Life as a Beauty Salon Owner

As we move into 2020, it seems like a good time to reflect.

I wanted to have my own beauty salon since I was a child.

Aged 7 I was invited to dance competitively in national competitions.
For ballet dances, my face was caked in makeup so it could be seen under the bright stage lights.
Then there was the Character dance – most girls would take on the role of princesses and fairies but not me. My character was more suited to Mr Toad (Wind in the Willows) and Mr Fox (Beatrice Potter).

My first character dance was Mr Toad and my dad used to do my stage makeup. He was quite good at drawing, so studied Mr Toad’s face from a book, bought the brightly coloured makeup and set to work doing the best job he could on my face.
As I grew older, I began doing my own makeup, learning from the older dancers I’d see in the dressing room.
That’s where my love for makeup began.

Father Christmas delivered a dressing-table one year – you know, one of those brightly coloured, plastic things from Toys R Us – and the dream began.

Around the age of 9, I was given a beauty book for my birthday. It included a pot of cheap, nasty red lip gloss – girls, you know the type, I can still remember the taste and colour now. The book had recipes for homemade face cleaners and masks in, so I set to work mixing up concoctions in the kitchen. My mum and I would lay in the garden with yoghurt and cucumber on our face, with bits of oatmeal dropping off as it set in the sun.

That’s when it happened. That’s when I decided I wanted to become a beauty therapist. I could play with makeup and skincare all day long and get paid for it. But being a beauty therapist wasn’t enough, I wanted my own beauty salon!

Aged 18, I was accepted into the London College of Fashion to study a HND in Beauty Therapy & Health Studies for 2 years. It was the highest qualification at the time for that subject.

After working in several world-class spas, including the Disney Magic Cruise ship which cruised around the Caribbean, I’d gained enough experience and was ready to make a career for myself.

Aged 24, I rented a room in a Chiropractic Clinic as a massage therapist. My turnover for my first year was £8,000. I don’t know how I managed financially. My mum would send me £20 notes in the post every now and again to help with my food shop and I rented a room from my friend’s dad who gave me cheap rent.

After 12 months at the clinic, I was desperate to leave and start a beauty business. There was a salon in town that was about to close and I knew I needed that building. And somehow, I got it.

The quirky, underground salon had two small treatments rooms, a reception room and was steeped in history – stone floors, exposed brick walls and a huge ornate fireplace. It was lush! The rent was £7,500 a year, a bargain for what the building offered.

I got a £10,000 loan from the bank (I remember the interest rate was so low back then) to buy equipment, stock and furniture and off I went to make my dream a reality.

I’d have to work hard to cover all the costs but I knew I could do it.

Within a year, I was booked every day and began growing out of the small salon. I worked alone and whilst doing treatments, I’d have to lock the door and was missing clients who wanted to book treatments or buy products. I relied on them writing their name and number in a notebook outside so I knew they’d visited.

After 16 months in that salon, I’d heard about a shop on the high street that was about to close down. It was perfect for me and the growth of my business! I made a beeline for the shop, found out who owned it and made it my mission to get the lease.

Thinking back to the person I used to be, I am impressed by the motivation and drive I had. I was only 26 and had little idea what I was doing. I was just acting off the pretend-business plan I’d written in college. I was making it up as I went along and was fearless. I secured the lease and moved in.

I’d saved enough money from my small salon to fit out the new one….. with 7 Ikea trolleys worth of furniture! I designed the salon myself using a scaled drawing with paper, pencil and a ruler. I made a mood board and everything.

I paid professional builders to fit out the shop but when I began running out of cash, I’d go in at night and put the shelving together myself.

The new salon was swanky. It was called BodyCare.
It was white, clinical and minimal. It had one downstairs treatment room with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall and multi-coloured mood lighting. The ground floor shop had backlit shelves which were filled with thousands of pounds of top-of-the-range skincare.

I employed two beauty therapists and we took it in turns to perform treatments and man the reception desk. It was perfect! The salon was beautiful.

We offered all kinds of treatments such as massage, manicures, pedicures, facials and waxing. And we were busy.

After several years, I could feel the beauty market changing and also my love for what I wanted to do. In the kindest possible way, I didn’t want to be ripping people’s unwanted body hair out of their bodies and cutting their toenails anymore. I’d grown to love becoming an artist of shaping my client’s eyebrows. And eyebrows were becoming trendy. I could see a niche……

I went on a specialist eyebrow training programme called HD Brows and since that day, the business would never be the same.

I came back and announced a refurb and rebrand. The beauty industry was changing and we needed to change with it to keep growing.

I spent all my business savings on completely rebranding the salon and shop. We were closed for two weeks and everything was ripped out. I mean everything. The white, minimalist decor on the ground floor was replaced with shabby, chic, vintage furniture.

Downstairs, the treatment room was turned into an express beauty salon with 4 reclining barber chairs, lined up in front of decorative mirrors. The glass wall was replaced with black and white Marilyn Monroe wallpaper.
The salon was now called Oscar Rose, a hip and funky express beauty salon and boutique beauty shop. We offered only manicures, eyebrow and lash treatments and threading, and sold skincare, make-up and exclusive fragrances.

I hired a full-time receptionist and we now had 4 therapists busying away over clients, back to back to back, all day every day.

The uniform requirements went from black trousers, a white polo top and smart trainers to black dresses and smart shoes – as beauty therapists we took this to the max and came to work dolled up to the eyeballs; fancy fitted black dresses, high heels and red lipstick. It was glamorous. It was dreamy and I loved it!

Our communal salon was bustling full of women and men (!) all wanting to look and feel nice. We’d sit them down, fling them back in the barber chair and do our thing, all chatting and laughing amongst each other.
We were artists at work.

By that stage, my love for shaping people’s eyebrows had become an obsession and that’s all I did. I no longer did manicures. For me, it was back to back eyebrows all day. We were all fully booked every day. It was manic! And it was great.

In the run-up to Christmas, we worked 7 days a week from 7am, sometimes until 10pm. We couldn’t keep up. Some clients would book their appointments up until Christmas from June!

I thrived. I was in my element – even writing this now has made my heart rate increase.

But then things started to change. The business reached a limit and I couldn’t take it any further because there were no extra hours in the day that we could work.

A few things happened that started to tarnish this dream world I was living in; smashed shop windows from drunken passers-by at the weekend, thefts, dishonest staff and a flood from the upstairs flat that damaged tens of thousands of pounds worth of stock and furniture. It was a lot to deal with for one person.

Without going into too much detail, the salon closed in 2015. It had got too much. There were too many moving parts and I couldn’t cope. Perhaps it was too much of a good thing – who knows.

People ask me if I regret not having the salon anymore. I did regret it for a while but not for long. It was a fantastic experience but I feel happier, freer and more content with the life I live now.

I am so grateful for that experience which has shaped my life, taught me about business and helped highlight exactly what I want from my life.

I’m a bit choked up writing this.
I didn’t expect to write so much about it. And I am impressed if you have read this far.

It’s been nice to relive it all and remember it.
I wish I had more pictures of all 3 salons, but after closing the business I deleted the Facebook page – what a wally.

I think I deleted it because it hurt too much to come to terms with me having fallen out of love with it. I describe it like it was a relationship; breaking up with a guy who I no longer loved and throwing out the pictures and love letters.

Anyhow, that’s the beauty salon story.
I hope you enjoyed reading about it. I enjoyed writing about it.