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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Cosmetic surgery's impressive expansion
Advert for cheaper cosmetic surgery

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by Briony Hale
BBC News Online business reporter

"It's like selling a car nowadays," says a spokesman from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

The industry already has the classic components of a hard sell: ubiquitous magazine ads, a foray into television and radio publicity, salesmen coming to your home, alluring finance schemes...

It's not like running a dating agency from your front room

John Babbage
Cosmetic Surgery agency
But we're talking boob jobs, tummy tucks and nose reshaping rather than Volkswagens and Spirito di Punto.

And the cosmetic surgery firms are growing more aggressive and more adventurous.

A rash of companies have sprung up offering package holidays to Eastern Europe complete with cut-price surgery.

Other firms are targeting the burgeoning market for Botox injections or collagen implants at High Street salons during the lunch-hour.

Liposuction in Prague, madam?

Six year ago, Libby Babbage opted to have a face life in the Czech Republic, where cosmetic surgery is substantially cheaper.

Based on the experience, her husband set up his own company, Europa International, which takes about eight women out there twice a month.

Lady with bags under her eyes, case study from Europa International
The pre-holiday look....
Women have a medical consultation the first day, surgery the second and go home after the stitches come out seven to 12 days later.

The capacity at Surgeon Jarka Hudakova's Czech clinic has now been filled, and Europa is considering expansions elsewhere.

"It's holding its own," Mr Babbage says when asked about the profitability of his family-run business.

Lady with bags under her eyes, case study from Europa International
...and after Dr Hudakova's been at work
Mr Babbage once boasted a unique business model, now there's a rash of copycat firms springing up and offering reshaping holidays in Spain's Marbella, Poland or South Africa.

"Some will fall by the wayside - there's significant financial outlay. It's not like running a dating agency from your front room," warns Mr Babbage.

Europa International advertises in glossy women's magazines - at a cost of about 4,000 a week - and by word of mouth.

All clients are invited to come and chat to Mrs Babbage about her experiences before booking a flight.

"Fancy a nip or a tuck yourself?" enquired Mr Babbage at the end of the interview (a telephone interview incidentally).

Quick-fix treatments

In addition to the wave of start-up firms, there are also a number of industry heavyweights.

We've seen tremendous growth in almost all procedures over the past 10 years

David Mills
Transform Medical boss
Transform Medical is the UK's largest company dedicated to cosmetic surgery and has a network of clinics throughout the country.

"We've seen tremendous growth in almost all procedures over the past 10 years," David Mills, the group's managing director, told BBC News Online.

The social embarrassment factor is disappearing fast, with the decision to go under the knife no longer seen as the preserve of rich film stars.

Transform is amongst those firms considering investing in high-street locations to offer walk-in, walk-out procedures such as Botox.

"Any type of surgery that requires little hospital time and fast recovery - so called quick-fix treatments - are hugely popular," Mr Mills said.

Transform's sales rose to 19.5m in 2001, compared with 15m in 1999.

Last year, it made pre-tax profits of 2.5m and is now considering a flotation, in what would be the first UK listing of its kind.

'Younger and younger'

And Transform certainly isn't expecting any respite in the industry's impressive growth during the years ahead.

UK cosmetic surgery sales, 1998
Breast enhancement
Fat reduction
Nose jobs
Source: Keynote
The UK market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 10%, hitting a value of 255.8m by 2004, according to Keynote research.

"Our clients are getting younger and younger," Mr Mills explained, referring to many women in their twenties who want breast augmentation operations.

Sales forecast for 2004
Breast enhancement
Fat reduction
Nose jobs
Source: Keynote
"These younger ladies will be the ones having tummy tucks or face lifts in a few years time."

Despite the rapid growth, the British market is still tiny in comparison with the US.

About 8.5 million cosmetic procedures were carried out in the US last year, at a cost of $11bn to the consumer.

That compares with 77,000 procedures in the UK during 1999, at a cost of $158m.

Boom to bust

But those hoping to mirror the American success stories should beware.

The California-based Plastic Surgery Company set itself up to be the world's largest cosmetic surgery company.

It created powerful brand awareness through an ongoing marketing campaign, including 50 television commercials a day and a central call centre responding to all enquiries.

It floated at the end of 1999 with a market value of $34m and was thought to be the world's only listed cosmetic surgery company.

In the first three months of 2001 it performed procedures worth almost $9m.

Then it went belly-up - no pun intended.

See also:

12 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
S Korea's cosmetic surgery boom
08 Aug 01 | Health
Most women 'want plastic surgery'
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