Sa Vi by name, savvy by nature

With over 30 years combined experience in hairdressing, Samantha Bewick and Victoria Gilbert could probably give a perfect Brazilian blow-dry in their sleep. But when the flamehaired duo launched Sa Vi, they had to make the leap from hairdressers to business owners. We speak to co-owner Vicky about the challenges of entering a competitive market, coping with a tough economy and being the boss

sa-vi-2You don’t just open a salon and then a load of customers walk in the  door. You’ve got to work hard to get customers in and then work to keep them there as well. We’ve just celebrated our second anniversary and things are going better than we ever imagined. But at the same time, it’s been a lot harder than we thought – you can’t take your eyes off the ball for a minute

laughs Victoria Gilbert.

According to Vicky, the competition within Peterborough’s hairdressing industry is fierce, meaning there’s an enormous pressure to provide excellent customer service and make the salon stand out:

The competition has definitely been tougher than we thought – there are new hairdressers opening up everywhere so we have to work hard to retain our business. Plus, people are struggling more because of the recession, and often they will think – do you know what, I’m just going to colour my hair at home. So you’re battling all the time to get that custom back in

One of the ways Sa Vi has coped with the pressure to capture the interest of their customers
has been to diversify. In just two years, the salon has expanded to include a huge range of beauty treatments, from spray tans and eyebrow waxing, to sports massages and aromatherapy, offering a sort of ‘one-stop shop’ for clients’ needs. As the 32-year-old reveals, this has certainly had a positive
impact on attracting new customers:

There has been a knock-on effect in bringing in new clients.  If, for example, people come in to see Kerry for a massage, or come in to see Kera for beauty treatments or reflexology, it brings them in to the salon, which they perhaps didn’t know about and this then gives us the opportunity to sell ourselves

However Vicky admits this in itself is not a particularly unique selling point as lots of salons now
tend to offer these additional services. In order to continually grow their clientele base they have had
to explore other avenues:

We try to get involved with a lot of local charity events, so for example there was an event at the town hall where we set up a stand and offered things like consultations, reduced prices, or even quick dry trims and glamour curling. We’ve also done the Sue Ryder ‘Glamour Galore’ event in the past. It’s just about trying to get out there to meet people and speak to them on a personal level, because we find that people respond to this and they’ll think – ‘oh they’re alright, they both know what they’re talking about’

explains Vicky.

Competitive pricing, (a cut and blow dry from an expert stylist is £30), offering package deals combining beauty treatments, and regularly running special offers also helps to make Sa Vi appealing
to new and existing customers. Having free car parking available is another big draw for people
according to Vicky:

Parking was a big issue for us, and one of the main reasons we decided to go slightly out of town, because if people are coming in for a colour they might be three hours which means they’ve got three hours parking to consider. And if they have to pay for parking, they might be sitting there worrying about the time, or having to put in extra money to be safe. Whereas if you can just pull up and park at the back of the shop it’s just a lot easier. And we’re still central

Sa-vi-3One of the more unique methods of distinguishing themselves from the competition has been the focus on creating a brand, for which they enlisted the services of local model Harriadnie Beau Phipps, (who is also the face of famous Essex nightclub Sugar Hut and has worked with a number of international fashion brands). Not only does this allow Sa Vi to actually showcase their own work, rather than having generic images, but it is also a great marketing tool, providing the salon with a familiar image to use on leaflets and advertising to make them more recognisable and
differentiate them from other hairdressers.

But perhaps most importantly, the salon prides itself on customer service and Vicky believes
this is one of the biggest reasons for creating repeat business:

Customer care is of the utmost importance for us. I think so many people can feel a bit awkward or even a little bit intimidated when they go into a new salon. But one of the big things we hear from our customers is that they’ve felt really relaxed and enjoyed the experience. So we always try to keep a really friendly and personal service. It’s also really important to make sure that the service doesn’t become stale – people will often come in to the salon because they want a change. Even if they are pleased with what you’re doing now, they might not be in a year’s time, so you have to keep up with new trends and make sure you’re offering different styles to your clients

Aside from the ongoing need to retain a solid customer base, Vicky admits there is a lot of stress and responsibility in managing the cash flow:

You constantly need to be making a certain amount of money. And when you’re not making that money, it’s like – oh my God, what are we going to do to bring that money in? Where do we find that extra three months revenue from? For example, like a lot of people, we had a really tough January but the pressure is still on to meet the overheads of the salon, to pay the girls’ wages, to do all of that. So we had to think of ways to get new customers without putting a massive strain on our bank balance. In this case, we came up with the idea of targeting the wedding market. So we brought out wedding packages and also went to wedding fairs where we had a stand and could speak to people directly. And that did actually bring some good business back in – not necessarily for weddings, but because we had all the different packages and leaflets and people were getting their hair done, we had the opportunity to talk to people about everything rather than just weddings

Fortunately for Sam and Vicky one financial burden they were able to minimise was the start
up costs. Not only did they enlist the help of family and friends to help with the manual labour of
physically building and decorating the salon, which dramatically reduced the initial outlay, but theywere also able to secure a £15,000 ‘interest-free family loan’:

That took the pressure off slightly,” admits Vicky, “because as long as we paid it back, which everybody had faith that we would, it wasn’t really an issue. Whereas obviously if you go to a bank you’ve got to think about the interest and there’s more pressure to make the repayments and so on. We have a five year plan, where we gave ourselves a year to just get the business up and running, and then started repayments in year two, so we’ve just completed a whole year of repaying, and we’re still around which is good!

Vicky happily admits that running a business has been a huge learning curve that has required a
lot more work than either of them had anticipated, but at the same time, both women relish the
flexibility of being the boss. In fact, this was the main reason for both women to start their own business as both have young families at home and wanted to be able to fit their work around their
home life.

We’ve both got young families, mine are four and five, and first and foremost we wanted to be mums. We still want to drive the business forward but we sort of share that between us. And the fact that we didn’t have to answer to anybody but could still offer our clients the best service while being the best parents we could be was a massive factor in the decision. When the time comes, we will put in more hours and drive the business forward, but right now, it’s nice to be able to sit back a little bit

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