Perfect 10 – Why The Time is Right For Sally Montague To Expand Her Salon Group

For 40 years Sally Montague has been busy creating strong communities in her salons built around creativity and care. And while the business is strongly influenced by its heritage, with daughters Emmanuelle and Angel now on board, it’s building for future growth, too.

by ATHERINE | THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS

It was thrilling – though perhaps, for those who know her, unsurprising – that at a party to mark her 40th anniversary in business, Sally Montague announced her plan to open three more salons. Looking on were two of her daughters, Emmanuelle and Angel, both of whom have key roles within the business, and Angel’s two-month-old daughter. “Meet our next future salon manager,” quipped Emmanuelle.

Many a true word is spoken in jest. The Sally Montague Hair Group is a force to be reckoned with, with seven super-busy salons based in and around Derby providing the beating heart for local communities, creating jobs (all staff are fully employed) and stimulating economic growth. (Sally is so committed to independent businesses that she has never purchased anything online and only shops locally.) While other salon groups are standing still or contracting, Sally and her daughters are busy planning for growth, with salon number eight about to be announced.

Family is a driving force behind the business, and undoubtedly a key reason for its success. It was Sally’s architect father who rented the building to her when she opened her first salon in Friar Gate, Derby, in 1983 (note, no freebies here), and her mother worked on reception to save on costs. It was husband Garrick who loved finding the buildings for each new salon after that, helping to mastermind the growth of the group, and who encouraged his wife to aim for 10 (he sadly passed away in 2021, age 64, after a long battle with cancer). And Emmanuelle, who used to help out in the salons on Saturdays and during her university holidays and chose to enter the business 16 years ago instead of returning to college in Paris, is now the group’s brand manager; while Angel, who trained at Sassoon and got the session bug after working backstage at The Clothes Show, is the group’s art director, bringing her Fashion Week experience to creative shoots, shows and team training.

“We’ve built a community that’s really special, and we’re so proud to have families spanning three generations visit us for our services.” Sally Montague

But for the first 20-odd years, Sally pretty much ran the salons on her own (Garrick looked after the buildings but he was not involved in the business side). Friar Gate, which launched with three chairs, quickly expanded to 18 positions…  and then kept growing. But it took 10 years before salon number two came along, in Derby’s Irongate, as a lack of business confidence (not to mention three children under the age of five) was holding her back. “I felt I was a good hairdresser but as far as business was concerned, I was just winging it every day,” she says. A turning point came when L’Oréal Professionnel Paris (to whom Sally has remained loyal her entire career) sponsored her to attend a business course with Alan Austin-Smith. “It blew my mind,” she recalls. “I had all this new knowledge and I couldn’t wait to put it into action.” In 1996, with the salons bursting at the seams, Sally was awarded Derby Business Person of the Year. Newly emboldened, she opened in Belper in 2000 and between 2007 and 2021 another six followed, including her salon in the David Lloyd centre in Derby – her only salon that is leasehold.

Filling seven salons is quite a task, but Sally and her teams succeed day in, day out. So, what’s the secret? “It’s a given that the hair has to be fantastic,” says Sally. “And my standards are really, really high, so whoever I trained or brought in had to be fantastic too. But I think it’s the experience we create. We make it special, whether that’s decorating the salons for Easter or Valentine’s Day, or my Friday Ladies Club, where everyone comes in for a blow-dry. We’ve built a community that’s really special, and we’re so proud to have families spanning three generations visit us for our services.”

“A big reason why clients are so loyal is because they can see how much education we continually invest in our team,” says Emmanuelle. “Our education calendar for the year is absolutely packed, and we share everything we do via a dedicated Instagram channel that not only helps drive recruitment, but the clients love it and are inspired by it, too. And from the team’s perspective, we’ve introduced things like personal trainers and education on nutrition alongside their L’Oréal colour sessions, so they feel they are continually developing, too. When you’re growing salons you need the team to grow with you.”

This desire always to improve what they’re doing has been made easier since Sally’s daughters joined the business. “We’re constantly critiquing what we’re doing,” says Sally, “and because it’s me, Angel and Emmanuelle having those conversations, it leads to improvement, rather than someone being offended.”

As a result, the three women have taken decisions together that have proved pivotal to the business. During the 2008 recession, when the phones stopped ringing and clients started spacing out their appointments, they decided against using Groupon and other discounting schemes, even when their teams were pushing for it. “We looked at it, and we said, ‘No, we’re not doing it’. We’ve never done those promotions. We offer very high quality, but our clients do get value for money.”

Having her daughters on board means Sally can carry on doing the job she loves (“I’m on the salon floor four days a week and nobody interrupts me because Emmanuelle takes care of everything. She’s put the business on another level.”). But they’re not trying to do it on their own. “You can’t get to 10 salons with three people,” says Emmanuelle, “it’s got to be a massive team effort. We’ve got a really strong senior management team, so the salons can maintain those high standards, and we want to welcome people into the business and grow – and we’re doing that successfully.”

For Sally, the future still doesn’t involve retirement – she has a different vision in mind. “I’d like to come off the floor a bit more so I can call in on the salons and thank all the clients for coming. I mean, I drop the towels and stock off and when I do that I wave at the clients and say hello, and they love it. The staff say, ‘I can’t believe Sally’s come in with the towel bag’, but you know, that’s what I’ve always done. And I’m happy to do it and I would like to be able to do more of it.”

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