A Leader in Lasers

Ideal Image

The first Ideal Image center opened in October, 2001, and immediately generated a successful response, enabling the company to expand and sell franchises across the country. By 2008, the number of its laser hair removal locations grew to 50 before Ideal Image sold part of the company to an investment-banking group. A change of heart followed as the company felt it would be better equipped to manage the guest experience and brand integrity by owning the locations outright. “So the company purchased back the majority – 90 percent – of the franchises and ran them themselves in order to control customer service as well as the brand. A couple of years later, the banking group and founders sold the company to Steiner Leisure – which is a publicly traded company – our parent company which is traded on NASDAQ,” says President Bruce Fabel. Steiner Leisure is a billion dollar company that also owns the Bliss and Remède spas, in addition to premium cosmetic and skin care lines, including Elemis and LaTherapie.

Parent company Steiner Leisure operates most of the spas on several cruise lines like those owned by Carnival Corporation, as well as Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and others. The company runs 150 shipboard spas, along with 65 land-based spas and 17 schools around the world that specialize in massage therapy training and certification. Ideal Image represents about 20 percent of Steiner Leisure’s business. In 2012, Steiner Leisure brought Mr. Fabel on board to facilitate and lead Ideal Image’s expansion, which consisted of opening 20 new locations in 2012 and 30 in 2013. This year, Ideal Image intensified its growth strategy with a more diversified selection of services that include minimally invasive cosmetic treatments for the face and body, and tattoo removal in all of its locations. With a qualified team of licensed medical professionals, the entirety of the company’s services are administered by nurse physician’s assistants, registered nurses, or nurse practitioners.

In addition to its nationwide recognition in the U.S., Ideal Image also recently opened up its first location in Canada and was so successful that a second center in Vancouver was added. Toronto will be next, but the company is taking a step back from opening locations to focus on the preparation needed for rolling out all of the new services. “We want to make sure that our people are highly trained with all the processes and protocols in place for a safe and effective environment,” Mr. Fabel adds.

Until the end of 2013, the company was only offering laser hair removal, but Mr. Fabel saw an opportunity to enhance the guest experience with a comprehensive selection of new cosmetic services. “The wonderful thing about laser hair removal is that the results are permanent, but, from a lifetime value of consumer standpoint, it’s fiscally short-lived,” he explains. “Once you service a guest and their desired result is achieved, it is unlikely that they will need to come back. In order to cultivate a more long-term relationship with our guests, we needed to add new skin rejuvenation services. This includes Ultherapy, Botox, Restylane and tattoo removal. Ideal Image is also rolling out IPL (intense pulsed light treatments) which is photo facial rejuvenation and body sculpting with CoolSculpting in select centers.” Through the deployment of these treatment options, Ideal Image now can provide a guest with all of their cosmetic needs, whether it be for the face or body. Skin can be tightened, sun damage diminished or eliminated, and love handles and other problem areas can be improved without the need for surgery.

Among the new body services recently introduced is CoolSculpting, a technology that freezes and kills fat, while the body absorbs and excretes the broken down fat cells. This non-invasive cosmetic procedure produces results that are similar to liposuction, but without the surgery and downtime. During the actual CoolSculpting session, while the technology is at work treating problem areas, guests are relaxed and free to play with their iPad, read a magazine, or even talk on the phone. Treatments are typically two hours in duration and since there is no pain or recovery time, normal activities can immediately be resumed.

CoolSculpting services are reasonably priced at $600 per treatment cycle. For instance, if a guest wanted to treat their entire abdomen area and love handles, it would require approximately four treatment cycles. In light of the financial investment required for CoolSculpting, or any of Ideal Image’s services for that matter, the company makes financing easier with three different payment plans that present affordable options for its guests.

Laser hair removal, the core of the Ideal Image brand, is a source of pride for the company because unlike many of its competitors, the company only allows highly trained and experienced licensed medical professionals to perform the laser hair removal treatments, a key area of differentiation. License requirements may vary in different states, meaning that those with an aesthetician or electrolysis license are technically qualified to perform laser hair removal treatments, often with limited exposure to operating a laser, yet Ideal Image’s standards eclipse those basic qualifications. “The problem with using practitioners who might lack certain medical training or experience with the lasers is it increases the risk of incorrectly calibrating the laser and potentially causing injury to the guest as a result. We have provided 4.3 million treatments and use registered nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Many of our competitors use aestheticians or medical assistants,” says Mr. Fabel.

Only using medical practitioners to perform its laser hair removal services enables Ideal Image to ensure the highest level of safety, consistency, efficacy, and professionalism in every treatment. In addition to the practitioners’ formal training and certification as nurses, the company mandates that its medical team undergo an additional 120 hours of laser hair removal training, maintaining an exceptional standard of care. The company offers laser hair removal in packages of nine treatments, the number recommended for effectively destroying the hair follicles in any given area. Many competitors in the laser hair removal industry entice guests with deep discounts and specials on these services, but it’s important to ask questions and research the type of laser being used during the treatment and the number of treatments included to guarantee a legitimate return on your investment. Not all lasers are equally powered to sufficiently and permanently remove the hair, which could result in unwanted regrowth later on. To provide the optimal hair removal experience that lasts, Ideal Image only uses the reputed gold standard in laser technology, the Alexandrite or YAG laser, for the most permanent outcome.

Ideal Image has revolutionized its commitment to the guest experience with an emphasis on research and development, positioning itself to incorporate industry advancements and quickly respond to consumer demand. Consistent with the surge in skin rejuvenating services, one of the company’s new services is Ultherapy skin lifting, a micro-focused ultrasound technology. The superficial muscular aponeurotic system (SMAS) is a layer of the muscular system in the face, which connects the skin to the muscle. Ultherapy uses ultrasound energy to treat the face and neck by stimulating the production of collagen in this deep structural support. “It accomplishes this through the skin, but does not disrupt or irritate the skin surface in the process resulting in a tightening effect,” says Mr. Fabel. “It is below the skin and the skin starts to tighten up almost immediately. Your body wants to repair the micro coagulations, so it builds collagen around these little micro-coagulations over 6 to 12 months, and your face and neck continue to improve over that period of time.”

Ultherapy gradually renders results similar to that of a mini face lift, and like the other cosmetic services the company offers, it’s a non-invasive, cost-effective alternative that doesn’t limit the guest in any way since there is no downtime or recovery period associated with the treatment.

For the reduction of facial lines and wrinkles, Ideal Image offers most of the brand name injectables. “The wrinkle relaxers that we use are Botox and Dysport. These products are injected into the forehead, between the eyes and the sides of the eyes,” Mr. Fabel explains. “It relaxes the muscles and eliminates your ability to contract those muscles. When you receive these injections, the lines on your face disappear – no more frown lines. I used to look like a Shar Pei (the dog with all the wrinkles) and now I don’t have a wrinkle on my forehead!”

The second type of injectables are known as fillers. As we get older, the veins and the bones in the hand, for instance, become more visible because the skin is thinning and there is less hyaluronic acid in the connective and dermis tissues of the skin. This reduction in skin fullness is most noticeable in the face, neck and hands. Ideal Image takes a substance that is already naturally found in our bodies and injects it into the lines in the face, mouth, and nose to make one look younger. It is especially used to soften the appearance of the nasolabial folds – the two lines that come down from the side of the nose to the corners of the mouth – and can also be used to increase fullness in the lips. As with all of the injectable treatments, there is no recovery time, and results are either instant or they become visible within a week.

An additional new facial service the company provides uses broadband light (BBL) and is similar to a laser, but is actually an intensive pulse of light. It helps to eliminate facial blemishes such as hyper pigmentation resulting from sun exposure. This procedure also treats rosacea and the spider veins that some people have on the side of the nose. “We do a treatment to your face with this new technology called Photo Facial BBL and can remove those brown spots and spider veins,” says Mr. Fabel. We are rolling out both of these new technologies, Cool Sculpting and BBL, next month, and that is our focus through to the end of the year. Next year we will continue to look at expanding in the U.S. and Canada.”

Ideal Image’s broadened offering of services also entails a tattoo removal treatment that has sparked a high volume of interest among guests. The latest technology, Picosure, is used at Ideal Image, and the science behind this cutting edge technology is the length of the pulse and energy. The Picosure pulse is one million times shorter than the old technology called the Q-switched laser. If you think of an ink molecule in a tattoo as a rock, the old technology would break up the rock into pebbles, whereas the new technique breaks it up into sand. For tattoo removal, the body takes the ink away when it is small enough; when it’s too big the body cannot absorb it into the bloodstream. So, this technology is much less irritating, there is less scarring, and it takes fewer treatments to remove most tattoos completely.

With the implementation of all these new services, it is critical to have highly trained team members and employee retention is of paramount importance. Two years ago, when Mr. Fabel joined the company, there was a great deal of turnover when it came to nurses. In an effort to identify the source of the migration, he enlisted the help of the human resources department to conduct an electronic survey, eliciting feedback as to what outgoing nurses did not like about working at the company and why they were leaving.

The study found that other hospitals were paying a few dollars more per hour on weekends, so Mr. Fabel devised a “shift differential pay” of four dollars per hour more on weekends. The nurse practitioners were being reimbursed $1,000 for their continuing education and he followed through with that as well. Turnover decreased from 50 percent per year to 22 percent the following year.

In terms of corporate culture, there is also a big health initiative throughout the organization that Mr. Fabel developed. In the corporate office, there are three fitness classes per week after work hours. Three different instructors come in to teach classes consisting of boot camp, yoga, and a step class. “We also reimburse all of our employees for participating in 5km, 10km, half marathons and full marathons. We have designed and distributed workout shirts to all our employees that participate with the Ideal Image logo emblazoned on the shirt. Sometimes we have 40 to 50 employees in the running events and it’s really fun to see all those shirts.”

Ideal Image is all about providing its guests with a safe treatment. “If it’s laser hair removal, we will remove that hair for them. If it’s about making that skin tighter and less sun damaged, we are all about providing them with efficacy in a safe customer service environment.” And since all one hour consultations are free at any of the company’s 130 centers, the guest has an opportunity to learn about the treatments and the company’s premier service.

As for the future of Ideal Image, Mr. Fabel describes the company’s vision as becoming the foremost cosmetic service provider in the industry while remaining true to its original philosophy of consistently delivering a safe and effective guest experience. “We want to be the Ritz Carlton or Nordstrom of the cosmetic medical industry. It’s about creating a great experience for the consumer with impeccable service and a clean, safe environment.”

June 4, 2020, 10:06 PM EDT