Ideal Growth Plans

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TAMPA – Insecurity about back hair and female facial hair is fueling a big business for Tampa-based Ideal Image Inc., allowing the laser hair-removal company to expand to at least 20 locations.

Ideal Image, which was founded in 2001, has begun a nationwide franchising effort to capitalize on the growing laser cosmetic enhancement industry. Currently, it has one company-owned store in Tampa, as well as two franchisee-owned stores in Sarasota and Boca Raton. However, the company has financial commitments from prospective franchisees across the country that could boost its store count to more than 20 within months, company spokeswoman Nicole Rogers said.

Franchises due to open in the immediate future include Orlando; Jacksonville; Miami; Fort Myers; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; and Kansas City, Mo. Rogers could not reveal several locations still under negotiation. Start-up costs, which include the franchise fee and equipment, run $350,000 to $420,000, she said.

Company co-founder Rick Mikles said Ideal Image expects to grow through the sale of franchises for the immediate future. However, he and co-founder Joe Acebal have talked with several local private equity funds that could help them open 20 company- owned stores across the country. Doing so could cost as much as $20 million, Mikles said.

Ideal Image is part of a hair- removal industry that is surging nationwide. There were 923,200 laser hair-removal procedures done in the United States last year, which was up 25 percent on the year, according to a survey of 14,000 physicians by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. That is considered a conservative figure, because procedures at spas and other nonmedical facilities were not included.

During the procedure, a pulse of light is applied to an area of the skin. Pigment from the hair follicle then absorbs the laser’s heat and impairs the hair’s ability to grow. Ideal Image also offer other services, including treatment of brown spots and wrinkles, but hair- removal has been its biggest seller, Rogers said. Hair removal starts at $700 for small areas, such as women’s underarms, but large areas, such as a man’s back, can run $3,000, Rogers said.

Paul Weiner, chief financial officer of Palomar Medical Technologies Inc. of Burlington, Mass., which manufactures the laser devices, said dermatology and plastic surgery clinics have been doing hair removal for years. However, in recent years the cost of a laser has fallen to as low as $30,000, compared with $150,000 seven years ago. That has allowed nonmedical facilities to enter the business. Today, several companies across the country, such as Ideal Image, are trying to sell franchises, Weiner said.

Franchising “is just at its beginning stages, because it’s just getting to the point where they can afford to do these things without making a huge capital investment,” Weiner said.