What it’s Really like to Start and Grow a Hair Salon

After scooping three British Hair and Beauty Awards this year, SHARP spoke to Karen Thomson, Owner of KAM Hair and Body Spa to find out how she grew her business to one of the largest employers in her town and what it’s really like to set up your own hair salon.

When did you decide to set up your own business?

From a young age I have always been interested in the hairdressing industry and have been obsessed with hair. At the age of 14, I started as a Saturday girl. It was hard work but I loved every minute of it and felt like I could wind perms in my sleep!

The industry changes all the time with new trends and styles and that’s something that I love about it, it never gets boring! I started the business at 17 and I was so young, too young and didn’t plan to do that – I trained in a small local salon, I started at 15 and flew through my training, won best overall student at college and was on the floor really quickly. I just finished my qualification when my boss told me she wanted to sell the salon and would like to give me first refusal, I was quite stunned and really didn’t know what to think, it certainly wasn’t on my mind at that point to set out on my own.  I spoke to my mum and dad and decided I felt I was too young and needed more experience so I waltzed off to Tenerife for two weeks with my friends and my boss proceeded to put the salon on the market.

When I came back she told me she had someone interested, they’d been at college with me and wanted to start up, suddenly I thought if they think they can do it why can’t I! The sale then went to a closing date, which was nerve racking, but I got it and that was where it all started!

I was was lucky that my parents were able to lend me the money to get it started. This was a business agreement and was paid back in full asap. The next step was finding a team, which was one of my main challenges in order to gain respect, as I was so young.  I started small and threw myself into lots of courses, I was never scared of hard work and loved to please people and have happy clients.

How did it feel launching a business at such a young age?

I always felt like I wasn’t equal being so young, but I threw myself into so many courses, I thrived on education and still do, I always strive to be the best I can be. I think the fact the salons still around 27 years later and is busy and winning UK awards is amazing from starting at such a young age. When I started the business I did have to to grow up fast and it was tough dealing with paper work, I remember also having to go the bank for a meeting, which was terrifying at that age…the man turned out to be the loveliest and most helpful bank manager I’ve ever had!

How is the business doing now?

The business is now doing fantastically. It’s been open 27 years and has only ever grown, even through recessions and other difficulties in the area the salon has kept going. For the past couple of years Grampian, including Moray, has been hit with the slump in the oil industry, which has affected the area greatly. Many businesses are struggling, cutting back and even closing, but our salon has just kept on going.

All the team at KAM are employed, making it one of the largest employers in the town and by far the largest salon in Moray.  The salon is based in a small town that has no town centre, but we have created a haven for everyone, a destination salon that clients love to travel from miles around to for all of their hair and beauty needs. We are now seen as one of the leading hair and beauty destinations in the North of Scotland and have won a number of great awards over the years, including Business Salon at last years Salon Business Awards and winning the Scotland category at last years Best of Britain Awards. This year we also won three awards at the British Hair and Beauty Awards including a Gold Award for Hair Salon of the Year in Scotland, Gold Award for Beauty Salon of the Year in Scotland and Silver Award for Excellence in Customer Care in Scotland.

What do you think is next for you and how are you preparing for that?

This year I decided to expand the salon even more and have bought the premises next door to help with this. The expansion will be a more luxurious area of the salon with a brow bar and makeup bar and also disabled facilities and a beauty room, which is something I have always wanted in the salon and is really important to me to have. The expansion will take a lot of time and effort but it will be well worth it to be able to offer our clients even more, better services.

What has been the toughest day of your career and how did you overcome it?

Other than starting the business at such a young age and finding a respectful team quickly, I’m not too sure what the toughest day has been since. There have been so many challenges, one being creating the perfect work/life balance. I’ve always had a great love of horses and that’s probably the thing that has given me my switch off throughout my career. My husband and I compete in the equestrian world and we also have our own livery yard that we set up 13 years ago. We now have a young family and I put into place a few years back to work more on the business rather than just in it, so that freed up a lot of time so by the time my kids came along I have been able to take some time out and spend it with them. I still have clients two days a week but can fit the rest of my work in to suit our schedule, we’re always on the go with horses and ponies, meeting friends and enjoying spending time with everyone. I always feel very responsible for everyone that I employ, everyday I’m aware that people depend on me and if I mess up that impacts on a lot of people, having your own business is a lot of pressure but it’s also fantastic.

What keeps you going and gets you out of bed in the morning?

My family, friends and fabulous team get me out of the bed in the morning, as well as my love and passion for hairdressing and our lovely clients in the salon. I love that I can wake up and think that all of our clients will have an amazing experience in the salon and leave feeling and looking great. One of my biggest achievements and one of the most satisfying parts of my career is having a happy team and seeing them do well. I  constantly want to help them to progress and regularly invite them along to help with shoots and most recently invited them along with me to to London Fashion Week to style the hair for the models of the Johnston’s of Elgin show.

Who inspires you in the industry?

I look at everything and pick up inspiration from anywhere, from people watching, to nature. I also look at magazines, architecture and interiors, London Fashion Week and catwalk shows. It’s great to see new, different trends on the catwalks and adapt new styles from there. The 80s in particular was an amazing time of inspiration for hairdressing; people tried anything with their hair. Social media is also extremely powerful as you can keep up-to-date with what street styles and adapt ideas from there. The beauty industry has changed a lot since I started and we are always on the look out for what’s new and invest heavily in new technology.

I also admire high fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. These designers both have such unique, quirky styles with Vivienne Westwood being responsible for bringing modern punk into mainstream fashion and Alexander McQueen having theatrical catwalk shows with bizarre designs. The creativity and uniqueness of these designers is why I find them so iconic

What advice would you give to someone thinking about setting up their own company?

A successful business must always have a plan and have measurable goals included within this and must also be able to stay ahead of it’s competition, staying on top of trends in order to predict what their customers want.

To learn more about Karen and her salon visit: https://www.kamhairandbodyspa.co.uk

SharpLifeWhat it’s Really like to Start and Grow a Hair Salon

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