Future-Proofing Your Salon
I was recently reading an article in the Daily Mail highlighting the town of Ashford in Kent. Residents are up-in arms, by all accounts, as their high street is saturated with 28 salons. The locals are complaining that with a dearth of hair salons, barbers, beauty salons and nail bars, they’re swamped by our sector. They’d far rather see a sprinkling of the traditional shops that are rapidly disappearing – butchers, greengrocers, ironmongers, newsagents and the like – than see another salon open up. Even the cartoon that accompanied the article made a joke with a sandwich board outside a salon reading ‘last chance to have your hair done for 0.001 miles!
The trouble is, Ashford is not an isolated case. Where my father lives in Banstead, Surrey there are over 20 salons, and it’s a relatively small town.
Conversely, I was at a recent industry event where a prominent salon owner was asking me what I thought about the struggle to get young people into the industry. He told me he’s been trying to find a decent stylist to recruit for months to no avail.
It got me thinking that the two are intrinsically linked. Just imagine if another sector was in our situation. Let’s just say that every other shop on the high street was a butchers. Wouldn’t the butchery industry say that finding a good, highly skilled butcher was like looking for rocking horse manure? Of course they would!
What with the growing trend of freelancing and working from home, the plethora of salons increasingly gives potential new recruits a unique opportunity to pick and choose where they work.
So what can we do to future proof our businesses? It’s a question I get asked a lot, as (fingers crossed) we haven’t lost any of our team to any ‘hub’ working salons, nor do we struggle that badly to recruit young people. I think there are 5 key elements to consider:
1. Create a commission based, performance related salary structure – I’m sorry but I still find it ludicrous that some of the very salon owners who complain about their grade of senior operator are paying piddling salaries and minimal commission rates. What’s the point of losing someone who just might be irreplaceable because you’re listening to an accountant who knows nothing about our sector? Good salons benchmark their pay rates amongst the industry leaders and therefore obtain a better class of operator.
2. Champion a friends & family recruitment policy – when I look at our apprentice team, word of mouth is responsible for most of our intake. Cousins, friends, relatives – employing people through recommendation is not only advantageous to the team spirit but largely contributes to the family atmosphere we’ve marketed as our brand’s point of difference.
3. Effectively communicate employee benefits – being freelance or self-employed may suit some people, but aren’t we forgetting to shout about (and remind people of) the benefits that stable, solid employment brings? Job security (especially if you are looking to buy a property or settle down and start a family), paid holiday, flexible working, maternity & parental leave benefits, pension and for senior team members, private health cover and bonuses – all of these have a huge value. How can the headache and insecurity of working for yourself possibly compete?
4. Promote Team Spirit – above all, my team come to work not just for their job roles, but for each other. Working in a large, luxurious space isn’t just ergonomic, it’s social (especially with a fully licensed bar). Romances, friendships, banter and a good laugh should never be underestimated and can become as big a part of the workplace culture as the work itself.
5. Grow your own future stars – my best employees are undoubtedly the ones who’ve trained with us. They ‘just get us’ in a way no new recruit ever could. Watching our fledgling trainees of yesteryear develop into serious money takers who are commanding huge clienteles and are getting paid accordingly is always the best part of my job. Taking them on a journey to success is hugely rewarding, and being able to market our amazing length of service as another USP is so valuable.
It’s easy to focus on the lack and the negatives, but our industry has grown hugely and beyond all comprehension in the last two decades, and that growth will inevitably impact our ability to recruit and sustain senior team members. Future proofing your salon by getting this right now will undoubtedly pay dividends in the future, especially if we continue to dominate the high street.
Making a Killing
Illicit nail bars have been the scourge of our sector for far too long. But these Illicit nail bars are no longer just killing our business… they’re seemingly killing people, too.
Cheap nail bars who are operating outside the law are something I have long been campaigning about. Not only are they damaging our sector commercially, but they are often a front for far more sinister activities. People trafficking, prostitution, slavery, drug running, organised crime… and now, allegedly some of the Vietnamese people who lost their lives recently in the lorry tragedy trying to get to into this country on the promise of a better life were destined to work in these types of salons.
We can no longer watch and wait – how many more people need to suffer?
We need to come together as an industry to halt the rise of these unscrupulous businesses. And we need to act quickly.
So how can we act to crack down on them? It’s not easy while our industry is unregulated. Suppliers, manufacturers, trade media and local authorities need to join forces to ensure anyone who is not operating within the law is fined and closed down – without fail.
I’ve heard some real horror stories. My own staff telling me they’ve seen mattresses on the floor out the back of salons operating locally to them. Potential employees wanting to get away from hideous working conditions and join a decent salon only to tell me that unless I can pay them cash they can’t work for me as they in the UK illegally. People living in abject misery and treated appallingly.
Yet the nail bars keep growing; their business booming. As it might if they aren’t paying their overheads... and they are not a minority. They are blatantly operating all over the country, and on the rise.
The consumer has begun to embrace the weekly treat to the nail bar. It has become a firm part of the new beauty consumer’s grooming regime. And sadly, the price point that has been set is not one which can work if the salon owner is doing things properly.
I tell my Metrospa team to educate our clients not to use these salons. If we teach the customer how to spot them, they can support people’s basic human rights by voting with their feet and not putting their cash in the till. If there is no turnover these nail bars will cease to exist. If there is no illegality, all we will be left with is the hardworking salon owners who want to treat people well and do it by the book. But we need local authorities, HMRC, suppliers, manufacturers, trade media and industry bodies to get involved.
So what should Joe Public be on the lookout for? What should be raising a huge red flag with the consumer?
1. Cash only signs – whilst it’s not illegal to only accept cash, it’s also highly suspect not to offer any card services or digital payment facilities. Be wary of any salon saying they only accept cash. Mr Taxman, where are you when we need you?
2. Ethnicity – good salons are multicultural employers. I would be alerted to any salon where the entire team are of one (predominantly Vietnamese) ethnicity if any of the other factors listed here also apply. I have been asked to draw attention to this specifically by a Vietnamese manicurist who wants to remain anonymous. She also recommended to ascertain the vibe of the salon. If the team seem fearful or timid, there may be a more sinister reason for the behaviour, she warns. Look for the signals.
3. Cheap prices – The margins simply don’t work on a £10 manicure - so if somebody is offering what seems like a cheap service, you can pretty much guarantee that they will not be paying the service provider (’employee’) properly, let alone their HMRC liabilities or taxes. They will also be using inferior product (ask to see the bottle). We’ve seen irreparable damage to a client’s nails through use of horrendous chemicals in cheap polishes, even though she was told (and it was advertised) that the salon was using a leading brand.
4. VAT - ask for a VAT receipt. If they can’t give you one, why not? Any till receipt should also state the company number, and good salons will have a Public & Employers Liability Insurance Certificate displayed.
5. Beauty Licenses – most cities’ local authorities require beauty salons to be licensed. That means an annual inspection of the team’s qualifications and certificates, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, etc. Ask to see it.
High Street Hero
It could never be said I am a fan of controversial businessman Phillip Green – the allegations against him are too many; his alleged bully-boy tactics, purported ‘Me-too’ misogynistic treatment of women, the sabotaging of his employees pension fund… where do the unsavoury allegations end?
But today he’s quite simply my hero.
As sad as it is that in the reorganisation of his Arcadia group over 1000 employees might lose their jobs due to the closure of 50 stores, it could have been far, far worse. Because in standing up to the greedy landlords, he’s managed to reduce the crippling rents and business rates that mean he has to take millions before he even starts to make money in today’s very different trading environment. He admits he took his eye off the ball and failed to understand the new consumerism – the trend for on-line is one he could have capitalised on but like many advances, he was so busy worrying about other aspects of his business that he didn’t maximise the opportunity to embrace the new customer. He quite simply admits he’s got to completely re-strategise and re-focus if he is to survive in this brave new retail world.
I can relate to the overheads only too well. In our salon, we have a staggering £1/3m to meet before we even open our door in rent, business rates and service charges. The landlords have destroyed the individuality that was once the signature of the Kings Road. Gone are the quirky shops (Vivienne Westwood’s Sex at World’s End, R-Soles the cowboy boot shop … ) instead the landlords chased the money, priced the independents out of the market and the result? A shopping street no different to anything you’d find in any city. No longer a destination, just a faceless, character-less environment.
Landlords want the security of the big boys – the corporates, the ones who can afford to have a loss leader site because they are so huge. And in doing so they’ve ruined the very consumer appeal that attracted those big boys to the locations in the first place. Yes, Arcadia is one of those faceless brands, one of the biggest of the big boys.. but they’ve sent a very powerful message out.
What would you prefer, Mr Landlord? Empty unit? Or reduced rent? And if you choose empty unit, they’re ain’t nobody to fill it. So, it’s Hobsons choice.
Good for you PG - maybe the lesson you’ve given them may benefit the huge amount of SME’s and independents that make up our sector… if only we’re brave enough to call our landlords out…
If I could only ever watch one TV Channel for as long as I live it would be Sky Arts. They show such fascinating documentaries and as a real culture vulture and music lover, there’s always something for me to enjoy. I recently watched the film Studio 54, where co-founder, the famously reclusive Ian Schrager, talked for the first time about his partnership with the late Steve Rubell. Rubell sadly passed away from AIDS in the late 80’s, but in 3 short whirlwind years (1977-1980) the duo pioneered the most famous nightclub in the world from a partnership they formed at college. Schrager of course went on to become the world’s most famous hotelier, creating the concept of the boutique hotel with his eponymous global chain.
Schrager and Rubell were jailed for tax evasion (they were so successful the money was literally spilling in and not, ahem, properly accounted for…) which ultimately led to the closure and sale of their beloved disco. But even on the inside, they were plotting their next venture. Schrager even says that in the cell opposite him was a guy who murdered someone with a bowling ball. This guy, they decided, was the perfect person to protect them in jail, so they starting paying him protection money from day one. Ever the entrepreneurs!
Watching the documentary charting their startling rise, fall and resurgence made me realise that it’s people like Schrager who are the real heroes in business. Against adversity, there was never any doubt in his mind that he would again be successful; what a testament to positive thinking and self-belief. His mindset is one he has in common with many entrepreneurs I’ve met; there is no fear of failure, more fear of mediocrity. Having a finger on the pulse of culture and being willing to take a risk is a common trait in many successful people, and the fact that Schrager was eventually pardoned by the very judge who sentenced him for his tax evasion (and also the then-US President Barack Obama) just says it all. He owned his mistake and was ashamed by it, but he worked hard to re-invent himself and become a good, honest, trustworthy contributor not only to the US but the world’s economy. People like Ian Schrager should be the role models for anyone who screwed up, and yet has picked themselves up to make themselves credible again.
There are some other business people I really admire a bit closer to home, too. Ali Spencer Churchill, who heads up Annabel’s, is a creative genius. His off-the-wall instinct for creating hype is one no doubt modelled on the days of Studio 54, where the beautiful people flocked to get their ‘space on the floor’ in the words of Chic’s Nile Rodgers. Rather more sedate but no less determined is Sir Mark Price, former CEO of Waitrose, whose complete and utter understanding of his customer and determination to deliver to them and not to be side-tracked by looking at the competition helped him make a British supermarket become something of a status symbol, like a watch or a car. Quite brilliant, when you think of it in those terms.
The common denominator my business heroes share? Determination, drive and a utter conviction about what they are trying to achieve. Lessons to be learned by these amazing, if flawed, geniuses for all of us.
According to my parents, when I was little I was either playing shops and selling up stuff from the cupboards or playing teachers. My favourite toy wasn't a teddy or a Barbie doll but a cash register (funny that... not a lot has changed). As my game playing indicated, teaching and retailing seemed to be my passion from the start and it's funny that my job now encompasses both.
I've been teaching my business workshops for nearly 20 years and it always greatly amuses me that the classroom always has the same mix of people, regardless of who the delegates are or where the course is held. An ex-CID friend of mine told me an alarming statistic - out of 10 people that work for you, apparently one of them will always steal from you, one of them would never steal from you and the other 8 could go either way (I know, terrifying). A bit like that, there's always one delegate who spends the whole session trying to demonstrate to me the myriad of reasons that they really don't need to be there when they seriously do; that what I'm telling them they already know (they don't), that whatever I suggest won't work (it will), or that they are far better informed than me (they're not).
As teaching is a pleasure for me, not a financial necessity, I find this mildly amusing. I won't let anyone disrupt my classroom harmony, so I gently call their bluff and must admit find this game of winning them over and shifting their mindset to embrace their need for upskilling and knowledge quite entertaining, if a little distracting for the other delegates. After all, why are they there if they honestly think they don't need to be? Admitting you need advice is nothing to be scared of.
Conversely, there's usually plenty of students who I just know will embrace every piece of information, who will take back the knowledge and experience I am passing on and use it wisely. They are the ones who will cherry-pick what will work best for them and their businesses and waste no time in implementing it. There's normally several emails after any course or seminar I run from delegates who tell me what they literally saw the scales fall from their eyes over the duration of the course, and that what I'd passed on made complete sense of so much that didn't make sense before. That's hugely rewarding and I'm proud to say I have delegates from my very first courses who still keep in touch and email me for advice even now.
So how do we embrace the learning mentality? Isn't fighting it all about acknowledging our own insecurities and lack of confidence? When I've been studying all things spiritual at the College of Psychic Studies in London, I've had to park my teacher mindset and embrace my lack of knowledge, deciding that in order to maximise the experience and gain the most out of what I am being taught I have to act like a sponge and be willing to drop any defensive behaviours which will only produce negative outcomes. It's actually quite empowering to let yourself be a student again, albeit a lesson in accepting your vulnerability.
It may be easier when you're studying a subject that you know little about, but having to take some tough truths about your day job on the chin when you already think you're doing it right is hard. I get that. But being willing to open your mind will always pay greater dividends. We just have to dive right in and allow ourselves to be the learner again; when we do we find enrichment on so many levels.
New Year's Resolutions
Unlike most people, I hate the festive season, but I absolutely adore New Year. Whilst some people look back over the year and can feel quite melancholy, I find it a brilliant time to set my goals for the coming year and look forward to what I want to achieve. I tend to make just 3 resolutions so I can really stick to them.
1. Yoga – I know that in order to be at my very best both mentally and physically, at least 30 minutes of yoga a day (without fail - and preferably first thing in the morning) is vital to my well-being. I sometimes have lessons at home but most of the time I take my mat with me wherever I am and just do it! Not having time to do my yoga will not be an option this year; I will aim for an hour a day, but settle for 30 minutes if time pressured. Non-negotiable!
2. Work/life balance – Buying my home in Ibiza was all about getting a better work life balance, yet I came back to London last September and into a frenzy of projects and didn’t manage to get back in the autumn like I promised myself I would. Ibiza is my spiritual home and I love it’s tranquillity. I can’t wait to get back there this year and have some time for yoga and meditation – walking along Talamanca beach in the winter is almost more beautiful than a sunny summer day.
3. Plans coming to fruition – I started so many work projects last year, being a typical Gemini, that now I need to consolidate and cement. I love a project and need plenty of diversity in my career to keep me feeling motivated and inspired. 2019 is a great year numerologically and it’s one where things will finally start moving on for everyone. Bring it on!
You've got to have the dressing room - empowering your salon team
I’m writing this on the very day that Theresa May is waiting to find out whether parliament will support her Brexit deal, and because it’s so much in the news it got me thinking. Like her or not, I think most people admire her grit and determination through this process. She’s dealing with the cards she got dealt in taking over as Prime Minister – the result of the public’s referendum to leave the EU. She didn’t necessarily agree, or even instigate the process, yet she was left to pick up the pieces. So it’s surprising that she has so little support from her fellow MP’s. Why not? She’s been stoic, dealt with some very public humiliation and mud slinging and yet… why don’t they back her? It left me pondering.
As a Chelsea fan, it’s a bit like football. Look at Mourhinio – he’s left Man Utd, yet once upon a time at CFC he was ‘the special one’ who could do no wrong. What exactly results in this similar fall from grace?
I suppose it’s like anyone who heads up a team or is at the helm of a people led business, whether it’s hairdressing, football or politics. Quite simply, you’ve got to have the dressing room. If you don’t have the support of the people you’re leading you might as well forget it. No true leader makes the mistake of letting ego get in the way and no manager is greater than the institution they are running. You could argue they are merely the caretaker in some cases. Failure to accept that is when things go wrong. When people start believing they are all things to all men and they don’t need to filter through their thought processes and explain the ‘why’s’ of what they are doing, it’s a recipe for disaster.
So how do you get the team onside? How do you make sure that you ‘have the dressing room’?
The answer is simple – communication. Inviting the team to become part of the problem solving, listening to their ideas and input, giving them autonomy – all of these things aren’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength to show that you value the teams contribution. It makes them feel empowered, involved and part of the solution, not the problem. As Winston Churchill, arguably our greatest leader once said: ’A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty’. Richard Branson similarly speaks of his team as ‘working with’ him not ‘for’ him.
Sharing the issues you face is key. My friend Kate’s husband always used to say to her that a problem shared is a problem doubled – and I can see why there are times you need to keep things to yourself, however worrisome. But on the whole, sharing and inviting people to become part of the solution can only result in their support, not their alienation.
The most skilled people managers I know already have an idea what they want to do, and how. But they invite their teams to brainstorm it with them, making them feel like the solutions are their idea. Unselfish to the core, but the reverse of dis empowering. They smile sweetly, knowing that all the while the team think they’ve thought of a magic bullet, they were leading them there all along.
Who knows what Theresa May would have achieved had she said, ‘Listen guys – these are the issues, come with me, help me find a way though… what do you think we should do?’ Instead, she hid the difficulties she was facing and dealt with them alone, thinking this made her stronger, whereas it had the reverse affect. Who knows, alone is exactly where she might end up…
The Slippery Slope: Regis and Supercuts Plan Company Voluntary Arrangement
The news that one of our sectors largest employers is seeking a rescue deal in order to stay afloat is alarming. Regis UK, the firm behind hairdressing chains Regis and Supercuts, is planning a CVA (company voluntary arrangement) to restructure their costs. Lower footfall, higher pension costs, increasing rents and the apprenticeship levy have all played their part in the action the company is taking.
At present, there are no plans to close any of their 220 salons or make any of their 1300 staff redundant thankfully. But if a company like Regis is having to confront this challenging climate it hardly bodes well for the rest of us. Regis is a company with a rock-solid history and is under the superb and faultless stewardship of MD Jackie Lang (someone I’ve known and respected for many years and have been lucky enough to work with). For such an organisation to be taking such measures it illustrates just how tough our market is at the moment.
It would be really beneficial if we could confront our challenges together, but that won’t happen properly all the time we are unregulated. At a recent industry event, I witnessed the usual banter on how busy people were, how well they were doing, etc. But the real people I respect as friends in the hair and beauty business tell a different story. They acknowledge the challenges we face and we talk properly about what possible action we can take, like campaigning to decrease business rates. If we all united a bit more we’d be far more effective in turning the tide – maybe campaigning for legislation to decrease the VAT rate and copy Ireland’s system (9% on services, 23% on goods) which would benefit us enormously.
For those salon owners who are inclined to pretend all is well there are also those who are refreshingly honest and who demonstrate a much more informed understand about what’s happening to not only our sector but the British high street. How sad that we don’t have the forum to get our heads together and lobby for change…
The End Of The High Street: The Fall Of Retail & What This Could Mean For Salons
The news that House of Fraser are to close 31 stores is disheartening. Sadly, the retail sector of our economy seems to continue to be in crisis, with many household names just failing to make a profit – Toys’R’Us, Mothercare, BHS, C&A – the list of casualties seems to be growing. The resulting job losses are terrible news for those concerned and the country as a whole. House of Fraser is particularly close to my heart as I worked for a company they had their in-store concession business from leaving school until I started my own company – it’s so sad to think they no longer exist. Of course, before they were part of the House of Fraser group they were department stores all individual to the towns they served – Kendals, Manchester, Rackhams, Birmingham and Jenners, Edinburgh to name but a few – that were later re-branded under the HofF banner.
But for salon owners, it paints a scary vision of the future of the great British high street. We may think we are future-proof, safe in the knowledge that until a pair of hands can come out of a computer screen to blow dry, cut, colour hair or paint nails, we’re secure in our offering – but are we? Surely these closures will affect us. Empty high streets mean decreased footfall, and that in turn means less potential new customers to appeal to. As much as the key to creating a sustainable salon business is client retention, we all need a slow and steady trickle of new business to replace the natural decline in existing customers that we all face, regardless of how ‘on it’ we are.
What will happen to the gaping holes these huge stores will leave? Not just in terms of the retail offering but in their physical presence? Greedy landlords and increased business rates have played a massive part in their downfall, but it’s online retail that’s been the final nail in the coffin for bricks and mortar retailers.
I can see a time in the future where we come full circle. The once buzzy department stores and graveyard retail outlets will become showrooms for the online giants – after all, they’ll be the only ones who can afford to inhabit them. The generation z (because we are talking past millennials here) will find the concept of a shop a novelty; ‘Wow! You can actually go into a place and see things for real!’ They’ll say. ‘You can touch them! Pick them up! Buy them there and then! Take them home! You won’t have to wait for a delivery!’
And back we will go to bricks and mortar retailing. It probably won’t be in my lifetime, but if you buried this article in a time-capsule I can see it happening… after all, everything is cyclical. E-commerce will become reality retail again. If you think I’m being dramatic, just remember that Amazon in Seattle has opened a brick and mortar retail unit. And they won’t stop at Seattle.
I attended a recent conference where it was suggested, in the years to come, human beings won’t know how to pro-create any more because every experience they will cherish will be virtual reality, not real life. One thing is for sure, we all need a wake-up call to ensure our precious high streets remain. Wandering down a lovely high street of independent retail units need not be a thing of the past. It’s a lifeline to many lonely pensioners who often don’t get to speak to anyone all day except when they nip out for a coffee or to buy a paper. How sad if that’s lost. How greatly it will affect us all.