Hairdresser that ‘put family home on the line’ to keep salon open sees £10million turnover

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In 2006, Phil Smith was one of six nominees for Hairdresser of the Year that did not have their own product range, and offering a golden opportunity for him to give it a go was Sainsbury’s who approached him right off the back of his nomination. Mr Smith has been in the hair industry since the age of 22, since then he has grown his business to 28 salons across three continents and a team of almost 800. He told what entrepreneurs should be expecting on their journey to global expansion.

He commented on his partnership with Sainbury’s which saw the start of his multiple hair care brands: “Weve worked together in an exclusive relationship for over 15 years, with my products available in over 800 stores across the UK. I have developed and driven the brand with them by my side and Phil Smith Be Gorgeous now has a portfolio of 41 products.

“In 2019, I also launched Smith England, an 11-piece sustainable haircare brand which I am incredibly proud of. Smith England brand is doing what the largest brands should be doing; making the necessary investments and take the hit now in order to create immediate change.”

Mr Smith is driven by the desire to create an affordable, eco-friendly range of products, saying that the only reason other brands are delaying this change is for their own financial gain.

“The materials, the technology and the understanding are there so what are they waiting for? Since launching Smith England, Ive also reformulated, repackaged and rebranded Phil Smith BE GORGEOUS so it has the same eco-friendly stance making it easier for consumers to shop consciously.” 

He explained that his rise to the top actually started by hoping to asking someone out on a date.

“Initially, a girl in my local salon caught my eye and so I went in for a haircut. I ended up getting a job and fell in love with the industry. I quickly could see the potential in hairdressing as a business and in the 90s I opened my first salon and grew the business as a franchisee with over 28 global salons, a team of almost 800, across three continents.

“When I opened my first salon in Salisbury in December 1991, it was the seventh Toni&Guy franchise salon to open and was a case of being in the right place at the right time. I received a loan from NatWest as part of the Government Small Firms Guarantee scheme, and a £30,000 loan from my parents in order to secure the bank loan. As each salon succeeded I reinvested in a new salon until I had 28 global Toni&Guy salons.”

Creating and growing this company has not been easy, but Mr Smith said he wouldn’t have it any other way: “I worked every waking moment. I missed key events in my family and friends lives. I was fiercely driven and comfortable with my business commitments.”

Having championed his business for so long, going through the 2020 lockdowns was not the first turbulent time Mr Smith sailed through.

“The financial crash came in 2008 and everything changed. One letter from the bank and all 28 salon overdrafts were due to be terminated in seven days. This was not an option. I managed to extend the deadline, raised a loan against my house and injected the cash into the business.

“This removed all overdraft facilities and the loan was paid off within 12 months which meant the business trading without the need of overdrafts. I made a promise to myself that I would never put our family home on the line again.

“It was around this time I could see the social economical challenges effecting our industry. Clients had less money and less time to spend in the salon. Turnover was tighter and I was aware there was a shift happening, so I took the decision to sell the salons back to the brand and invest in a product line.”

Mr Smith began his product range as ‘managed under license’ meaning that no cash was required but rather funded and controlled by someone else who then paid royalties back to him.

“As years progressed I sold the salon business, and watching Charles Worthington and John Frieda sell their brands, I focused my energy on my own brand which is now owned, run and managed by myself.”

This pricey endeavour required a lot of funds, most of which Mr Smith raised against his commercial properties. However, growing the brand needed another cash injection.

“I would say this is standing somewhere between the £700,000 and £1million region. Profits generated by the business are for filling this. Today the business has an annual retail turnover of £10million.”

Mr Smith also noted that some sayings from his mentor, co-founder of Toni&Guy Toni Mascolo OBE, kept him going through the trials and tribulations: “He often said to me ‘always enjoy the journey.’  I was in a rush to get to the money but he made me stop and appreciate the present. These words still guide me today.”

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He also advised that budding entrepreneurs looking to take on the global market like he has should be prepared to trade big sacrifices for even bigger rewards.

“Honestly, I would say in business there are more downs than ups. But the ups feel so much better than the downs. Launching and running a business is all consuming, there will be big sacrifices you need to make along the way.

“There will be difficult decisions and dark days but always to go with your gut. It doesn’t mean it will be easy and there is no such thing as getting rich quick. However, like I said, the good times make up for all of that. Stay focused and don’t give up.

Mr Smith hopes to grow his brands even further, after an incredible turnover during lockdown even while salons were closed: “I am currently in talks with distributors in South Africa, Australia and Europe and have just confirmed a deal within Finland,” he announced.
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