Talking to Maria Mason

Having won the Professional Beauty Award for Beauty Salon of the Year (Four Rooms or More) for three years running with her Bristol salon Beauty Time before turning her attentions to judging, Maria Mason knows a thing or two about what it takes to win awards.

Leaving a corporate job in hotels to follow her real passion, she trained as a therapist 22 years ago, building up a loyal client base through pamper parties then a branded room within a local health club. Since then it's a combination of innovation, experience and a lot of hard work that's led her to the helm of one of the most successful and well-known independent salons in the UK.

And it's those same qualities she’s now looking for in the salons and therapists entering the Professional Beauty Awards 2014. “Often people include beautiful salon photographs in an entry but this isn’t just a design award,” she says. “We look for passion, professionalism, industry experience and longevity of staff.”

With the Therapist of the Year Award, which she also judges, Mason says she has to factor in nerves during the trade test but the strong players still shine through. “Attention to detail is important – with themselves as well as what they’re doing because a beauty therapist should look like a therapist,” she adds. “How can she sell the concept if she’s notgot it right herself?”

Home grown

In fact it was Mason's own talent for nurturing therapists that made Beauty Time a winner for so long. Having first bagged the award in 2009, she was praised by the judges back then for the service level and knowledge of her team, most of whom began as apprentices from local colleges.

Jane Iredale for Beauty Time in Bristol

“Investing in staff is crucial because they will then be loyal and longevity of staff means longevity of clients,” she says. In addition to paying them well and looking after them, she believes immersing therapists in the business has proven key to retaining them. “One of the most important things I ever taught my staff was where the money goes because I got this feeling with younger staff that they thought, ‘she must be loaded’,” she says.

“I write down the month’s target then ask them to list everything they think the salon has to pay out. After six or seven things they’ll say 'isn’t that it?' So I say, 'no, I have to pay employers’ tax, we pay for the industrial bin, your training, tea bags, breakages, depreciation on equipment...’As this list goes on you can see them thinking 'there’s not going to be much left if we don’t hit our target'. And that teaches them to value you because they know that behind the scenes you’re making all this happen.”

Community zest

Mason’s hands-on approach extends to the wider community where she and her team get involved with everything from schools and colleges to the WI. The salon also sponsors a hole on the nearby golf course and has just agreed to refit the ladies’ changing rooms at the local tennis club, in return for the opportunity to use that space to market the business.

Beauty Time exterior“Instead of spending £500 on an advert I find it's better to go out and talk about what you do,” says Mason. “I go into schools and I work with a local judge teaching children about business but that leads me into an audience where there are teachers and parents whom I can talk to about the salon. Giving your time for free often has a knock on effect of bringing money into the business.”

Her local involvement also extends to colleges where, like many, Mason believes the skills gaps are worsening. “I go as a mystery shopper to commercial salons at the colleges and I find it's often sloppy,” she says. “They're working in their Ugg boots or sometimes they just don’t acknowledge you. I say afterwards, 'actually girls, I'm a potential employer and today I wouldn't have employed any of you because I was looking at you as you are naturally and that's probably the attitude you'd have behind a closed treatment room door.”

Going private

When you’ve achieved consistent growth and have no desire to open more salons, the next step can be hard to find but Mason has big plans to evolve Beauty Time and eventually her own role within it. The salon has just taken on products from Neal’s Yard and The Natural Spa Company alongside its established Guinot, Jessica and Jane Iredale brands, to create some exclusivity.

Chairs at Beauty Time, Bristol

With the firm belief that flawless complexion is more of a holy grail than wrinkle reduction for modern day clients, Mason is also looking at introducing acid peels to her predominantly holistic menu.

Meanwhile Mason herself is planning to travel. “I would like to work abroad and inspire other salons and spas, in a consultancy role,” she says. But before that she’s off for a little inspiration of her own. “I’m going to Ind

ia to train in Ayurveda and I’ll bring that back to the salon, which will be a real point of difference.”

Longer term she would like to turn the salon into a private members’ club. “First we'd make sure all our clients were on our loyalty scheme then eventually I may say ‘we're full and you need an invitation’. People would want to get in because it’s exclusive, so in the next couple of years I'd like to explore that because it would also let me maximise on the experience of my team.”