A young leader brings new depth to Alberta’s beauty industry
If Lina Heath, president of the multimillion-dollar beauty company EvelineCharles, had a mantra it would likely be two simple words: “I can.” Heath, who describes herself as persistent, once said she looks for employees with that same attitude. “So many people set personal limits – they are defeated without even trying.”
Now, more than ever, her persistence may be put to the test.
Today, as she stands surrounded by mirrors in the brightly lit EvelineCharles salon in Edmonton’s City Centre Mall, Heath (Marketing ’97) is charged not just with helping the Alberta business weather a province-wide downturn but to use this time as an opportunity to advance her plan for the company’s long-term sustainability.
For her, the key is to focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t and to be willing to experiment – just as she has since she was a girl.
Heath, now 39 years old, grew up in the tiny town of Falher, Alberta, 430 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, fascinated by fashion and beauty. She devoured fashion magazines to stay on top of the trends and tried out what she learned at home.
“I was always experimenting.”
“I was always experimenting,” she says. “It was definitely something I was passionate about at a young age.”
That was clear to her second cousin, Eveline Charles, who hired Heath when she was pursuing her diploma. (“It was never because she is related that she ever got anything from me,” says Charles, who continues to serve as CEO. “I don’t care if you’re family – you have to earn your way.”)
Heath began as a receptionist and was promoted to marketing manager and other positions before becoming president in 2010. Now she’s is leading a new experiment: one that will take the company into new territories – from expanding its product development arm to partnering with one of Canada’s oldest retailers to creating an in-depth online training program.
Her inspiration: the company’s founder. “Eveline is fearless,” Heath says. “She’s very comfortable with calculated risk.”
Passion, patience and perseverance
When Heath started as a 17-year-old at what was known as BiancoNero, (the company was renamed EvelineCharles in 2000) it was growing quickly.
A single Edmonton salon in the ’80s, the business now includes seven salons and spas in Edmonton and Calgary, two hair and esthetic academies and a product development arm.
“We’ve always been true to our core business,” Heath says.
But expansion was born out of the needs of an evolving business: finding and recruiting skilled staff and sourcing the highest-quality ingredients for their products. As a result, “We’ve created a full-circle business model.”
To help meet staffing needs, the company established EC Academy in 2005 to train hairstylists and estheticians. In the last year, enrolment has increased by more than 80 per cent – not uncommon in a downturn when people are seeking new careers. Still, demand is expected to continue: forecasts suggest hairstylist and esthetician occupations will experience above-average growth until 2020.
Heath identified a niche too good to ignore.
As for satisfying the need for product, since the late ’90s the company has developed and manufactured a hair- and body-care line sold exclusively in its own salons and spas. In 2016, Heath identified a niche too good to ignore: the opportunity to manufacture personal care products for health and beauty businesses that wanted to expand their own brands (not to mention providing those businesses with a marketing strategy to help sell them).
EC Labs was created to make products – such as lotion, shampoo and more – that feature local, organic ingredients and are sold in drugstores, salons, spas and medical practices across North America. Based in Edmonton, the lab currently employs eight people, including Alberta’s only cosmetic chemists.
They’re assisted by development technicians Freshta Ahmady and Lizeth Viviana Yepes Garcia (Chemical Technology ’16) who make samples from the chemists’ formulas and test them for stability and function.
Fragrance and packaging, explains Heath, have a heavy influence on a customer’s buying decision. “We study trends for everything – there is real science behind beauty,” she says. “When we design a product, we have to really know who the target market is and understand their preferences.”
One study projects the global organic personal-care market to be worth almost $16 billion by 2020. According to Heath, EC Labs has few competitors in the North American market.
None of this is to say that EvelineCharles isn’t looking to expand the core business that brought it into being. This May, the company opens a new salon and spa in the Hudson’s Bay store in Calgary’s Market Mall.
EvelineCharles is a natural fit for a number of reasons, says Heath: its luxury-brand status, experience running multiple locations and a track record of success in Alberta.
The new Market Mall boutique will initially open as a corporate store but it could lead to more franchising opportunities under the EvelineCharles brand in Hudson’s Bay locations across Canada.
Heath says they learned valuable lessons when they expanded into British Columbia in 2005. “We just couldn’t be everywhere, so we refocused our business in the Alberta market,” she says of their decision to close those stores.
“That’s why we’re looking at a franchise model this time, so that these locations are run by management who are directly invested in making sure they are successful.”
Franchising may be a new frontier for EvelineCharles but, under Heath’s watch, it’s not the final one. She has other experiments in the works.
“We just couldn’t be everywhere, so we refocused our business in the Alberta market.”
They are expanding the reach of their academies with online instruction and they launched a make-up certification program with one of the biggest cosmetic companies in the world (the name of which they’re not allowed to share). As part of the deal, EvelineCharles has exclusive rights to certify cosmetologists with the company’s product.
For Heath, it’s a way to bring an education in esthetics to places not unlike little Falher, where she once would not have imagined formally studying the field.
“We want these opportunities to be extended to everyone,” she says.
It’s that kind of thinking that has given Eveline Charles confidence in the future of the company under Heath. “She is for sure the new leader of our company,” says Charles, who, in considering her “exit strategy,” is moving toward positioning herself as “a sounding board” for the new ideas Heath will execute.
“I honestly feel that, with Lina’s experience and where the company is going, she can be an even better leader than me.”
Heath has the attitude – and the persistence – that may prove this to be true. “I never want to start a project I can’t finish,” says Heath. “Business is a marathon. You have to be able to push through these difficult times to get to the glory.”