Marilyne Gagné is the Founder and President of DERMAPURE, Canada’s leading network of high end aesthetic medicine clinics. Marilyne launched Dermapure 13 years ago, growing the brand from a single clinic in Sherbrooke, Quebec to a network of 68 clinics coast to coast, including through a recent merger.
An industry pioneer who leads by example, Marilyne is aiming to redefine industry standards, challenging how non-surgical practices are approached and how services get promoted to women, favouring responsibility and education, around her concept of “gym for the skin”.
Marilyne’s venture has attracted the attention of power players including L’Oreal and the LVMH-backed L Catterton Fund, who have both invested in Dermapure’s recent partnership, banking on a company well poised for expansion in a high-growth sector. The Brand is Female’s Eva Hartling spoke to Marilyne about her journey to growth.
Marilyne, when you were growing up, what kind of career did you imagine you’d have later in life? Were there entrepreneurs in your close circle who instilled the idea of launching a business?
I was always attracted to management work, and since I was very young, I always dreamed of working in an office environment. I studied fashion marketing, but the part of my studies I liked the most was management. Fashion was a personal passion, but it was the decision-making aspect of things that really spoke to me – I became president of, and led a lot of committees at school! I pursued graduate studies at HEC Montréal in Business, and I thought fashion would remain just part of my personal interests. My father was a chemistry technician leading a lab, but he was always involved in many things at the same time. He was a part-time fireman, a musician, a comedian, a scriptwriter… My mother and him were also very involved in our small community. They instilled in me a real sense of initiative, resilience and courage to do things outside my comfort zone – like leaving our small town to go work and study all the way in Montreal, which seemed like a faraway land!
How did you decide to launch Dermapure and open your first aesthetic medicine clinic? And did you have any inclinations of how fast the industry would grow over the next few years?
After school I worked for a manufacturer of aesthetic medicine devices (such as laser for acne pigment, wrinkles, hair removal, etc.), and I quickly realized patients deserved to know more about the industry and its services, and get access to more education about how things work. I realized I could create this – and at the same time launch a concept where we could celebrate beauty and health, all the while creating an operational workflow with more support for doctors so they could in turn focus on the patient’s experience. So I opened my first clinic 14 years ago, in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Back then it was not as common to receive injections or other medical procedures. I could not predict how fast the industry was going to grow, but I had a strong intuition aesthetic medicine would become a commodity. I wanted to be a vector of change, to help women feel less guilty about taking care of their skin. I went on TV a lot for the first 5 years, working to demystify and make people feel good about the options that aesthetic medicine had to offer. That’s where I started calling our approach a “gym for the skin”. We train our bodies, we eat well; we take care of our hair, but we somehow feel guilty to take care of our skin. It was time to change that. Our business went through a crazy acceleration from that point on, and after we opened our third clinic, I could see a complete change with acceptance for the category with the general public.
When did you realize the company was well poised for further expansion??
There was a lot of interest in our services because people saw me in the media. It gave me a real chance to educate our audiences. We would receive inquiries from people all over the province, not just in Sherbrooke – and that’s when I realized there was potential to open somewhere else. We opened another clinic in Quebec City, that was year 2 of the business. We launched marketing campaigns that focused on beauty and health of the skin, banking on our “gym for the skin” tagline, and that worked instantly. It was a majority of women, but we saw about 10% of clients who were men coming to our clinics. We had a true branded approach – and clients understood what our brand was about, and they were happy to talk about their positive experience with our brand name. We opened in Montreal within our third year.
You’ve openly talked about the pre-conceived ideas that people have towards aesthetic medicine, and hopefully that is changing as we witness a true democratization of the industry. At the same time, there needs to be safeguards in place so that youth, especially young women, are not enticed to get treatments they don’t yet need at their age, based on Tiktok trends or seeing what influencers are getting done. What changes are you observing and how do you navigate the industry’s responsibility in this regard?
We have always believed in focusing on real needs. I don’t want to be creating needs for the sake of growing the business. For that reason, we don’t target anyone under the age of 35 with our marketing activities, with our brand visibility, including social media. I see a lot of what the industry is doing and sadly, many players try to be competitive and attract youth. At Dermapure, I am all about positive aging. Many patients have hit menopause, as this is a big turning point in a woman’s life, and one that affects her skin and health. After 35, that’s when you see more permanent wrinkles. For some women they have gone through maternity. We see stretch marks, a loss of skin elasticity for example. We want to target and treat these real needs. Do we sometimes reshape a nose, or a chin, for someone who wanted that change? Of course. But it’s not what we promote – and we ensure patients are making informed and conscious decisions for any procedure. We believe in natural results first and foremost and take a professional, personalized approach. With now almost 70 clinics across Canada, this is the culture we bring to every one of our locations, working with all our doctors. Self-confidence and self-love is the most important, especially as you age.
What is your definition of leadership and what do you bring to your role as a leader?
I love people and I love to work with people. I’m also a leader who enjoys decision-making, but I want to share values with my team, and see my team members choose to stay with our brand for a long time. I believe in spending a lot of time in our clinics with our employees. We went from 50 employees to 350 and now to 700 in a short amount of time. My mission with our new partners following our merger is to get to know them, and work together on defining how we will continue making a difference in our patients’ lives. Every day women come inside our clinics I am grateful that they trust us. I want to bring this concept of directly impacting women’s self-confidence to our entire network. I’m proud that we have about 95% of women employees overall – I love to see women feel empowered and applying and developing their leadership skills. I believe in promoting from within the organization and supporting, coaching and mentoring the next generation of leaders. On our team, everyone brings something to our recipe for success and as a leader, I want to continue to inspire and encourage our teams, prioritizing a caring approach.
Your recent merger with Functionalab and with Calgary-based FYi’s Aesthetic Medicine division has made you the number one player in the industry in Canada, with the most clinics in the country under your brand banner. As an entrepreneur, what are lessons you learned through your recent journey to growth and rapid expansion?
I learned early to surround myself with a great team of advisors. Today I feel the energy of our team support our next chapter of growth. It’s not just me anymore, it’s truly a group of us that can go further than only one person can. I learned to be team player and to relinquish some degree of control. Once you have partners you can trust, you can let go and see the magic unfold. Communication is key also – and keeping the channels open with all involved is very important. Being able to move fast and be efficient as leaders and as an organization is important but leading with kindness and respect is also paramount. I’ve also learned that it’s ok to be a little scared of going outside my comfort zone – we are expanding at a very rapid clip! By empowering and trusting all involved, I know we can meet our objectives. We still have a lot of lofty goals we want to accomplish, including at the international level.
In closing, what are three pieces of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs?
First, empower people around you. I think as entrepreneurs we are there to light the fire, and trust our team to keep it going. I give a session called “Light the Fire” at the Ecole d’entrepreneurship de Beauce, a school for entrepreneurs, and it’s all about being in movement to take action. Next, accept that you won’t be able to make everyone happy, and that’s OK. That is not your role as a leader. Lastly, don’t forget to keep your perspective by stepping back once in a while. When you’re too close to the details, you miss the big picture – you also need to trust your team to do their work – trust you’ve given the tools they need. As an entrepreneur it can be easy to get caught up in only dealing with problems, or hearing everything that can go wrong – from recessions to market changes and more – but step back and continue lighting fires from a place of positivity. And when you’re done, go light another fire in another area of your business! A strong, inspired team is a winning team.