Four lessons we learned at Salon Smart Dublin 2022

Salon Smart Dublin panel

After a three-year Covid-induced absence, Salon Smart – Creative HEAD’s flagship business networking event presented in association with L’Oréal Professionnel Paris – returned to Dublin yesterday and discovered a hairdressing landscape in flux. Increased self-employment; a more focused eye on work/life balance; rising energy costs; changing consumer trends as many clients continue to work from home; a boom in young entrepreneurship in hair and beauty but a battle to find the talent salons need… The response among Irish salon owners has been to re-evaluate what working in hair could and should look like. Do we need to be open on a Saturday? Do we need to be working five days a week? The rule book has been ripped up.

Here’s what we learned about what’s happening in Irish hairdressing right now:

A deep appreciation of team

The importance of our teams and the need to keep them happy (and within the business) was a recurring theme throughout the day. Post-Covid, employers are creating packages tailored to individual staff needs, whether that’s more flexible hours to achieve a better work/life balance or financial packages that reinforce the positives of employment. Hellen Ward’s Apprentice Travel Subsidy Scheme – where trainees are reimbursed a percentage of travel costs in return for good attendance – is proving popular among young workers and their parents. At Carla Rose McQuillan’s The Space, team bonding events and Friday morning rituals – where everyone meets for breakfast and a chat ahead of the working day – ensure staff feel appreciated. But a word of caution came from Patrick Gildea of Patrick Gildea Hairdressing in Letterkenny: “People are frightened to say no to staff, but there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. We’re running a business, after all. We need basic foundations in place, where we all agree that this is what we do – and beyond that, well, we can have a discussion.”

Team talk at Salon Smart Dublin

Carla Rose McQuillan and The Space team

Ask an Expert at Salon Smart Dublin

Patrick Gildea (centre), with fellow panelists Lisa Eccles and Paul Hession

Sometimes the heart should rule the head

Achieving a better (or any kind of!) work/life balance is the new Holy Grail of hairdressing – and that applied to business owners, as well as their teams. Lockdown reminded multi award-winning Wildflower owner Danielle Garner of what it means to be a human being; now she actively builds time into her schedule for family, rather than filling empty gaps with extra tasks or creative projects. She also finds that being supportive of her 23-strong workforce, rather than focusing always on working harder and longer, actually allows them to achieve greater results. “Our ‘why’ is the pursuit of happiness in the workplace,” she says. Meanwhile, Michelle Grimes described creating her ‘heart-led’ business, the Maven Studio co-working space in Dublin, as a response to seeing talented stylists quit the industry due to burn-out. She takes no sense of ego at being a business owner herself; rather, she actively enjoys “being in service”, ensuring everyone who works in Maven is fully supported to run their own business well and successfully.

Danielle Garner

Danielle Garner

Michelle Grimes

Michelle Grimes

Specialisation is a commercial imperative

Hellen Ward argued that specialisation – ie, focusing on a specific skill, rather than being a Jack (or Mary) of all trades – is important for both staff and the business. Creating an area of expertise not only means individual team members are able to charge higher prices, but it also means clients see multiple team members on every visit – for cut, colour, nails, etc – meaning they’re more likely to stay loyal to the salon, even if their favourite stylist leaves.

Salons across Ireland are upskilling in textured and curly hair, in order to grow their client base and, therefore, their business. An expert panel, including Brazilian-born Marco Dias, cLHAIR founder Claire Martin-Kennedy and owner of The Hair Space in Galway, Laura Murphy, delivered plenty of insight, including addressing the fear many feel about moving into this area. “Be humble and open enough to shadow a textured hair specialist and make sure you practice on blocks,” advised Claire.

Hellen Ward

Hellen Ward

Marco Dias, Claire Martin-Kennedy, and Laura Murphy

Prices will rise in 2023

Rising energy prices, the introduction of compulsory pensions and an impending hike in VAT mean prices are likely to rise across the board in Ireland over the coming weeks. And although it was generally felt that there would be public sympathy for such a move, it was also agreed that clients would be looking for an incredible in-salon experience in return. Prior to social media, computers and even the humble typewriter, people told each other stories, said Monica Teodoro of L’Oréal Professionnel Paris. Now is the time to tell your clients the story of what you, as a business, are all about. It’s about being real, authentic and focusing on what makes you unique.

Monica Teodoro

Monica Teodoro

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