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Making the move from a mobile or freelance career to opening your first salon can be daunting. Eve Oxberry and Georgia Seago meet three women who took very different routes to achieve that dream.

Guinot Gerrards Cross

For Tina Rai, beauty therapy had always been a career she could fit around her children. Running a home-based business for 18 years, she slotted in clients around the school run. “Then my children grew up and I thought, I can do more,” says Rai. “I’ve always had a dream in my heart to own my own salon and now my children are 20 and 18 I’ve got the time to really dedicate to that.”

Having worked alone ever since she trained, Rai had never operated in a traditional salon environment or managed therapists, so she and her husband and business partner Jay began looking into options to get some support. “We met Guinot at a Professional Beauty show a couple of years ago when they first started promoting their franchise scheme,” says Rai. “It felt safer to me than setting up alone because Guinot’s such an established brand.” The Rais had several meetings with the Guinot team over the following months. “But we had to raise the cash first,” says Rai. “Guinot were very supportive with talking to the banks. With their business plan and the back up of the established brand, the banks took us more seriously.”

Once they had the start-up capital, the Rais found a site on the high street in Buckinghamshire town Gerrards Cross and once work had begun, they were up and running within 12 weeks, opening their doors in October 2014 with a launch party. “I had a really established client base from my salon at home so I was able to hit the ground running,” says Rai.

The Rais were only the second UK franchisee for Guinot (the first opening in Darlington in 2013) so they got a reduced rate of £7,500 for the upfront franchisee fee. Guinot is offering this rate to the first few salons to get the scheme up and running before implementing the normal fee of £15,000. Franchisees also need to cover the cost of kitting out their salon with Guinot furniture and equipment and the brand takes 2.5% commission on treatment sales once the franchise is trading. In return, Guinot gives the franchisee exclusivity in their area plus business support with things like financial planning, recruiting and marketing. The brand delivers a package of bespoke marketing collateral to its franchisees every six to eight weeks including tools to dress the windows. “That’s been amazing for us because when you’re starting up a business you’d never have the time to plan in promotions so well if you did it on your own,” says Rai.

Having a recognised brand template is also likely to be a bonus when Rai and her husband look to grow the business. “It’s always been part of our plan to open a few more salons nearby,” says Rai. “It’s been eight months since we launched now and business is really strong so hopefully we can expand in the near future.”

L’s Boudoir

For Lorna Fagan, owner of L’s Boudoir in Hither Green, South East London, beauty came as a later chapter in her life. She started training in 2012 and completed a Level 2 in Beauty Therapy with Make-up at London College of Beauty Therapy (LCBT) followed quickly by Level 3 with Advanced Treatments.

A mother of six with a difficult past involving domestic abuse, Fagan was surprised to find that courses could be funded by the Government for someone in her age group, and there were also bursaries available to her. “I was very fortunate to have help with expenses and uniforms and support – and the Job Shop. I was always in training and getting help,” she explains. Throughout her training at the college, Fagan took up several opportunities offered by LCBT’s Job Shop, a career advice and guidance service that also offers students interview practice and daily job alerts. She built up her experience at Innovation Dermal Clinique in Shepherd’s Bush.

After this and during her Level 2 training, Fagan started going mobile at hotels and other places, searching online for people who wanted beauty therapists. She then began renting treatment rooms from hair salons, where she had rather an unlucky time of it. “I went through about five rooms. I would work in the basement. Some don’t actually advertise that you’re there or tell clients. The environment I was in just didn’t work for me because I was hidden away,” she says. In two salons, Fagan also faced sudden hikes in rent that she simply couldn’t afford, forcing her to pack up her equipment and move on to somewhere new. She quickly discovered that the owner of the fifth salon was in deep financial trouble and once again packed up and left, this time having to store everything in her garden at home. “A few days later I walked past and it was empty,” she says. “I knew I needed to change direction so I started to look everywhere for a salon of my own and eventually found this one up for rent in an estate agent,” she says of her salon on Hither Green Lane. It has one treatment room and a relaxation room at the back, as well as several manicure stations and a built-in pedicure area.

Never one to shy away from asking for help, Fagan approached Lewisham council when she found the salon in September last year and got a grant to help start her off. “They helped me secure the rent here, get some CCTV and helped me with flyers. Since then I’ve been asking a few start-up loan companies, which have helped me get some equipment,” she says. She’ll soon be returning to LCBT to gain a teaching qualification in order to train apprenticeship students in her salon, and, as summer nears and treatment demand ramps up, Fagan is now advertising for therapists to help in L’s Boutique through LCBT’s Job Shop.

Zen Ten Spa

For Caroline Jones, opening her own salon didn’t mean giving up the mobile therapy work, in fact it was quite the opposite, because Zen Ten Spa, which she opened in October 2014, is on four wheels. A Mercedes van converted into a tiny holistic salon, Zen Ten drives to hen parties, corporate events and private clients with a functioning treatment room space complete with running water, air conditioning, heating, spa music and even starlit sky style mood lighting.

“I got the idea sitting in a jacuzzi at a spa,” says Jones. “There was a hen party there and when the bride left they started complaining they’d paid £90 to stay in the hotel and had spent hours getting there. It went into my subconscious and I woke up the next morning with a fully formed idea for Zen Ten Spa, the retreat that comes to you.” At that point, Jones had just been made redundant from a job in TV production and was looking for a new challenge and a way to put the redundancy money to good use. “I’d done an aromatherapy blending course 20 years ago and trained in reiki but just did it for friends and family,” she says. “I’d also been trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor at my previous job so had three therapies I could offer but as Zen Ten I wanted to offer 10, so I enrolled on a complementary therapies NVQ.”

Through this, plus additional short courses, Jones learned reflexology, Swedish massage, Indian head massage, hot stone therapy and ear candling and devised 10 distinct treatments. She had started looking into the Zen Ten van before she qualified but it took 18 months to build. “In the EU you can’t begin building a new type of vehicle until the whole business associated with it is approved,” says Jones. “It needed the correct air conditioning to circulate the aromatherapy oils if one person wants uplifting and the next wants relaxing. And to maintain an ambient temperature it uses a technology developed for transporting mangoes.” Getting insured also took a while as Jones didn't fit into the usual mobile or salon-based brackets.

In the meantime she got a paid role doing complementary therapies at the Myton Hospice group in Warwickshire and also rented a space at her local Neal’s Yard Remedies store. Jones took delivery of the van in October and began testing on friends, performing each of the therapies in a variety of locations to troubleshoot, before launching the new business in November. “I leafleted in the area and also cold called businesses, because although the most obvious market for me is hen parties or private clients, one of my best outlets has been small boutique hotels with no spa; I can park up so they can offer spa weekends,” says Jones. “It’s better than having a mobile therapist set up in the guest’s room.” She also has several summer fixtures lined up, including festivals and charity sporting events.

Looking to the future, Jones would love to franchise. “Realistically I’m not going to go to Glasgow for one back massage, so if it takes off there is the opportunity to repeat the business model in other regions.” Franchising would also help her achieve her goal of reaching corporate clients. “It would be my dream if any big company that does have branches around the country took workplace wellbeing seriously and had a Zen Ten outside each of its offices,” she says.