Makeup Academy Follows Changes in Market By JEFF WEISS Contributing Reporter Perhaps the best definition of the archetypal entrepreneur is someone who can shift business strategies and goals quickly in order to meet constantly changing marketplace conditions. A true innovator identifies niches that no one currently fills and works to take advantage of that business loophole. Heather and Gregory Savalas, founders of Sherman Oaks-based Last Looks Makeup Academy, meet these criteria, having founded the first mobile makeup school to offer classes in cities across the United States. Furthermore, while they had initially planned to expand to cater to dozens of cities throughout the United States and Canada, the Savalas’ have decided to capitalize on the DVD explosion by offering their classes on disc, allowing thousands of potential students to take advantage of the schools’ knowledge at a fraction of the cost. Heather Savalas always wanted to be a makeup artist and found herself unchallenged at her business management job. Deciding to follow her dreams, she enrolled at Westmore Academy in Los Angeles, where she learned the craft, graduated, and eventually landed a job as a movie makeup artist. However, Savalas soon tired of the inaction that characterizes most movie shoots. Sitting around all day grew tedious and Savalas returned to Westmore where she eventually became its director of education. The inspiration for Last Looks began at Westmore, when Savalas noticed that many people wanted to become makeup artists but couldn’t come to Los Angeles for a variety of reasons. With all the makeup schools located in Los Angeles, an aspiring makeup artist had to fork over exorbitant amounts of money, drop everything in their life, pack their bags and leave their hometown for several months. Compounded with the new reality that television and film companies often shoot outside of Los Angeles, Savalas realized there was a need for a makeup school that offered classes in multiple locations. “We put those ideas together and (along with husband and partner Gregory Savalas) created Last Looks Makeup Academy, with better teachers, new curriculum, and the ability to travel to different locations. There was a need in the market. The first class we did was the most exciting time ever. As it grew, we constantly talked to all the people we knew to make it right. It was the first traveling makeup school ever,” Heather Savalas said. Rapid growth Taking out ads in periodicals such as New York City’s Village Voice, the business grew rapidly at first, before seeing a partial downturn when the economy sagged following 9/11. “We went through a downturn like everybody else, but during the downturn we discovered ways to cut costs, travel better and maximize our overhead businesswise,” Gregory Savalas said. “When the economy got better again we were in a strong financial position. Currently, we focus on seven cities (New York City, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Savannah) and have significantly higher per class revenues. Profit margins have increased. The recession made us think not only how can we survive but it taught us how to learn and grow.” Over the past two years, Last Looks has also experienced a 30 percent increase in makeup sales, another element of the business. The company has increased instructors from two to four and plans to hire approximately half a dozen in the near future. In addition, they have expanded the scope of their classes, offering classes in Halloween, drag, and bridal makeup. “Every single employee is an Emmy or Oscar award winner. I don’t want it to sound corny because I don’t want to imply that they are better teachers because they have an Emmy,” Gregory Savalas said. “There are some people who do magnificent work but cannot teach. We really focus on quality makeup artists who have achieved that level of success but are great teachers as well.” Indeed Last Looks’ newest hire, makeup instructor Marianne Skiba has won two Emmys and has worked on films such as “Man on the Moon” and “Meet the Parents.” Other teachers, Thom Surprenant and Jill Rockow, have been makeup artists on the sets of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Scorpion King,” and “Planet of the Apes.” With courses at other makeup academies running well upward of $10,000, Last Looks offers an affordable alternative, with two and three day courses ranging from $500 to $800. “We teach all the classes the other schools teach, we just teach them in short increments. In the end, a diploma from their school and our school means the same,” Gregory Savalas said. “You don’t get hired because you went to a particular school. You get hired because you know technique and how to do it well.” Providing an alternative The students seem to be pleased by the classes that Last Looks offers, as the company continues to be a viable alternative for people who don’t want to spend months mired in class after class. “It was great, the teachers were really cool and Heather is very organized. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot,” Melissa Browne, currently a part-time television makeup artist living in New York City said. “The process was very simple and easy in terms of how to pay, and how to do everything you really needed to learn. I still get materials from them when I need them and I learned a lot from hearing the backstage stuff from our teacher who had worked on tons of movies. They give you a heads up and an insider’s view of the industry.” For now, the next goal for the Savalas’ is to tap into the exploding DVD field, by offering classes that can be piped directly into someone’s living room. “We’re turning our classes into DVD’s with the best quality of everything in a way that won’t become obsolete,” Gregory Savalas said.