By GRAHAM HICKS
Name the Edmonton cosmetics company, that, in 10 years, has gone from a home-based business to a global eyelash company, with 35 staff and expected 2019 revenues of $18 to $20 million?
But all will soon change. Courtney Buhler’s SugarlashPRO will be a local household name once the company unveils its storefront world headquarters, now under construction at Whyte Avenue and 108 Street, in the former BMO bank building.
Courtney’s is a remarkable story of determination and perseverance, of sensing an opportunity, overcoming obstacles, taking on major financial risk … and winning.
She started as a broke, 20-year-old single mom. Today she is only 30, with two more kids and a most supportive husband. Dustin Buhler formerly handled SugarlashPRO's logistics.
Courtney and SugarlashPRO are proof positive that Edmonton-based companies, in this globally intertwined social-media world, can comfortably compete against, and become, the world’s best.
Blaming failure on location just doesn’t cut it anymore.
“Why would I leave my family, my friends, my support networks?” says Courtney. “Having built a business, why would I become a slave to it? Why on earth would I uproot my family?”
To understand Sugarlash, a quick eyelash primer.
Synthetic eyelashes — beautiful fluttery eyelashes — are NOT the big, oh-so-fake eyelash strips that Zsa Zsa Gabor and Doris Day used to wear.
Synthetic eyelashes are “extensions”, individual synthetic hairs attached with special adhesive to each existing eyelash by a trained “lash-a-tologist”.
Once the approximately $250 treatment is done, the customer returns every four to six weeks for what’s called “fill”. Like all human hair, the natural eyelash grows, ages, falls out. The body replaces it with “baby” eyelashes — hence the need for further extensions.
Courtney tells her story. “I’d always been jealous of my sisters’ naturally long eyelashes,” says Courtney, “Then my mom told me about these new eyelash extensions showing up at cosmetic trade shows.
“I was hooked. But I was a broke, teenaged, single-parent mom. In exchange for lashes, I cleaned a salon owner’s house on weekends.
“Then I started thinking — what a great job for stay-at-home moms! With training, you could have your own hours, work out of your house.”
The obstacle/challenge/opportunity was eyelash-application training and certification. Existing training was either far too expensive and overly complicated, or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, inadequate. Every state and province has differing certification rules.
To sell and use their products, the then-two biggest lash companies required the applicant to pass a nine-month course costing $20,000!
Having found less-expensive, quicker and acceptable training, Courtney had opened her own retail lash company, Lash Affair.
The business was booming, but then suddenly dropped off. “Synthetic lashes were getting a bad rap in general,” says Courtney, “because of poorly trained lash technicians.”
Courtney decided to start her own product line (Sugarlash PRO) and her own training academy (LashPRO Academy). ” ‘The industry has to change,’ I told my husband, ‘and I’m the one to do it.’
“Dustin was worried but supportive. We went all in — I used all our savings to start SugarlashPRO. We were a typical young couple, then with two children, renting a townhouse, struggling to make ends meet and struggling with my own business.”
Sugarlash’s online training course was short but thorough, its standards satisfying health regulators in both Canada and the USA, yet not costing an arm and a leg.
Once LashPRO certified, trainees could open their own lash shops using SugarlashPRO products.
Sugarlash, as an industry disruptor, has done nothing but grow and grow.
The academy has become a leader for lash-application training at reasonable cost. Sugarlash products are among the best and most innovative in the industry.
The new, stylish headquarters on Whyte Avenue is a visible sign of what’s coming in Sugarlash’s growth. A major partnership with a global beauty giant is pending. A new warehouse — in Edmonton — will soon open.
Fully self-financed at this point, Sugarlash is entertaining outside investors. Buhler is considering her own product-manufacturing facilities — in Edmonton. The world market for synthetic lashes has only just begun to be tapped.
All out of Edmonton? Why not?
“There’s international expertise in this city,” says Courtney. “It can all be done from here. If we need to be in New York City or Los Angeles to launch a new product, we have a top PR firm that sets things up.
“To be to Edmonton what Lululemon has become to Vancouver? Why not?!”