JENNIE LASATER + MOLLY BRANDENBERGER
Lice Ladies was founded in 2008 in Atlanta by Jennie Lasater. With a Master of Science in Biology, she founded the company taking a scientific approach to give clients a safe and effective option for head lice treatment. Using her science background along with our all-natural, FDA approved, safe and effective products, she built a service to help families get rid of their head lice infestations and educate on how to help prevent re-infestation. Now, all of our Lice Ladies Clinics and owners have one mission: to eliminate lice and nits safely and effectively from your family’s hair. The Lice Ladies take a very serious approach to business. They offer professional services by technicians that are trained extensively to be experts, while maintaining the strictest levels of integrity and privacy.
Shantel: Hi Jennie and Molly, welcome to the show.
Molly: Hi there.
Shantel: Hi, we’re so excited to learn more about Lice Ladies and how you guys got started and met, and all the future growth plans that you guys have. I'd love to kick things off with sharing with our listeners a little bit more about your company. What do you guys do?
Molly: We actually have a human head lice removal service. Yes, we sub-lice. We have five corporate clinics around Metro Atlanta where we actually treat people for head lice and we also have our own product line. It's an all-natural enzyme-based product and we're proud that we got an NDC from the FDA on the enzyme, then our comb is registered as a medical device. Then to top that off, to make things even crazier for our lives, we are the franchisors, we decided to franchise it a few years ago, so we have a couple of franchises in Texas, a franchise in Tampa, and we are opening our Athens franchise, actually, this Thursday.
Shantel: Well, congratulations. That's so exciting.
Shantel: I can imagine a lot. I'd be excited to talk more about how you guys optimize your day and split responsibilities, but first, top of mind, what prompted this space in this industry specifically? Do you guys come from a medical background? Did family members have lice? Let's dive a little bit into that.
| HEY DUDE, YOU WANT TO COME PICK SOME LICE? |
Jennie: This is Jennie. I'm a scientist and I was actually writing a continuing ed course about all different species of human head lice. I was reading how there wasn't a company that really had an owner that had a medical or science background, so I thought it would be fun and I decided to start Lice Ladies and then a few years into that, I decided to make my own products. I just wasn't happy with what we had. Molly actually has been one of my very best friends for over 25 years. Molly was at the time, when I was about a year, year and a half in, Molly was in corporate America and she started helping me a little bit on the weekends, part-time for extra money, and it just got so busy that about two years in, I literally called her at work one day and I said, "Hey dude, do you want to come pick some lice with me full-time?"
Molly: I said "Sure, sounds like fun."
Shantel: Okay, so neither came from entrepreneurial backgrounds or doing things like that in the past it just was an idea, and you guys ran with it.
Molly: I mean we kind of in a since were entrepreneurs before. We were in music industry, that's how we met. So to top all that off, we were best friends for a long time and we were in a girls pop R&B group. So you know, we had to have a little entrepreneurial spirit from being able to survive the music industry together and things like that, and we did accomplish a lot of really fun things and cool things and being able to maintain a friendship from that world, we kind of knew that if we could survive that together we could survive pretty much anything together. I guess we had a little entrepreneurial spirit in us from, self-promoting and things like that when we were younger in the music industry.
Shantel: Definitely, yeah, I can't imagine being in that space. It seems pretty cut throat and part of I guess business is cut throat too. So I imagine that tough skin there.
Shantel: So thinking about starting something like this, did you have to have a lot of overhead initially and funding and tap into savings. How did you kind of get this off the ground or was it something you were doing at home initially?
| BACK INTO THE BUSINESS |
Jennie: So I first started it off doing a mobile service where I would go into people's homes and treat them. I didn't have that much overhead just by buying product and gas and marketing. Marketing really was the main expense. And I realize that it was really illegal because I realized getting into several months into it that I wasn't able to get proper liability insurance, and I couldn't get proper workers comp insurance for going into someone's home so I knew eventually I would have to open a clinic and that was really scary. I made a promise to myself that I was going to do everything I could to build it and invest every cent that I made back into the business that I didn't have to take out a loan, or run up credit cards and things like that. We are proud to say that we have not to date had to take a loan out. It's been hard and I'll tell you there have been times where, we've had to eat ramen noodles and or literally a baked potato once a day for a month. I mean, it's been tough, but it's paid off and instead of taking the money and pocketing the money we've put it back into our business and we've really seen it grow. Now with the five corporate clinics we own and being able to provide jobs for people and actually really good living wages for people makes difference in we feel like we are contributing to society and out helping people at the same time, but it definitely was hard to do it ourselves and there was a lot of sacrifice.
Shantel: Absolutely, and Molly so leaving a corporate job...one I imagine had to have a lot of faith in your friend and trust the business that you were jumping into, but were you also in that same position of really just reinvesting everything back into the company or in order to quit the corporate job there had to be some sort of...kind of structure as far as payout?
Molly: I mean, quite honestly it was really just a leap of faith because when you go from a salary position in corporate America and basically you leave that, you're leaving that security. I had already worked with Jennie and I saw the potential of the company, which made it a lot easier for me to say, "Okay, let me go ahead and just try it and just kind of see what happens." I saw the potential, I saw how hard Jennie was working, and I knew that this could be something incredible one day.
Shantel: Definitely, well that's amazing. When you guys both joined together, did you initially both just wear multiple hats or define kind of clearly the roles right off the bat. You know one person would do this, and someone else would pick up this or that was someone's weaknesses or weakness, or was it just let's all pitch in wherever we can initially?
Jennie: I think we knew what each other's strengths and weaknesses were, and that's one of the reasons that we work so well together. Because, where I'm weak she's strong and vice versa. We've honed it of course as the company has gotten so much larger over the years and we've added the product company and the franchise company. Is definitely has always been something that's almost come naturally and I think that was just a blessing knowing each other already through friendship and also through being literally in business together in the music industry when we were younger.
Shantel: Yeah, no that's great. You hear of kind of those horror story co-founder situations and I'm very thankful and lucky to be on your side too of just having a business partner that compliments my weaknesses and it feels very natural where we pick things up and which hats we wear. It's always interesting to hear different perspectives but it sounds like we both pretty lucky in that sense.
Shantel: So how did you guys find your first location? Did you sublease from another clinic? How did that piece go down?
Jennie: So we actually had a client, who gave us a map one day. She worked for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and was a big leg in children's healthcare, and gave us a map that showed us the income areas of Metro Atlanta where the income was the highest. In that income being high, you had also had to have a high population of families and good schools. That was of course something that we had to start studying was where are the families and where is the median income decent where we know that this type of specialty service would actually be used, because it is a specialty service it's not something that people have to use. We looked at the map and we saw that up the four hundred corridor at that time in Alpharetta, was booming and the amount of families and kids moving in and the great schools that were going up and were already there were great in that area. So we opened up our Alpharetta location first.
Shantel: Wow, that's I mean, I can't imagine the value of that map. Just having that information in one place that's great. Alright, so you mentioned this specialty piece. Are there a lot of competitors that do...do what you guys do?
Molly: There are here in the Atlanta area. There are probably fourteen or fifteen other companies just like ours. There are pretty much about three big competitors. We were actually one of the first companies in Atlanta a long with two other competitors. From time to time we kind of see just mom-and-pop shops that kind of pop up here and there, but we've really tried to structure the company to where our five clinics are serving most of the Metro Atlanta area. It's also great now that we have Athens, Georgia, because most of those clients were coming to our corporate locations, but now they've got that home in Athens.
Shantel: Yeah, I can imagine that the location piece playing such a big role in...I mean there's not a level of convenience of not wanting to drive, you know, an hour away to get help with this. Are there any other distinguishers that you guys planted that flag in early on to say this is how we're going to do things different or this is why we're different than the others?
| DON’T CUT CORNERS |
Jennie: Well I think that one of the first thing was the location. Being a specialty service we knew it's not like a fast food restaurant, you can't have one on every corner. So number one was placing the locations in smart areas where they were convenient for many people around the Metro area, but also that we weren't oversaturating ourselves. Especially now, the Atlanta market is way oversaturated with these types of companies and the way that we structured the company really is I think what we're thankful for why we're still successful. Those things that have set us apart to be able to still compete in an oversaturated market, in Atlanta, are really running the company on science-based facts and medical facts. We have a product no on else in the US has an enzyme-based product that actually has an NDC code from the FDA. That was really hard to get. I actually had to submit all my field studies, and write my own ethicacy reports, and I worked with a few scientists...one from Emory and one from the CDC, and then another guy named Jay who actually we still work with, with our Amazon products but we all work together to make sure we had every "I" dotted and every "T" crossed. We have safe products that are effective. We also want to make sure our methodology is great. We don't cut corners, we really try to give people a service that they're going to actually get what they pay for. And then as we kept growing we realized we had to really pay money to hire the proper type of staff that can represent our brand well. We have to make sure that the children that come in and the mothers that come in that they're safe and that they're also leaving lice free. That makes us hire a more professional and high quality staff that we know that these children are in good hands if we're not in that particular clinic that day. The women that we have that work for us are wonderful and they treat our clients great and kids are safe and people rave about our staff and that makes us so, so happy that these girls are working hard and making these families feel like they've actually had a good experience and something that most families would completely freak out about. Those are the types of values we try to set and really hold everyone to a high brand standard that Lice Ladies which I think is why it set us apart and why people are wanting to buy our franchises.
Shantel: Yeah, absolutely. Did with the ladies as kind of part of the name...is it part of the mission and purpose only to hire women to help with this?
Jennie: No, we've actually hired a few guys before. My husband's even been contracted to help with summer camp checking heads and things like that. We really haven't been able to keep a guy on staff very long. I think it's almost equivalent to working with pre-schooled kids sometimes when you've got kids in diapers and nursing mothers and pregnant women and you know elementary school kids and then you've got high schoolers, you've got all ages and everyone from all different walks of life and sometimes I think, it's just so happened that women tend to be able to handle that in a little bit more nurturing way. Again, we have had men that work for us, but I think it was maybe a little too much that they were just weren't really satisfied and it felt maybe a little uncomfortable.
Shantel: Well your husband sounds like a good trooper for sure.
Jennie: He is, he always says, "Do I have to go to camp this summer?"
Shantel: I would love to switch gears a little bit. So we touched on marketing at the beginning and that was a big piece of...a big expense initially. Just thinking about life, and correct me if I'm wrong if you guys totally want to push back on this, maybe it's not the most sexy or it feels a little bit more private and I guess if I had lice I would feel very embarrassed even though it's not my fault. It just feels like, "I'm going to keep this close to home. I'm not going to talk about it, I don't want to share my experience." Have there been challenges around when people don't really want to talk about it or is it they've had it?
Molly: I think the biggest thing for us is, and we've talked to all of our parents during the follow up visit about doing weekly maintenance checks. We always tell people, you should be talking about head lice. Head lice is actually second to the common cold and the whole US in Elementary age children and younger. It's just like getting a common cold. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, and we actually have kids that go to school and tell all their friends that they had lice and how many bugs they had and things like that. So we really try to make it kind of our mission to not have it be such a bad stigma attached to lice. Anybody can get head lice, you can get it from movie theaters, airplane seats, children naturally just hug and whisper and put their heads next to each other. And it does not mean that it’s a dirty thing by any means, so we really try to educate our families and let them know it's okay. It's okay to talk about it with others as well.
Shantel: Yeah, I think that's great. Can you just imagine being a little kid and almost like a badge of honor like, "I had 'X' number, how many did you have?"
Jennie: So it's definitely the initiatives and you know just also marketing the product line being that it's got that national drug code from the FDA on enzyme has been great because pesticides they are resistant to pesticides, but people just automatically still go to the grocery store not really knowing how resistant that they are. They'll put pesticide on their children's heads and there have been so many issues with children even from the over the counter pesticides getting brain tumors, who overuse and having horrible allergic reactions and things like that, because it does get into your bloodstream through the pores of your skin. So I think being able to have that natural product that's an enzyme, it cannot get into your bloodstream has been huge because parents know that they can bring in their kids in and we're going to get all of their lice and their nits out and their children are going to be safe. There are horrible side effects from others. We've even had children come, believe it or not, we've got stories. We've had children come directly from the emergency room at some of the hospitals and they had a reaction to an over the counter. Molly and I have had a client one time that started having an allergic reaction when she first came in before we touched her and we asked her, "What did you do? What did you use?" And she told us a prescription she had just put on her head and she was literally going into respiratory arrest in front of our eyes. We had to send her to the emergency room to go get that taken care of, of course, before we could touch her. And that was just from something that the doctor had prescribed of course innocently not knowing she'd have this type of reaction, but it's really scary when you think about as consumers what we can actually buy and put in and on our bodies.
Shantel: Yeah, goodness. Makes it scary to think about. Well, glad to have a resource when I have kids hopefully one day and good to know there's people out there that know what they're talking about and can help. [What's been the most surprising thing since you've started the company that you've learned?
| THE PEOPLE PIECE |
Molly: We've learned so much. I mean, quite honestly, we've made a lot of mistakes along the way. A lot of very costly monetary mistakes, but we have learned and we've grown from them. I think we always say the hardest part about the business is, quite honestly, is dealing with our staff. Staff issues come up all the time. People calling out sick, people's cars breaking down, just all kinds of issues and I think for us that's the hardest part of the job is just dealing with the staff on a day to day basis. Now that being said, we have a fantastic staff. We love our staff, but sometimes it's you may have four five different staff issues in one day. And so for us I think that's the most challenging part of it. You read all these articles, you read in Forbes about how most any business owner in the world will say that dealing with staff and HR is the most stressful part of owning a business. I don't think we were really prepared for how stressful it really is and so we were in the position to have a staff and then we really saw first-hand those articles run true and we've really had to work on ourselves both in different ways because we do have different strengths and weaknesses to make ourselves better for each other, make ourselves better for our staff, and also not be afraid sometimes to make tough decisions for the betterment of the company and the overall good and that can be hard sometimes.
Shantel: I completely resonate with that. The people piece is definitely the hardest, it's the most rewarding when you see the growth in the team and the clients come because the team's so great and they come back because the team's so great, but it's like tough decisions or those tough conversations are just continued development. Yes, I feel you there. We have equally made a ton of mistakes and I imagine we'll continue to make, not make the same ones, but make new ones that we didn't even know were possible. But it does a big learning...everything comes with learning for sure. I was joking with my business partner, maybe a couple months ago, I was like, "All we need to get, we need to get sued" and I feel like we will have checked every big box company shit that they had to go through. Oh geeze, yeah, well how about day to day. So you guys still in a clinic quite a bit? How do you optimize the day?
Jennie: So we kind of broken up our duties where Molly is answering a lot of incoming calls. We have trained a few other upper level managers to also answer calls at times. And then I answer calls to relieve Molly every other weekend day. Molly also deals with HR stuff, which I do to, but Molly more on a daily, hour-to-hour minute-by-minute basis. And scheduling appointments things like that. She also is constantly checking when they write invoices for clients and double checking that they are scheduling things properly. I mean, Molly literally has a second-by-second, she has to be live and understand what's going on in all five clinics at all times and her job is huge. It is stressful, she's in the line of fire constantly all day long. Yeah, and she kind of gets half of our expense and payroll ready where she's breaking up the income per clinic, breaking out the products, breaking up commissions for our staff, and getting that ready for our payroll and I take over from there. What I do is I kind of own the franchiser babysitter, so I babysit and I do the traveling. I travel to each franchise at least once a quarter, I am on the phone with them all day, texting all day, answering their questions and helping them sometimes chasing them down. Constantly trying to help them with issues and train. Also, back Molly up in some of that day-to-day stuff and then my big job is I'm kind of our bookkeeper. I handle the finances for all three of the companies on a day-to-day basis. Molly and I really try to work together so that the part that she does and the part that I do every other week when we run payroll, we're actually able to have a full financial snapshot of our company that is up to date as far as every cent going in, every cent going out, all the expenses are taken care of. We know all the paper trails so that we are not behind. We can literally pull up a report at any moment and we know exactly where we are in our company financially for all three companies. So it's a big job for both of us, but I think the way we've split it up is working for us right now. There are things that we would like to change, of course as we grow, get someone to answer the phone more, get a bookkeeper more, and eventually have a franchise manager. As we grow, we're trying to add in those things little-by-little as we can afford it. Just keep growing and moving so that we can make those things come true, but have the money and the income from the company to fund us.
Shantel: That's great, those are definitely both huge jobs. I think that was one of the first things that we pass off to just the bookkeeping piece. Like that was just could not wait to get that off our plate, but it's certainly nice to have that weekly or by-weekly financials snapshot and it's kind of important. Are additional franchise locations on the agenda? Where do you guys see the company in the next few years?
Jennie: We definitely have people that are interested, almost every week in buying. Actually I have a lady right now speaking who lives in more of a rural area. We work with a company called Franchise Marketing Systems. They keep us legal, we have attorneys that we use through them for the franchise piece and all the filings for all the different states as the laws are different in many different states. The nice thing that they do is they kind of underwrite people before they present them to me and we have a lady right now, for example, the area that she lives in is not populated very well, the median income is not that great, so unfortunately a Lice Lady specialty service would probably not work in her area because she would spend all this money on an investment and not be able to really make that money back. So we do have people interested, but it really takes an area that has a higher population, at least 250-500 thousand people really need to be there for a clinic to be successful. The median income needs to be high. We have people that are interested in Nashville possibly. We would love to sell Orlando and Miami. Raleigh Durham there's a lot of places, yeah, Charlotte, but we just have to really find the right person. The other issue is that some of the people come with great areas but they don't want to actually run their own business. Being a specialty service really has to have a hands on owner, because most people aren't going to run right to Lice Ladies. A lot of people are going to try to self-treat and you really have to build up your reputation and word of mouth to get people to want to spend the money and believe in your service. We really are looking for people like the franchises we have now. They're all hands-on owners. Yes they do have days where they can work at home and catch up on their paperwork because they've been able to hire staff, but that really took a lot of hard work to get there and they had to start out combing all the heads themselves just like we did. We combed all the heads ourselves, answered all the phone calls, we even did our own marketing at first for a while, because we couldn't afford to hire a marketing team. So you really have to grow it and be hands on and be willing to put in that hard work. You might have to work 'til three in the morning, we did, and that's why we are where we are today is because we did put in that time.
Shantel: I think it's also great that you guys are honest with the prospects and just saying, "Hey, we don't feel like it would work in this area, so we want to save you that time and energy and investment." And you're not just trying to get one's through the door and you really have their best interest in mind and also the sustainability of the organization as a whole in mind. I think speaks volumes to you. Well how can people get in touch and learn more and if they are in these areas?
Jennie: Well we have our websites, it's LiceLadiesAtlanta.com or LiceLadies.com is kind of the general site, but if they want to actually contact us, LiceLadiesAtlanta.com is the best way. We have an email address, it's firstname.lastname@example.org and our phone number is 888-924-LICE which is 5423 at the end.
Molly: Thank you so much.
Jennie: Thank you so much.
Shantel: Well Jennie, Molly, thank you so much for being on the show. It was fun to learn more about what you guys are doing and we can't wait to follow along.