Take a look on the average British high street now, and chances are you will be faced with an impressive choice of places to get a hair cut, manicure or wet shave.
According to the Royal Mail’s Address Management Unit, more beauty and grooming salons opened on UK high streets last year than any other type of independent business, with a net increase of 626 salons, the equivalent of 10%.
Part of everyday life
Susan Routledge has run her salon in County Durham since 1988 and now works as a consultant for salons and spas. She thinks the beauty and grooming sectors are booming because it has become mainstream. “It’s no longer a luxury, it’s just part of everyday living,” she says. “We’ve had clients before who’ve actually factored in their beauty treatment as part of their divorce settlement. That’s how mainstream it is becoming.”
It seems we’re more ready to part with cash for a bit of grooming than we used to be. Industry supplier Salon Services’ annual Beautiful Britain report, which surveys 2,000 hair and beauty salons across the UK, found the average annual spend on hair and beauty treatments grew 19% for female clients to £876 in 2015, and 23% for male clients to £711.
The increase in men’s grooming has been cited as the one of biggest drivers behind the growth of the whole beauty industry in recent years. “I would say a much higher percentage of men are more conscious of their hair now than 10 years ago,” says Mark Jones, who opened E Street Barbers in Leeds three years ago with business partner Gavin Colwill.
In November 2015, they launched the Native male grooming haircare product range, which now has more than 100 stockists in the UK and internationally, and in August this year opened up a second E Street Barbers in Hackney, east London.
“There have always been guys that are conscious about their hair, but they were going to [high-end salons], where you’re talking £80 a hair cut,” Jones says. “Now you get these guys that are really fashion conscious, but they don’t want to go to a women’s salon. All the barbers in the industry have had to up their game, and they’re knocking out really stylish cuts but at more affordable prices.”
But for all the positive signs of the sector’s growth, is there enough business to go around? While Kantar Worldpanel found that the professional nail industry is now worth £153m (up from £143m in 2015), it also revealed the industry as a whole could in fact be in decline. The total beauty treatments market was worth £1.92bn in the 52 weeks to 25 September 2016, down from £1.94bn in the previous year.
New salons popping up are having an impact on established beauty businesses. “Five years ago when we opened up, there wasn’t anything around this area,” says Tima Reshad, owner of nail salon Coco Nails on Portobello Road. “I’ve found that in the last few years we’ve had quite a few nail salons open up.”
Reshad says her first two years of trading were her best, but then two other nail bars opened up just a couple of minutes’ walk from Coco “in the space of two weeks”.
“They’re not high-end salons like we are; they’re catering to the low end of the market and that has affected us,” she says. “I guess there’s enough business for everybody, but it has affected us because we also used to get that part of the market but now we don’t.”
How to withstand the competition from new faces on the block is one of the biggest challenges for salon owners such as Reshad, especially when the competition are undercutting on price. Routledge says that getting into a price war with competitors is one of the most dangerous things salons owners can do. “I always liken it to buying handbags: there’s a market for a £5 handbag and a market for a £5,000 handbag. But you’ve got to know your market,” she says.
“The [businesses] I work with that are struggling are the ones that are just trying to compete against everyone. There’s a real diversity in this industry at the moment. The salons that are doing really well are the ones who have got their market right and know exactly what their point of difference is from the one down the road.”
Reshad admits that cutting prices to stay competitive did cross her mind. “But I just thought: ‘How are you going to pay the business rates, the rent, the wages?” she says. “We can’t compete on price so what we’ve tried to do is add value to what we provide.”
Not everyone in this industry sees competition as a bad thing. Colina Currell runs a small chain of four hair salons in Dorset, called Synergy. Competition is fierce, she says, but it’s very good for the industry as it keeps business owners on their toes. “It’s all about customer care,” she says. “You have to make sure your staff are highly trained.” She believes that while there are a lot of salons, many are mediocre.
Commenting on the Royal Mail’s findings, Trevor Studd from the British Barbers’ Association warned that while the number of businesses will grow to meet the consumer demand, “skills and the level of service offered will determine how many of those shops will still be open in two years’ time”.
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