt, it was getting an industry specific business coach. It’s about hiring the right help, getting the right skills when you need them.

Francesca Webster has just returned from China where she’s been sourcing suppliers and manufacturers for her new company, The Australian Skin Institute. The company will offer a skincare range made with all fresh ingredients and preservative free. It makes good sense to integrate the business with her successful Brazilian Beauty franchise business, which now has 13 locations. 

But these businesses are just half the story. Francesca and her partner, Andrew, also run an Angus cattle and Dorper sheep stud, and berthed in the Whitsundays is their 52-foot power catamaran. Available for charter (they wanted the catamaran to pay for itself), Francesca says, in a tone of slightly amused disbelief, “It actually makes money”.

“But I’m not a serial entrepreneur,” she continues. “It is just nice to have businesses your passionate about and that you have an affinity with.”

The cattle and sheep stud, three hours from Brisbane near Stanthorpe, is 1000 acres and allows Francesca to indulge her passion for riding horses.

Wide open spaces

“I love that big wide open space, same as being on the water really… and I love the nurturing side of the stud farming business. With the beauty industry I love what we do. It’s nice to own a business that you have a synergy with, that you can relate to and get excited about.”

Brazilian Beauty, established in 2004, has three company owned locations and 10 franchises. Of the 13 locations, 11 are in Brisbane and there is one each in Victoria and South Australia. Over the next three years Francesca would like to think they will have doubled their outlets, believing growth of 2-4 units a year is very achievable.

“In franchising, apparently, the critical unit level is 12. At this level things need to change in the business if you’re going to go into the next phase successfully. Head office structures change, the admin, the business plan. The company’s positioned for the move financially and our succession planning is in place, our training, the team, our people are all good. We are primed for the next jump.”

Francesca admits that she’d love to own the NSW market but a critical number of locations need to open at the same time to support the marketing and the branding required for a store to open and operate profitably.

“We have had people approach us but there’s economies of scale needed to open in a new market. We discovered that with our current interstate sores. It has been more difficult. If we look at the Brisbane area the story is quite different. People have heard of the brand, they know it and so it is easier.”

Growing interest

And there are parties out there, including investors who want to open sites but not operate them.

“Our model is owner operator based. A couple of years ago, I got involved with an investor operator and spent most of my time running their salon. I’m not interested in going down that track, again,” says Francesca of her business model choice.

Moving to Australia to live 10 years ago, having had a successful career in IT working for the BBC, Morgan Stanley and Shell, Francesca couldn’t find anything in Australia with the scope she’d experienced in the UK and Europe. Thinking through what she would like to do, and with two children, her predominant drivers were to do something that would work in with her lifestyle, give her flexibility and ownership. 

“I wanted something I could grow and be passionate about and manipulate and be creative with. Andrew and I looked at several different industries. I liked the idea of hair and beauty and of the industries we researched and to which we could both bring our skill sets and produce a really good product or a point of difference, the beauty industry ticked the boxes. It has a couple of main players in it but is predominantly mum and dad corner store in nature, so we saw it as an industry ready to boom.”

Best move

Beginning in 2004 the business did well from day one, due in no small part to the couple’s investment in advertising and marketing, generating interest and clients. That is not to say there weren’t major struggles.

“At the end of the first year,” says Francesca, “we needed to stop and take stock. That was when we realized we probably needed some help from somebody with specific industry experience. It was at that point we enlisted an industry specific business coach and I think that was the best decision we ever made.”

For Francesca the high points included being able to develop industry specific systems, policies and procedures.

“They provided us with structure and set goals. We revised our business plan and the best thing of all was the accountability. I suppose it’s like going on a diet and someone saying, you are going to be weighed every week and you actually have to make the commitment. I respond really well to someone holding me accountable.”

Certainly the business coach has been Francesca’s best financial decision and when, after a couple of years he asked them over for dinner she was wildly excited thinking he had some “amazing new module or policy for them to implement”.

“He actually announced he was leaving us, that we no longer needed him. I was devastated. I felt like I’d been dumped. I was almost crying.”

Building female management

One particular policy the company has is to focus on recruiting and promoting from within. Francesca’s aim is to develop team members and provide career opportunities in the company, swelling the numbers of women with management experience. Something she thinks is lagging in Australia.

“It’s really amusing, if Andrew is with me in a business meeting there are some people who still look to him in the room but I run the company not Andrew. Talking to other women in business and corporate management and seeing the hierarchy in Australian business there is a bias against women still.

“Our average team member is female 18-25 years old, no tertiary education but with a beauty diploma. If they want to be able to go on to do a TAFE course or something else, I think that is important. I want to develop talent from within and because of the nature of the business I envisage it to be predominantly female talent.”

3 achievements

My two children: we’ve got through those awful teenage years and that’s fantastic.

Taking the catamaran from Brisbane to the Whitsundays with my partner. Just the two of us, it was a great challenge.

Developing and watching the franchisees and our team members grow. I love being part of their success.

3 passions

There are too many: my dogs, riding, my kids, wide open spaces, skiing. I love skiing and my kids were Australian National Snowboard Champions. I love sport – doing it, watching it.

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