Mahogany is about to enter a new era, with the announcement that founder and managing director Richard Thompson plans to retire and hand over the reins of the 33-year-old company to his fellow directors – international creative director Colin Greaney; UK creative director Antony Licata; business director Russell Barker and salons creative director Neil Atkinson.
In readiness for Richard’s departure, the company – which has three salons in Oxford and one in central London – has been through a period of consolidation.
Two of the directors, Russell and Colin, talk about the process and plans for the future.
HJ: Tell us about the consolidation process
RB: There were a number of factors that combined to prompt us to take firm action, not least the major economic downturn. We took time to re-examine our business, we wanted to make it water-tight, confirm our value and our commitment to our clients and really prepare to shine in a difficult market. So, we gave our salons a total facelift and redesign. There were new floors, new backwashes and a fresh feel in every rebuild. It was a brave choice to close each salon for a week while the refit took place but the ‘wow’ factor for our clients when we reopened the doors made it all worthwhile. Mahogany is a quality brand with a quality price point, the economic downturn suddenly put ‘value for money’ top of everyone’s spending choices. Our investment in our environment showed confidence in our standards, supported our positioning and impressed clients. We made a number of other choices too – we made Schwarzkopf Professional our product partner as we felt as a brand there was strong connection between the salon client, the stylist and the products; we invested in new technology to manage the business and data and we invested in a professional PR firm to supplement and support our in-house marketing manager.
HJ: Is this being undertaken in preparation for growth?
RB: We are not planning to open any new sites, but this is already a period of growth for us as we maximise the potential we have in our existing London and Oxford salons. When the economic storm has passed, we will look to our stronghold of long-serving staff to increase the business organically in future salon partnerships.
HJ: During this period of consolidation did you discover anything about the business you weren’t happy with?
CG: Yes! And, we are proud to say that we’ve tackled them all. We learned that tough market conditions needed tough choices. We ensured our salon environments reflect the future of Mahogany.
HJ: Would you consider franchising as a means of expansion?
CG: Franchising is not a structure that reflects our goals. Our brand ethos and quality standards demand that we only expand with home-grown staff. A true Mahogany salon experience is only possible with members that have been raised through the ranks of our company and continue to be guided by it. Our salons are wholly owned.
HJ: Team members and training are obviously important to Mahogany
CG: Training is a huge part of our culture. From the outset, we knew that sharing skills and setting standards was the way to build a brand and a team of gifted professionals. Our show and seminar business has seen us perform on stages all over the world, and we have an internal training structure that is second-to-none. Our apprentices follow a rigorous system of training and even qualified professionals that join our company go through a significant period of ‘Mahoganising’ before they are fully qualified to our standards. The benefits are many: we get quality skills and technical standards, consistency, motivated staff and the capacity to inspire hairdressers worldwide with our signature approach to hair.
HJ: What qualities do you look for in staff?
CG: We look for people who are curious about training. During interviews if applicants start asking about holiday allocations, wages and lunch hours first before asking about opportunities to learn, then it says a lot about their motivation and attitude. In essence, a great attitude is what we seek because we believe that all the skills can be learnt.
HJ: What is your record of staff retention?
RB: Our staff retention is excellent and stands at 95% with qualified staff. With apprentices, we have a fairly standard 50% retention – young people quickly realise that hairdressing is hard work, physically, emotionally and mentally, so it’s not unheard of for them to make an alternative career choice. Our standards are also exacting, so while we offer apprentices every support through the process, it’s still demanding.
HJ: The team is only part of the story. Tell me about your commitment to client service
CG: We want the Mahogany experience to stand out as money well spent. Every client must feel that they have been treated as an individual, welcomed into a professional space, dealt with by experts who care. Our standards of hairdressing are impeccable. We begin every service with a consultation that can take up to 20 minutes. We use that time well to learn, share and build trust. We don’t take our clients for granted, and we constantly reinforce to every staff member from the youngest to the most experienced that you must treasure the client in order to earn their loyalty.
HJ: With so many talented directors involved in Mahogany, how do you ensure everyone has a say in the running of the company?
CG: We all know our own strengths, and we appreciate each others’ skills – it’s as simple as that. We value and trust the expertise that we each have. We also have transparent, seamless and constant communication. We meet regularly, and we talk all the time.