There may be optimistic signs for the economy but it’s still tough on the high street – as we find out at one salon in Kent.
Anthea Mitchell and her stylist husband Philip run the Hair Professional salon in Maidstone in Kent. You’d naturally think they met through hairdressing. But no.
They met in a fish and chip shop, which is a bit unusual. Also unusual is the fact that Anthea has a Masters degree in Philosophy and, although her father was a hairdresser, she originally had no plans to follow him into the profession!
But she’d grown up with the salon as an important part of her world, and eventually the lure of the business was too strong. She’s been running Hair Professional for over 15 years, and now has 9 full-time and 7 part-time staff providing a wide range of hair and beauty services to a loyal clientele.
“We have an amazing staff retention record”, says Anthea “and we work very hard both on training and communicating with our team regularly.” There are monthly staff meetings, an education path and appraisals for everyone on the team, and a private facebook group.
Anthea is also committed to using social media to communicate news about the business. There’s a website and Anthea has a regular blog in which she talks about her news and views. She’s uses twitter, writes a regular newsletter for clients and carries out online surveys. “I’m always looking for new ways to add value to the business. I’ll try anything and everything”, she says. Her latest initiative is a loyalty card which clients can use on their mobile phone.
But although Anthea spends a lot of time and effort in promoting her business and ensuring she provides excellent service, she’s still concerned about the ongoing challenges of being a small business on the high street. Like many towns, Maidstone has several salons, and beauty and nail businesses, many situated very close to each other. She’s seen an overall drop in the number of visits and would love to see more young people coming regularly to the salon: “I’d love to know the secret of attracting more young women to visit us – maybe they think it’s too expensive or just not cool.”
She’s also concerned about standards of education in the profession: “the skills aren’t acquired by magic. It takes a long time to train and develop a stylist who you’re confident can work on their own with clients.” She believes students are often not sufficiently well prepared for the world of work when they leave college. And the National Minimum Wage doesn’t help either: “it can take a long time before a junior is making a real return to the salon, so we have to think very seriously before taking someone on. It’s a big investment of our resources.”
So it remains true that high street salons will need to carry on being imaginative, persistent and deliver great service in order to maintain their client base and develop a sustainable business.