Launching a luxury French hairdressing brand in the UK? Yep, sounds fun!
During the summer of 2016, whilst I was basking in the sun of north London, in Finsbury Park, an opportunity arose to work with Dessange – a prestigious and luxury French hairdressing brand. They have more than 350 salons. Surprisingly enough, despite their presence in over thirty countries, they still hadn't found the right partner to open their London flagship.
I was literally jumping for joy when they reached out to me. I worked in one of their salons during my apprenticeship and to me, they were the quintessential brand for French elegance. The initial phone call which took place became a meeting, which resulted in other meetings. They wanted me to launch Dessange in England. This is where my entrepreneurial journey started, with a little help from my partner who’s a bit of a business geek.
Whilst drafting what I hoped would be a credible business plan, another new concept for me, I looked at hundreds of salons’ websites and read dozens of articles about the hairdressing and beauty industry. All my work and research opened my eyes to the realities of the beauty industry.
Volumizing or everyday shampoo?
I mean, everyone knows the struggle when facing hundreds of different shampoos at the supermarket and having to choose one. There are so many brands and each of them has different ranges, each of them comprising dozens of products. And obviously, every single product is specially designed for a certain use and therefore has tons of benefits. Clarifying shampoo, everyday shampoo, volumizing shampoo, oily hair shampoo, normal hair shampoo, dry shampoo, damaged hair shampoo, coloured hair shampoo, 2-in-1 shampoo, medicated shampoo, swimmer’s shampoo… the list goes on.
Yes, it’s important to look after your hair... but does it have to be that complicated?
At least with Dessange, I needn’t worry, as, as a franchisee, I’d be forced to use their own products anyway.
Salons' prices are overly complicated
It’s hard to understand what level of service you’ll get for your money. Most hair salons in London have an extensive price list and aren’t necessarily straight forward with their clients. There isn’t a price. There are prices.
Tons of them!
You fancy a haircut? Sure, would you like to book with a junior stylist (£35), with a stylist (£39), with a senior stylist (£45), with a very senior stylist (£53) or with the artistic director (£68)?
How on earth do I know which one to go for? As a consumer, how can I make an informed decision as to which stylist is the right “level” for my requirements?
Some hairdressers are better after five years of practice than others with over twenty. Am I playing with fire if I choose the junior? Is the artistic director going to revolutionize my hair & my look?
The worst thing is probably when you pop in without an appointment and are assigned a member of staff without knowing who they are and how much they’ll charge you. It’s an embarrassing situation to be in. Even if you find the courage to ask for the price, would you ask for another stylist if the assigned one was too expensive? Or too junior? You probably wouldn’t, either because you won’t come across as being greedy, or because you don’t want to offend anyone.
That’s when I knew that I wanted something simpler, fairer, and easier for my clients.
People, money and rollercoaster: welcome to the life of an entrepreneur!
In the meantime, I was making progress. I had short-listed some locations to open the London flagship salon and put together a national expansion plan. The latter involved heavy use of excel spreadsheets - a program I had never used before, and that I can’t honestly say I love.
I got to know more Marion & Betty, two senior managers at Dessange. They’re both fantastic and inspiring. They made me realise that there is a lot more than I thought to running a beauty salon, whilst encouraging me and guiding me towards it.
My partner & I were finally able to run the figures. It turned out to be a 7 figures investment. I obviously don’t have this kind of money, and whilst I was a little bit shocked, I looked for solutions.
You’ll find that most entrepreneurs are quite stubborn!
I reached out to a client of mine, a professional investor, who, after a few meetings, gave me his okay to fund me.
After several celebration dances, we finally ended up negotiating the actual terms with Dessange.
That’s when I fully and brutally realised what it meant to be a franchisee: you pay to use someone’s brand and to have access to their standard operating procedures, and there’s absolutely no leeway. Like all franchises, they want to protect their brand – for good reasons.
However, it also means that if you don’t like something, well, you just have to accept it. I have always struggled with authority, as you probably realised if you read how I became a hairdresser. It really bugged me. I lost a couple nights’ sleep over it. Something wasn’t right.
With hindsight, the size of the project, the amount of money involved and the associated pressure were probably too much for me. I wasn’t sure I was able to shoulder that responsibility. I ran away – not literally, this time.
Pursue your dreams, follow your gut instinct
I was torn by conflicting emotions. My dream was gone. I wasn’t going to be part of the Dessange venture in England. I had imagined myself becoming this top businesswoman and I was back to square one, cutting hair as a disposable self-employed stylist. I had gone to great lengths only to shy away from this grand journey.
I hated myself for a few days. Then I started thinking about everything I had learnt, and the amazing people I had met. Surely, if all these smart and experienced business people were ready to back me, it’s because they had seen something in me?
That’s when came a whisper from my partner: “how about shaping your own business, exactly how you’d like it to be?”
This idea was very enticing, and we both soon started to work on a new project, more in line with our personality and values. Yep, you guessed it… Margaux Salon.