The Head Gardener was awarded Most Wanted 2023 Best Local Salon, but what is the secret to the salon’s long-term success? Owner Alison McRitchie shares all
“Located up in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland in the city of Inverness, The Head Gardener can be found in ‘the old town’ opposite Abbertaff House, the oldest building in the city and the world-famous bar Hootananny’s. Within two minutes’ walk The River Ness flows past, and Loch Ness is within 10 minutes drive.
After training in Birmingham, followed by a brief spell in London, I moved to Inverness in October 1988 (at the grand old age of 20!) to manage The Head Gardener, a new salon that opened in March of ’88. I had no formal management training, but the drive and desire to make it the best I could, and I was certainly never shy of hard work. After two years I bought the salon at just 22 years old.
We now find ourselves 35 years on and still respected for our level of training, customer care and our relentless passion to give back to our community.
As our clients lie back and relax at the backwash area we have our promise to them high up on the opposite wall, signed off by team HG and my HG family. So, I guess that is where our fundamental ethos lies. We are a ‘wee family’ and anyone who comes through our door is treated like family too.
All the team are employed and trained ‘in house’ with regular team meetings and 1;1’s where the team are encouraged to voice ideas that they can implement and run with to ensure we maintain an all-inclusive approach, feeling valued and emotionally rewarded.
Following our belief in supporting local, we work with a mental health charity run by Matt Wallace, called. ‘Clarity Walks’. Matt not only runs workshops but leads regular walks in some stunning local spots to ‘detox, explore, chat and get yer steps in’. This is something we actively encourage. The wonderful spin off from the environment we hope to have created in house has meant that some clients have benefitted from his support as a result of conversations had while in the chair.
Along with the team receiving private health care as part of their employment with ‘HG’, I hope to demonstrate that the health and wellbeing of my team is of paramount importance to me, while we continue to support the wider community.
Our willingness to give back to our community and The Highland Hospice began in 2011 after my dad spent his last few weeks in the In-Patient Unit and our family received their unwavering care and support. Little did we know then that only 18 months later we would find ourselves under their wings once again with my sister Linda. She was just 50. Leaving behind my beautiful niece, who was only 11 at the time.
The mental and emotional rewards from doing this I cannot begin to even quantify. The gratitude from the patients and their families literally has no limits. The age-old cliché ‘if your hair is looking good then you are feeling good’ has such an important role to play in palliative care, something that we witness time and time again.
On entering The Highland Hospice, the ripples of excitement and whispers of chatter begin to resonate throughout the unit. ‘The Head Gardener is here; the hairdresser has arrived!’ Many times we get a call to go in for one patient and end up taking care of three or four! I won’t dispute there are times when I shed a tear on my departure at the unfairness of life, but the messages of thanks from loved ones will have us at ‘hello’ every time.
However, it costs £8,500 per day to keep The Highland Hospice doors open. Our commitment and support through our voluntary roles in our hairdressing services cannot just stop there.
Every single human being deserves the guidance, care and support from their local hospice, and we will continue to do our bit to ensure they do. Each year since 2015 we have continued to run our hugely successful annual fundraising event. After a short interlude called Covid, we have launched Catwalk for a Cause. Each year 12 brave individuals take to the catwalk, model fashion from The Highland Hospice Boutiques and tell their stories of strength, hope, courage and inspiration to a packed audience of 360 with either waterproof mascara, tissues, or both!
Steve Bland from the well know podcast ‘youmeandthebigc’ and Lauren Mahon are huge supporters of the event and this year we welcome the powerhouse of positivity Natalie Woodward to head North and share her story. Over the years we have now raised 100’s of thousands of pounds and 2024 is shaping up to be no exception.
The business model behind Catwalk for a Cause is simple, but incredibly effective. Something I am more than happy to share with anyone who cares to reach out. Our dream has always been to see Catwalk for a Cause up and down the country and local Hospices and their families benefitting as a result.
Is it hard work? Of course it is! Is it worth it? Of course it is! The love and support in the room on the night, I only wish I could bottle.
To hear The Head Gardener is known as the salon with the big heart, the one that goes above and beyond for its community and to have strangers stop me in the street, (and the pub) to hug me and thank me for all we do and have done, I can sum up in two words: job done.
To have a team who are proud to say where they work as a result too? The same two words apply: job done.
But seriously, this reputation is one we are all so very, very proud of, and what does it take? To give our time, for nothing, to others in need. To us and the HG family. Time.
Time is and will always be the most precious commodity of all to us and to the amazing folk of the Highlands and its Hospice.”