A smooth operator in a hairy industry
Blurb: Pierre Montminy has built Epiderma into the province's largest chain of permanent laser hair-removal clinics

Kate Langevin is young, blond and beautiful. But although much of her good fortune is genetically based, the rest is just plain hard work. Langevin, a 20-year old student, works hard to leverage her natural advantages, an ordeal that has includes extensive shaving and wax treatments to maintain her smooth skin.

"Shaving only takes a couple of minutes, but you have to do it every couple of days," said Langevin, shortly after her third treatment. "That adds up to a lot of hours."

But earlier this year she had enough. So Langevin, --who works part-time to finance her studies-- signed on to get a series of six laser hair removal treatments done on her armpits at Epiderma's Montreal studio.

The company operates a province wide chain of 16 clinics and 50 treatment centers that cater to customers like Langevin. Laser treatments consist of a series of high-energy pulses that are applied directly to hair follicles. A gel is applied to ease the energy pulse spread, which hits several hair follicles simultaneously. That means treatments last only a couple of minutes.

"It gives a little bit of a tingling sensation, but it's well worth it," Langevin said, shortly after her third treatment. "I started to see results after my first visit and now the hair is almost all gone."

Epiderma offers a variety of hair removal packages. The most popular are armpit treatments, lower legs and the "bikini," special. List prices range from $390 for the underarm region to $2,660 for a complete leg treatment (both upper and lower), though there are many discount options available.

Langevin is not alone in her frustration with fighting the hair wars. According to Pierre Montminy, Epiderma's president, Quebec clients are flocking to permanent hair removal clinics in droves.

That's especially true of working women, in the 25 to 55 age bracket, who have seen their disposable income increase, but their free time drop.

"People today are less and less tolerant of bodily hair," Montminy said. "So hair removal has become one of the most important beauty treatments available."

Montminy, --who looks more like banker than a beauty salon operator,-- came into the trade late in life. He spent the better part of his career at Imperial Tobacco, including stints as sales manager and then human resources director. But when the firm announced the closure of its St-Antoine St. plant, Montminy saw the writing on the wall, and he began to look for a business to buy.

In early 2003 he acquired Epiderma from its founders, both doctors, and immediately set about trying to increase the company's reach.

One priority was strengthening the company's extensive training plan. Almost anyone can buy laser hair removal equipment and set up shop. Montminy quickly realized that what set the Epiderma's 130 employees apart was their extensive training and he immediately set about tightening standards.

He also added two new clinics last year and instituted an extensive advertising campaign, which has made Epiderma a household name among Quebec francophone women. The results have paid off. Annual sales shot up 24 per cent to $10 million during the past year and by 60 per cent since Montminy took over. Although there are no statistics available, numerous observers confirmed Epiderma's claim as the province's largest laser hair removal chain.

The hair removal industry is highly competitive, with salons offering a wide variety of techniques and services. Permanent hair removal using electrolysis has been available for about three decades. But according to Philippe Coquin, publisher of beauty magazine Les Nouvelles Esthéthiques, laser hair removal techniques have made great inroads into the marketplace.

"Electrolysis requires the insertion of a needle in order to kill the follicle by applying an electric current to the root," Coquin said. "But you have to kill each hair one at a time, so the process can drag on."

That said, Coquin continues to see a future for electrolysis, because laser based techniques are only effective on black hair and cannot pick up finer colors such as red and blonde.

The tight industry competition means that Montminy cannot afford to rest on his laurels. The company plans to invest between $1.5 and $2 million in new equipment, network development and branch upgrades this year. Montminy is also looking at the market outside of Quebec where penetration is much lower than it is in Quebec. He plans to start by opening three new outlets in Ontario, possibly in the Ottawa and Kingston regions where he is now looking.



Fact Box:
Company Name: Epiderma
Web-site: www.epiderma.ca
Owner: Pierre Montminy
Founded: 2000
Products: Laser hair removal services
Employees: 130
Phone #: 514-281-0218





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