Kaye Sotomi, co-founder and director of Chop Chop London, shares his advice on moving your business forward during a challenging time

Kaye Sotomi

“The different Chop Chop London stores have managers that manage them individually. For me, I run monthly meetings with everybody to let them know what, as they say, the State of the Nation is – where we are as a team, what the performances are of each team, each store, and the areas of weaknesses where we need to focus on. 

I have weekly meetings with the store managers, we review the performance of the salon in the month previous. They all have business continuity plans and things that they must make sure that are embedded and constantly updated, so we can continue to move forward as an organisation. We work based on what’s urgent, then what’s not so urgent. 

Supporting the team 

At some point you have to balance between being a leader and being a founder, and also making a real relationships and connections with your team. Before, the focus was ‘we’re growing, we’re moving forward’, so we need to get a manager to take care of what’s happening on ground and the communication with the team in their store. I’d come in, and say ‘hey, how’s everybody?’ and have a quick chat. 

Now, I’m a lot more connected with everybody. I spend more time sitting in one-to-one meetings to build empathy into the way that we approach things. I think that’s the biggest fundamental thing that has changed post-pandemic.
I’ve tried to focus on seeing where their strengths lie with other tasks within the organisation and spend a little bit more time for them doing those things. Where possible, I invest in opportunities for them to learn more in those spaces and contribute in a meaningful way outside of the hairdressing work that they do.  

 Staff retention and fulfilment 

It’s the million-dollar question! I saw in a recent survey only nine per cent of UK residents feel like they are actually fulfilled at work, and that’s below the 14 per cent target that the European Union has. We are building and designing a culture within our organisations that allow staff to feel like they can be heard when they have a grievance or want to share their opinions. Also, it’s a culture that is empathetic to different situations.  

Being a man in business that works with a lot of women, I’ve done a lot of work to understand the expense of childcare demands in the UK. So, now when I have a mother that is part of my team, I am so much more flexible with their issues and their demands and I’m able to negotiate or discuss the position with them.  

Chop Chop London salon exterior
Chop Chop London interior
Managing mental health  

As business leaders we’re having to take on the position of discussing issues around mental health with our teams, which we weren’t equipped for before. We’re honest and open that we’re trying to understand everybody’s situation and where we can, we’ll adjust assist everybody. Approaching it from that perspective, while also maintaining strong deadlines, having strong values around excellence in what you’re trying to accomplish can challenge everybody to strive for better while they’re at work. 

The most useful resources I’ve found to educate myself are books, podcasts, my friends who are psychologists, as well as going to talks where I can and building mental resilience through other aspects of life, such as exercise or having conversations with fellow business owners.  

We suffer from mental health issues ourselves as business leaders, but we’re so focused on making sure that everybody else is okay so we can continue to move forward. It’s super important to have a network of business owners – a family unit that you can talk to. 

Looking ahead 

100 per cent recognise that you’re not in it alone. You’re trying to do the best that you can with the tools and information that you’ve been given. Avoid hoping that this present experience is going to somehow revert to the way that business was; if you are not embracing or accepting that the landscape has changed then it’s inevitable that you’re going to find yourself at loggerheads with every other person within your organisation, your customers and everything else that goes with the business.  

It is a very tough time to navigate and to just try to understand exactly where and how to do things. Find information about the current situations; speak with other business owners and spend a little bit more time with your team. See if people within your organisation can step up and have a voice at a time where you feel like you’re taking a lot of the responsibility. There might be a star in the mix that is just waiting!”