This podcast is part of a series of case studies in which we speak to small business owners. Find out about the challenges and advantages of owning your own business, and pick up some advice on how to get started.
Hair Host is a fast-growing salon based in Buckingham, near Milton Keynes. The salon was opened in September 2015 by Rebecca Blade with support from her parents, Julian and Janet Presant-Collins.
Read the full case study on our website » www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/hair-host-llp
Jocelyn Keedwell: Hi, I'm Jocelyn and I am part of the communications team at Companies House. Today we're at Hair Host a salon in Buckingham as part of the latest small business case studies podcast series. Welcome, Julian.
Julian: Thank you.
JK: Thank you very much for having us here today, really appreciate your time. So maybe you can tell me a bit about the company and the business?
Rebecca: We're a growing Salon. We opened in 2015. There's eight of us now, and we want to build the business more, open more salons. So hopefully we'll do that soon.
JK: So do you do it on your own, is it just use a member?
R: So there's myself and then my two business partners who are also my mom and dad Janet and Julian. So I do the day-to-day running in the salon and then they run more of the backstage kind of things like bookkeeping and marketing.
JK: So do you need a lot of support Rebecca, not day-to-day, but maybe sort of behind the scenes?
J: No , certainly not day-to-day. I mean, we're certainly not the hairdressers in the in the family. We leave that to Rebecca and she does a terrific job in the salon, but obviously what you don't realise sometimes when you start a business is you can open premises, employed people, get them doing stuff on a day-to-day basis, but then behind the scenes you do need to almost create like a marketing engine to keep creating noise and keep encouraging customers to come back to us and encourage new customers to step across the threshold for the first time, so that's an ongoing thing and then just, basic stuff; payroll, managing holidays and things like that, which my wife does. It all takes time. So I think, it's fair to say we're probably more involved than we expected to be, but we're enjoying the journey.
JK: You're talking about the journey. So how did the salon start? Why were you inspired to open a salon? Is it something you've always wanted?
R: I've always wanted my salon. I've always wanted to be a hairdresser since I was very young. Since starting hairdressing I thought that's what I want. I want my own business.
JK: So you were really driven then you had that idea in your head.
R: Yeah from very early on.
J: Well, let me tell you that her head teacher once accosted me as I turned up at school and said I've had Rebecca's class for the day and as a father you sort of go ‘’Oh what's happened?’’ And she said they were talking about careers, and she said Rebecca said she wants to be a hairdresser, but she doesn't just want to be a hairdresser. She wants to have her own salon so she has been very driven since young age.
JK: That's great. So, do you have a really clear vision of what you want your salon to be like when you were thinking about it?
R:Well from a lot of clients they find it very intimidating walking into a salon, you know? It's quite difficult for the first time especially. Some have told me that they've walked past wanting to go in and then not walked in and I don't want them to feel like that here. I want them to be able to walk in and feel welcome and that they can chat to anyone like with friends more than just clients and hopefully it's more of the living room feel rather than a salon feel.
JK: Brilliant. How did you start out? Was it registering as a limited company, was it finding premises or getting finance for backing?
J: I think in terms of order of events, it's fair to say that we found these premises that were available, we talked about potentially supporting Rebecca with opening a salon business, but these premises were available and that really kick-started us into setting up Hair Host. It was important for us to get the right premises, and so we felt that unless we did something now we might lose this opportunity. Because of the businesses in the neighbourhood such as Waitrose it was important that we had that footfall and had that exposure really. Location was very important. Having got the premises then it actually moved quite quickly. We put together a business plan. We took the plan to NatWest and they were very willing to support us, which was great because we needed to spend quite a lot of money in turning what was an old card shop into a high-end salon.
JK: So you register with Companies House in March 2015. I think you're open about six months later in September. You’re an LLP so that's a kind of different type of limited company. Why did you go for that structure?
J: Yeah, we sat down with accountants and we use a London-based firm that specialise in small and medium enterprises and it was really on their advice when they spoke to us about who was going to be running the business on a day-to-day basis, who actually needed to draw an income from it. It quickly became apparent that the best route for that was going to be an LLP so that although the three of us own it jointly, Rebecca has the flexibility of drawing from it and so an LLP allows us to allocate all the profits or some of the profits to support Rebecca's needs.
JK: So it worked best for you and the family?
J: It work better for us than a limited company might where you've got a fixed number of shares and then it becomes more complicated when you start to declared dividends as to who gets what. It was just that that flexible structure that was important to us. Otherwise, we probably could have been a limited company, but it was easier and more flexible to be an LLP.
JK: So obviously setting up the business is always a tough time, but what kind of challenges in particular did you guys face? Was it setting up in the community, making sure you built those relationships or maybe finding a work-life balance? I know it can sometimes be quite tricky with your own business.
J: Well, Rebecca has got children.
R: Yeah. So I think trying to balance your work and life, kids, all their needs and then the salon needs as well. I think integrating into this community, everyone was really friendly, we've been quite lucky with how the other shops were with us starting.
J: I think the biggest challenge for us was probably getting going and that's probably what any small business will tell you that. When we open the doors we generally didn't have any customers. It wasn't an existing salon business that we've taken over and we're trying to do something different. We literally didn't have any customers and so for the first few months, I think it's fair to say it was a bit frightening because you never knew who was going to come through the door.
JK: It is kind of building your brand a bit and getting awareness out there.
J: We had to work very hard to get established and start to get people across the threshold and enjoying the culture that we have here.
JK: So obviously, you’ve become a really successful company over the four years. What do you think's been a really important success in that? What's the main factor to success?
R: Having a strong team is definitely the key to a lot of the success. If they're on the same page with what we want for our business then it definitely helps for them to support us.
J: I think to add to that we do have a terrific team and it's fair to say we have hand-picked them as well in many respects. Some people have joined us through the usual routes for us putting an advert out and we've had quite a lot of success there. It's a very strong team but also, I think what we've tried to always create is a family/ caring culture here and so genuinely, my approach is that always the most important person in the salon is the customer and then there's the rest of the team and then it's yourself and if people can remember that simple order, and I think they do, then it changes the whole culture and the way that you run things as a hairdressing business and I think our customers find that quite refreshing. They don't know the mantra but they do experience this, the client is the most important person at that time in the salon and then it's all about everyone else looking after each other before they worry about what they're doing.
JK: Yeah, because you do spend a lot of time making sure your team is looked after staff are cared for?
R: Yeah, absolutely we have that health care benefits and things like that to make sure our team are happy and they feel like we care for them and then hopefully they care for the client a lot more because they feel cared for.
J: I mean, I was always quite encouraged in the early days because what we wanted people to do is to be able to get up and enjoy the prospect of going into work and we did have a member of team who very much in the early days said she felt it was like coming in and spending time with friends rather than actually coming in to do a job so that’s very encouraging. We don’t get it right all the time. But most of the time I think we're doing the right thing.
JK: In terms of not always getting it right. What do you think has been an important lesson you've learned in setting up a company or you know, would you do anything differently? Perhaps you're happy with the way everything's gone. Has it been an easy sailing or has it been a few challenges?
R: I wouldn’t say it’s been easy sailing. I don't think I personally would do anything differently as such the small challenges we've faced you can overcome and you learn from so everything is a lesson really.
J: Yeah, I think so. I mean it's been quite interesting that there's been very, very few occasions when as partners of the business we've disagreed with either the strategy that we're following or how things are being done on a day-to-day basis, so that's been quite encouraging. So I think, I'd agree with Rebecca looking back there's been very little that we would necessarily change. From a business point of view, you might say there are occasions when we've probably been overstaffed, if we're really brutal but that's something that we're prepared to in a sense resource and run with because we think ultimately it is the right thing to do.
JK: what would you say is the best thing about being a small business owner? What are you really proud of?
R: Probably having built a brand that I believe in personally and also the flexibility of work-life balance. Also how you want the brand to be that's the best thing.
JK: So it's develop the way that you want it and you’ve seen it grow and be more successful.
J: I mean, I think from my perspective, it’s very rewarding. We use social media a lot. We try and encourage customers to share with us their thoughts and experiences on visiting Hair Host and when we look at some of the reviews it's very rewarding that they genuinely seem to leave here having felt like they’ve had a really good time and received a really good service in the process. So I think that side of it says yeah, okay, we're doing the right thing. We've got thousands of customers now and we started off with none and nearly a hundred percent of the time, I think we do a terrific job.
JK: Fantastic, how do you see it developing in the future? Have you got any more plans or any more sort of staff, anymore salons?
R: We would like to open another salon so we're kind of looking slowly into that. Yeah using the staff we've got really quite experienced and homegrown so developing them further to then spread them across and then probably start an apprenticeships in both salons.
J: Yeah, it's nice we've had some young people come through, and in fact just this month one of our apprentices is qualified and come out the other end with a distinction, so that's a great endorsement that here we actually are providing them with probably the best training that they can get and we do see building the team allows us to naturally split the team almost across two salons without diluting the service offering and that's always important to us, that you know, if we do make that step into a second salon that the first one doesn't get affected in any way and customer still receive the best service.
JK: Brilliant. Well, it's a beautiful salon to visit and you guys worked really hard and you've made it a great success here in Buckingham. So thank you ever so much for taking the time to talk to us today. We really appreciate it.
J and R: Thank you.
JK: Thanks for listening. If you'd like to find out any more information about Companies House or anything we’ve spoken about today, there's loads of guidance and info on our website. Just go to www.gov.uk/companieshouse