Lauren Guest dreamed of owning a salon. But when the Spartanburg entrepreneur was in beauty school a few years ago, she made some observations about hair extensions that set her on a new path and entangled her business-savvy husband, Chris Guest.
Since the couple launched their Spartanburg-based hair extension and beauty products enterprise, The Lauren Ashtyn Collection, in January 2016, they said they have helped thousands of women regain something priceless — their confidence.
“For me, this is not about the money,” Lauren Guest said. “It’s the feeling I get from knowing I’ve helped someone. When I get to help change someone’s life, it changes me as well.”
The Lauren Ashtyn Collection, which bears Guest’s maiden name, got its start after almost two years of research and development. She said that when she first began looking at the hair extension market, she was disappointed to find that many products were not only lacking in quality but also damaging to the real hair of customers. While there were a few good quality brands on the market, the Guests said those companies had trouble gaining visibility in the market and earning the trust of consumers.
As a result, the couple set out to develop a high-quality product they could build their company on. For starters, the company sources the hair for its extensions from hair breeders in Europe. These hair breeders are people who take vitamins and grow their hair specifically for the purpose of cutting and selling it.
They also implemented a plan to aggressively, but intelligently, market their brand to the world via the most powerful engine available to them: social media. And their customers were the chief marketers.
“I hear every single day from women across the world, who send us before and after photos and stories about how the product has changed their life,” Lauren Guest said. “The feeling it gives you, you can’t buy that.”
Customers can also find a number of instructional and inspirational videos on the company’s website and social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.
Right out of the gate, the Lauren Ashtyn Collection has done well, selling $1 million in gross sales in 2016.
“We did a lot on social media before we launched, and we saw that a lot of customers were sitting there waiting on us,” Chris Guest said. “It was a market that was already tapped, but there weren’t any companies who had put everything together correctly. We just took all of those things and put them together.”
The Lauren Ashtyn Collection’s hairpieces include full volume extensions, root coverage volume extensions, and crown extensions. The pieces range from about $450 up to $1,000. The pieces are available in an array of multidimensional colors, cuts, and styles. Because the product is made from human hair, individual hair pieces can be shampooed, blow dried, styled with a curling or flat iron, and colored.
Sleeping or swimming with the pieces on is not recommended.
The Lauren Ashtyn Collection also has a selection of hair care and beauty products, including beard oil for men.
Although the company only expects to increase its gross sales to $1.2 million by the end of 2017, Chris Guest said the company’s wholesale sales growth has increased 35 percent so far this year, a move he believes will set the company up for future success.
Gross sales 2016___ $1 million
Expected gross sales 2017___ $1.2 million
Wholesale sales up___ 35%
Primary mode of marketing___ Social media, trade shows
Number of employees___ 53
Time it takes to complete one piece___ 45 days
Price per piece___ $450–$1,000
“The trend is still continuing upward,” he added. “The demand in our wholesale business has taken a little away from our retail market. … But professionals who have watched us from afar are now purchasing our products. They have nothing but good things to say about it.”
The Guests recently returned from a trip to Manhattan to visit with officials for the salon franchise Salons by JC, which has at least 53 locations in over 20 states and plans to expand to a total of 200 stores. The couples said the company has agreed to sell their products in its New York City market.
“With our marketing dollars, we are really focusing on our social media and watching our growth rate to make sure we’re not growing over 35 percent,” Chris Guest said. “That’s really a red line for us.”
Right now, Chris Guest said, the company’s biggest obstacle is the time it takes to fashion each hairpiece. After all, every piece is fashioned by hand.
For every piece for the Lauren Ashtyn Collection, a worker hand ties each individual strand of hair. The hairs are triple knotted into a highly breathable piece of micromesh fabric. That means it takes one worker 45 days to complete one piece.
The couple currently has 53 workers at a plant overseas, and it takes 90 to 100 days to train each new employee, Guest said.
“It’s tough when you have to tell someone that you’re out of something,” he said. “We have a pretty good backlog of orders.”
Lauren Guest grew up in Boiling Springs. Chris Guest is originally from Inman.
The couple met when they were teenagers while they both attended Spartanburg Christian Academy.
Chris Guest graduated from the school in 2008 and then attended North Greenville University. Lauren Guest graduated in 2009 and then went to the now-closed Regency Beauty Institute in Spartanburg. In 2011, the couple married.
After starting their company, the Guests opened a salon in March at 162 E. Main St. in downtown Spartanburg. The building also houses their corporate office and 11 employees, which includes six corporate employees and five stylists.
“We had a lot of people tell us that we were never going to be able to build this brand in Spartanburg,” Chris Guest said. “We believed that we could. We believed that once we were here, everyone would band around us. Spartanburg is growing. We’re well-positioned between Greenville and Charlotte, N.C. It’s a market that we think will explode.”
Despite their love for their hometown, the couple said they understand that they need to be accessible to their customers.
They recently purchased an RV, which they have to store on property they own in Campobello, in order to travel around the country to trade shows and other events.
The Guests’ schedule includes 31 stops this year. Most recently, the couple visited Seattle.
“We try to engage with our social media followers and find out what they need from us,” Chris Guest said. “We recently did a #yourcity event, and the highest demand was in Seattle. We try and do what we say we are going to do. We made a few other stops along the way.”
Chris Guest said his wife has become a celebrity.
“Wherever we go, it seems we meet someone who has seen her on one of our videos,” he said. “I don’t like the spotlight, but she does a great job handling it.”
In February, the couple attended the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. The Grammys had invited the Lauren Ashtyn Collection to insert its product into the swag bags that are handed out to celebrity attendees, performers, and presenters. When the Guests took their seats, a lady sitting behind them started to get excited and asked to take pictures with Lauren.
“There we were with Adele on stage, and this lady was freaking out because she was so happy to see [Lauren],” Chris Guest said. “I know she’s grateful and passionate about what she does. She probably would never say it, but I don’t think [the response] has surprised her. I knew the potential because hair loss in women has increased. But I definitely have been a surprised by how quickly this has taken off.”