Cheryl Mitchard, Mitchard Hair & Beauty, Newport
“Keep Going Regardless!”
Friends and colleagues have warned me I must be mad! But I've always kept going anyway.
I knew I was good at styling hair. The question was, could I make a business of it?
In 1991, at the height of a recession, working for someone else, I was talking to a colleague. We were convinced that clients wanted high quality hair-styling services. We felt that we could provide better quality than the company we worked for. So we left the jobs and started our own business.
It became inevitable as soon as we had thought it. We were so sure, even though we were in a recession, we had to do it.
We aimed to provide the best quality service, and many clients followed us, so we felt we were succeeding.
I have retained clients for more than 25 years now – ever since I was 18 years old. That is almost unheard of in the industry!
It's hard work when you have to juggle the shop-floor and the office work. And suddenly there came a time when I had to go it alone. Again everyone seemed to tell me it was impossible, I was mad to even think it, but...
Are Service Businesses At More Risk?
Commentary by Dave Simon
Providing services is considered more difficult than selling products.
Some professional services are essential at times, like solicitors and accountants. They don't have to try too hard: they can set fairly high prices.
Other services are optional. Customers treat them as though they are elastic. In hard times they want to delay them or reduce them.
Then a few services provide what we want rather than what we need - like hair-dressing and beauty treatments. Common-sense says they are very vulnerable to recessions when clients' disposable income reduces and business cost rise.
But there is an upside-down factor that Island businesses need to know about.
Great customer service allows higher prices that still feel fair. And happy customers keep coming back. Amazingly, they also:
spend more money and require less help from your staff
encourage their friends and family to visit your business
cut your advertising costs
NOTE: Just 5% better customer retention can give you more than 25% increase in profits, according to Harvard Business School research.
So service businesses can make themselves almost immune from recession.
Click here to get a Review Paper on 'How To Raise Your Prices Without Worrying Your Customers' with my Special Offer included.
Continuing Cheryl's story:
The Scary Start-up Stage
We started the business with an interest-free loan from the Prince's Youth Business Trust.
That was very scary: at the age of 24, sat in front of a panel of 6 judges, talking about a business plan. I said that clients are free to choose – they are not tied to a particular hair-dresser. So if we provide them with the quality they want, they will come to us.
I must have made sense because they supported us. We couldn't have bought the equipment, fitted out the salon and got the first stock of products in without it.
And then we opened the doors and crossed our fingers. And some clients followed us and new ones arrived, and they've all kept coming! It all happened quickly and suddenly we were busy.
Since then nothing much scares me in business. You just have to learn not to take anything for granted. So I am constantly thinking about what else I can do for the clients, searching for improvements. If they are happy, they will keep coming and the business will take care of itself.
But it's getting harder to build a business. There is so much more paper-work now – like health and safety and so on. I wouldn't want to risk staff or clients in any way, but it sometimes seems like checklists have replaced common-sense.
Salons don't make a lot of profit. We are High Street businesses with a lot of costs. We can only fit in so many clients at a time. So what profit you can make keeps you going – it confirms that you are doing the right thing for your clients.
To me, success is finding a good work-life balance. It means staying healthy and happy earning your living while meeting the costs of the business. Thinking about it, I feel it's important that I still enjoy working with clients after all these years. I still feel the art of styling the client's hair the way that makes them feel good.
And I also enjoy working with staff. I have a great team at the moment – we work well together. I have trained lots of people over the years and it feels great when they improve. I'm always encouraging them to discover more.
I know when they get a buzz out of using what they've learnt – I've been there too! So when I see that, I feel I've done a good job. You never stop learning – I still am, and that, too, is a sign I take to mean I'm succeeding.
I've heard that we the only business from that Prince's Trust group who are still going – we've just celebrated 25 years – so that must mean success too!
Support Is Essential
When we started, the Prince's Trust mentored us. Every six months or so, they visited and encouraged us. And they were available by phone in between, too. It helped us with the businessy decisions and it gave us courage.
And I had a wonderful bank manager who helped me at a critical time when I had to find funds to help me take over the business on my own. And for many years he helped me though the rough patches. I might not have made it without his advice.
I am sure that supporting staff is right. They look to you for guidance, so if you take a lazy attitude, they will too. Helping staff by working with them is a great way to encourage “do as I do”.
So I take coaching seriously. I think it's part of what makes my business attractive to staff. It helps me to retain good staff – which is actually essential to my business. So there is a support circle there: we are all helping each other.
Every Little Improvement Helps!
We do seem to have a poor economy at the moment. Town centres are full of betting shops, charity shops and discount shops. It all speaks volumes.
It's difficult to know what to do to help ourselves. I don't think there is a magic answer.
To pay for increased costs, you feel you have to charge more. But that runs the risk of losing clients. And I won't compromise my standards on the quality of products we use. So I have held my prices static for three years now.
My only way to avoid eating up my profit is to negotiate on the price of my supplies and utilities. And then we get hit with new taxes...!
But I stay as optimistic as I can. I have refreshed the décor in the salon to make sure it doesn't get tired-looking. I am developing new lines in beauty services using upstairs space. And the wig and hair-piece service is increasingly popular.
Richard Branson is a bit of a hero – he always seems open-minded and looking on the bright side. He keeps on chasing success. I think we all have to do the same. Every little improvement helps!