The woman who denied retirement to create a multi million-dollar empire

The woman who denied retirement to create a multi million-dollar empire

When Deb Farnworth-Wood first moved to Australia with her husband, the pair were a couple of UK expats who were ready to chase the sunburnt and sandy dream of a Gold Coast retirement.

After only a couple of weeks in the country however, the seasoned entrepreneur decided to forgo R&R and instead dive headfirst into a new career journey.

It was a life-changing risk that paid off, big time.

After only a few short years at the helm of Australian Skin Clinics (ASC), Farnworth-Wood built the business to become one of the country's largest beauty therapy franchises with a turnover of $70 million despite starting with only a single Ashmore clinic in 2007.

Farnworth-Wood earned her stripes as Gold Coast Businesswoman of the year in 2017 and EY's Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2016.

During her tenure, Vogue also lauded ASC as one of Australia's top five medispas for three years on the trot.

Now, at the height of her company's success, Farnworth-Wood has passed on the torch by selling the ASC franchise for an undisclosed amount.

Reflecting on her journey from potential retiree, to leader of an empire and now making her successful exit, Farnworth-Wood is both proud and humbled by the somewhat unexpected experience.

"Honestly I can tell you that I never thought I was going to build an empire," she says.

"It was more that I just realised I didn't want to retire and there had to be something more I could do than sitting around getting burnt on the beach because I'm very fair skinned!"

From the start, Farnworth-Wood knew that her product was ripe for the franchising model.

But when the GFC hit only two years after the first ASC clinic opened its doors, she was forced to build strategically.

ASC clinic at Pacific Fair shopping centre

Instead of reeling back marketing tactics and cutting costs in the same fashion as her competitors, Farnworth-Wood decided ASC needed to steer into the skid.

"When the GFC hit, all the economists were expecting it to last for a two or three-year period and I remember saying to my team 'we just have to survive the next three years and not go out of business'. That became our goal," she says.

"By that point, 30 per cent of beauty therapists on the Gold Coast had gone out of business with a 9-12-month period, so we decided to increase our marketing at a time when everyone else reduced theirs."

It was this discerning choice that meant ASC not only survived the GFC but came out the other side thriving.

Farnworth-Wood recalls a particularly gratifying moment when ASC hit the 12 franchisees mark and she was able to increase her head office from seven to 35 staff.

While unable to reveal the specifics of her next career move, Farnworth-Wood is looking at buying into other businesses which extend beyond the realms of aesthetics.

"My background is really in business management, as long as I like and enjoy the product or service, it doesn't really matter what it is," she says.

Although she is parted from the ASC franchise, in a nostalgic move, Farnworth-Wood will stay at the Ashmore clinic which started it all.

"It was the first medispa of its type in Queensland, the demographic and the clientele there are a little bit more affluent and a little more discerning so we are heading back in that direction under the new brand Ultimate Skin & Body Clinic," she says.

Farnworth-Wood remains a staunch advocate of the franchising model and encourages other businesses to consider its benefits.

"I think that franchising has a really bad rap at the moment with all that's going on with RFG and things like that," she says.

"But franchises tend to be more successful. Around 60 per cent of businesses go bust within three years normally in any industry, but the statistic of that happening in a franchising scenario is far less."

"Before starting a franchise, you need to make sure you have the numbers and the metrics right first, and you need to put your heart and soul into making it work."

Looks like the cocktailed and sun-baked retirement will have to wait a little longer.

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