Caryl Baker Visage was like the original YouTube beauty channel and influencer network. In 1969, Baker — a former fashion model and teacher — knew that women wanted a cosmetics ritual that was on trend and flattering and, most importantly, easy to recreate at home.

If you grew up in a small town Ontario, and especially if you were a girl, you know Caryl Baker Visage (CBV) intimately. Long before there were aesthetics “bars” like Waxon, The Ten Spot and Fuzz Wax Bar, there was Caryl Baker Visage. In small towns, she was often the only game for waxing, tinting and makeup applications and Caryl Baker Visage was most often conveniently located at the mall. In Barrie, Ontario, where I grew up, Caryl Baker Visage was where my friends and I would get our eyebrows waxed and our makeup done for prom. Suffice to say, Caryl Baker Visage was the (only) fixture in town for aesthetics.

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Caryl Baker Visage was like the original YouTube beauty channel and influencer network. In 1969, Baker — a former fashion model and teacher — knew that women wanted a cosmetics ritual that was on trend and flattering and, most importantly, easy to recreate at home.

At the time, women were wearing very dark eye makeup and false lashes — think Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot — a very detailed and technically intimidating beauty look for the average women to attempt on her own. Also, makeup technology and innovation weren’t what they are today; formulations were more challenging to manipulate for achieving a certain look and demonstrations were desired to build confidence, and trust in the Caryl Baker brand.

This was the basis of Caryl Baker’s business plan for Visage: a place where women could go to experience makeup, with a free demonstration (or “makeover”) and products for purchase. Really, Caryl Baker Visage was the OG beauty lifestyle store.

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Soon after opening her first bricks-and-mortar location, Caryl began to coach beauty consultants by the hundreds. Baker’s new army of brand advocates travelled around Ontario giving personalized and professional makeup consultations, thereby marketing the Caryl Baker Visage brand right into the homes of Canadian women.

Throughout the 1990’s, the Caryl Baker Visage expanded into the service market, with multiple franchises and consistent product development. Caryl Baker herself was rightfully recognized for being an excellent businessperson; she was named one of of the Top 100 Business Owners by Profit Magazine, and Ivey and the Women’s Executive Network named Baker one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women in Business. Caryl Baker may also be recognized as a fearless feminist, she made a beauty brand thrive when neither beauty nor women were considered serious business.

A few years ago, I located a post on LinkedIn listing for someone to take over the operations of Caryl Baker Visage. I didn’t have the management experience to take over a franchise retail business but I wrote to a beauty director at a Canadian magazine to see if I could write a story about the Caryl Baker brand, and was swiftly turned down. If I were to guess why, it would be because the CBV brand felt too campy in the marketplace to make the monthly news on her pages in the magazine.

Caryl Baker Visage was infinitely campy. Placed beside fellow beauty retailers like Sephora, GEE Beauty and Murale, CBV was the matriarch, yes, but she was feeling a little tired. Her fighting spirit was also her key differentiator, and also her service offering; it’s what drew Justin Dumitrescu and Nathan Tam to look at Caryl Baker Visage with fresh eyes when the business opportunity crossed their desks.

Dumitrescu and Tam met at the University of Western Ontario and both pursued finance on Bay Street in Toronto after graduation. They each went into private equity as investors with different firms, investing in numerous businesses within various industries, learning about acquiring and helping grow businesses.

Like every entrepreneur before them, Dumitrescu and Tam found private equity only half-satisfying and eventually wanted to do for themselves what they were doing for other entrepreneurs — make something out of nearly nothing.

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Dumitrescu and Tam found Caryl Baker Visage through a friendly connection but, beauty retail had not been on their radar as a business to buy. When they took a closer look at Caryl Baker Visage, Dumitrescu and Tam realized there was nothing comparable on the market, and CBV served a white space with its service offerings. There’s a sequence and order to services and products being sold in the same space, they go hand-in-hand.

Not being personally familiar with beauty routines and rigueur, Dumitrescu and Tam spent a lot of time talking to family and friends as consumer research. They spent a significant amount of time in Ontario malls, simply observing how Canadian people were accessing and benefitting from the Caryl Baker Visage retail locations across the province. They used data from the CBV Beauty Club memberships to inform on customer trends and brand loyalty.

What Dumitrescu and Tam uncovered was a very solid business model and platform for retail. Having now become President and CEO of Caryl Baker Visage, respectfully, Dumitrescu and Tam don’t want to make a sea change with the brand because it’s not broken — CBV has a loyal following and a competitive offering.

What they do want to do is grow CBV beyond Ontario to become a national brand. Also, to refresh a few things, give the retail locations a “makeover” to bring them into 2017. The third goal is to press the gas on what makes Caryl Baker Visage different: its leadership in services.

Since acquiring Caryl Baker Visage, Dumitrescu and Tam have opened 6 new locations including their first location outside of Ontario, in Calgary. They are also adding more locations throughout Ontario despite the challenging retail environment, a testament to the power of beauty and the CBV model when most retail markets are losing their lustre.

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Key to the growth of CBV is the intense market demand for lash extensions, a service that takes more time and specialized technique than most other beauty services. Dumitrescu and Tam applied a “glo-cal” strategy to meet the demand for lash extensions by partnering with Xtreme Lashes — the biggest lash extension brand in the world — to make a splash locally. Whereas a big percentage of what Caryl did was privately branded, Dumitrescu and Tam strive for growth through collaboration and brand partnerships, like this year’s launch of anti-aging Power Facials in association with Skeyndor, Spain’s leading skin care innovator.

Retail is tough but the results of Dumitrescu and Tam’s work has been promising, and the beauty space is more competitive than ever. Sales at CBV have been up consecutively for 24 months, and 2016 business increased sales more than 10% over 2015. They accredit the strong franchise network at Caryl Baker Visage for directional feedback and support, and a supremely strong head office team for operating CBV like a mission control centre for Major Baker — most were trained by Caryl Baker personally.

Caryl’s entire purpose was to empower women. She was a female crusader, and she was so impressive to raise her beauty brand to a level of maturity and marketability for Dumitrescu and Tam to excitedly acquire. Caryl Baker Visage may have become campy at one point but that only speaks to its survivability, and her tenacity. Caryl Baker, the sole woman behind this enduring beauty brand, deserves to be honoured as a pioneering Canadian woman entrepreneur.

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About The Author

Rebecca Perrin is Notable Life's Content Director and a writer who covers career, marketing, brand strategy and leadership. Rebecca's lifelong career goal is comprised of two equal goals: to never try to be normal and to always raise the profile of women in leadership.

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