Real Talk – Mark Woolley on marrying business and creativity

Being a creative person doesn’t mean you can’t be an ace at business as well

I went into hairdressing because I wanted to do something creative, but ultimately I knew I wanted to own my own business. I don’t believe there is a split between the creative side and the business side of things. If you look at other industries – at chefs like Gordon Ramsey, or fashion designers like Paul Smith and artists like Damian Hirst – they’re people who are obviously creatively brilliant in their own field, but they also run hugely successful businesses. You don’t have to be one or the other. One of my missions has been to try and change that perception.

At 21 I’d opened my first salon with Saks as a franchise in Yorkshire, but when I moved down to London I started doing a lot of session work and the creative side started to take off. That’s when I realised that I didn’t want to be in a corporate or franchise situation. By the time I took the leap on my own, I’d already learned how to run a business and built a framework. I knew I needed my own brand, rather than someone else’s.

There has been a huge rise in the independent hairdresser worldwide. A lot of people see salons as a minefield and a bit of a headache, so they start off as an independent operator and working in a way that doesn’t require any start-up capital, like education.  One of the things I think Electric is good at is sitting down with these people and seeing how we can help with their business side as well. I want to help people earn better money. Even the top stylists are all trying to earn more money, because there’s so many people doing it now. It’s a very different game to what it was 20 years ago.

We develop and manufacture our own products because, first and foremost, the product has to work. It has to do what it says on the tin. That sounds simple but actually not many brands are able to stay in control from start to finish. Everyone involved looks at the product as a whole. We source all of our own raw materials, we make sure the packing is fully recyclable, that everything is cruelty free, so we can vouch for everything that’s in the bottle. That’s taken us ten years to get to that point, because there’s an extensive testing phase. It was tough, with lots of trial and error, but I’m really confident now. We’re like the craft brewer of the professional haircare market, because we do everything ourselves and we can listen to feedback from hairdressers.

We run loads of Electric Sessions, which freelancers can attend. We’re supplying some of the world’s best session hairdressers, here and in the States, so we can listen to them and tweak our formulas based on feedback. We run this programme called the Electric Endorsed Artists programme, where artists can buy products at a discounted price. If they can get credits for us, if Electric gets mentioned in magazines or film, we issue the artists with credits from us for free products. Or if they want to retail to their clients we can sell to them at wholesale price, and they can profit from it.

I love the fact that we created a brand and not a person. If it had been called ‘Mark Woolley’ then it would have had to have been all about me – whereas Electric can be about anyone who’s operating it. That can be someone using our products on a magazine shoot, or one of our creative directors, or people who work in our salons. They can all put their own spin on it, and in turn, that makes the brand stronger.

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