How collaborative workspaces are shaking up the hair and beauty industry

The rent-a-chair and rent-a-room model seen in beauty salons and hairdressers across the country is becoming a thing of the past thanks to the rise in collaborative co-working spaces being offered to industry professionals.

These spaces provide freelance nail techs, beauty therapists, make-up artists, hairdressers, massage therapists and aesthetic practitioners with a place to practise their art and house their clients without the commitment of opening their own salon, the pressure of working under someone else, or the need to go mobile.

While co-working is not a new concept, with some of the first official co-working spaces opening in the US in 2005, the phenomenon is one that’s taken a little longer to cross over into the beauty industry.

However, a series of new collaborative workspaces have recently opened across the country, such as the new Sisters of Oz in London, which combines hair, skin and aesthetic treatments, nail services and yoga with a coffee and cake shop to become what founder Oz Izzet describes as a “wellbeing and community hub”.

One of the first to take the plunge into trying this new way of working was Lacey Hunter-Felton, who launched the Hunter Collective’s first location in 2017 in Farringdon, London, and has since opened a second in Spitalfields.

Hunter Collective has arguably pioneered this new working model in the hair and beauty industry, providing a space for freelancers to work with their own clients, on their own timetable for a monthly membership fee.

Hunter-Felton asserts that everything at the Collective is “transparent, flexible and independent”, meaning that freelancers don’t have to worry about having a manager to answer to or sudden commission fees.

“We’re not a salon. We’re a co-working space and a community,” said Hunter-Felton, “What we’ve created is a network and an opportunity for individuals to really lift and progress their careers in a new way.”

The sense of community given to members is one of the key differences between these collaborative workspaces, providing freelancers with a networking opportunity as they connect and even collaborate with other members of the space.

The benefits seem numerous: flexible working, opportunities for collaboration, peer-to-peer advice and education, no overheads or bills, and no commission to pay, but just how do these spaces work?

We take a closer look at two of the newest co-working spaces to have launched, Phenix Salon Suites in Manchester and November Collective in Edinburgh to find out what opportunities they offer to freelancers that they couldn’t get in traditional salons.

Case Study One: Phenix Salon Suites, Manchester

Phenix Suites External

A new style of workspace for beauty and hair professionals, Phenix Salon Suites has been brought to the UK after three years in the making. The model has already proved successful in America, with more than 300 locations, and was a style of salon John Gillespie, head of operations for the UK and Europe, says he knew the British market was ready for.

Gillespie, who also works as a consultant, flew to the US to work with founder Gina Rivera on her hair colour line, Colours by Gina, where he visited one of the sites and was impressed by the business model.

“The first location I went to see had 50 suites in, with individual businesses ranging from hair stylists and nail techs, to brow specialists and even a tattoo artist. It was then I said we needed to bring the model to the UK,” he says.

The suites he refers to are rooms available to be rented by professionals. Offering an alternative to the “rent-a-chair” model often seen in the industry, the suites allow professionals to have their own studio, complete with any equipment they may need, and all bills included – from £270 per week. Phenix also gives all its professionals creative control over the interiors of their suites, allowing them to design it as if it were their own salon space.

The freedom aspect for those renting a suite is one of the standout elements of Phenix, as Gillespie explains, “You’re absolutely your own boss. You are truly self-employed. You can set your own hours, prices and treatments, and what you offer is up to you. You can design and create your space and really begin to create your own brand.” For the 60% of beauty therapists who are self-employed (according to a November survey by associations including Babtac and the National Hair & Beauty Federation), this gives them the freedom to be their own boss while working in locations like Phenix allows the opportunity to act as a salon owner without the added costs and pressure that comes with renting or purchasing a salon and setting up the space.

“People won’t find a better business model because we tick every box for them; we provide a bed, pedicure station, hair styling chair and whatever other equipment they require up to a certain value,” says Gillespie.

“Those renting a suite truly are self-employed. Everyone has access to their suite at whatever time they need to take a booking, so can start and finish whenever they want, and charge what they want for their services as we take no commission or cuts.”

As well as providing a space for therapists to offer their services, Phenix encourages the suite owners to further their education. “We’re looking to start education evenings, whether that be on Gina’s [the founder’s] colour range, or make-up and skincare demonstrations. All suite owners are invited to get involved but have no obligation to.”

The Phenix suite model has already begun to prove its success in the UK market, with more than 70% of the suites up and running at the Manchester site, and is set to open further UK sites, as well as moving further into Europe, supporting Gillespie’s theory that the market is ready for the model.

Case Study Two: November Collective, Edinburgh

November Collective Interior

Since its opening in September 2021, November Collective has already grown from two creatives, co-owners Emma- Louise Cantwell and Christopher Laird, to a team of eight, with hopes to expand.

Having worked together since 2016, Cantwell and Laird’s working relationship began when they were both at Edinburgh’s The Makeup Bar, working collaboratively on clients who came in for hair and make-up services. From there, the duo began collaborating externally on weddings, photoshoots, and other freelance bookings.

The pair quickly discovered they were on the same wavelength and worked well together, so opening a salon seemed like the natural next step.

“We always wanted to open a salon, but we wanted it to be something more. It’s not just a salon, it’s an experience,” says Cantwell, “It’s a collective of creatives, and we like to call it a collective more than a salon to highlight that it is a shared collaborative space for creatives in the hair and beauty industry.”

When it came to the search for additional creatives to bring on board, Cantwell says the most important element was finding passionate, hard-working people who fit the brand’s values.

“Chris and I are so work driven, and really enjoy what we do. We wanted to find like-minded people who want to progress their career, because we’ve grown a lot and want people who are also looking to grow so that we can help and support them,” says Cantwell, “We do a lot of internal training to share what we’ve learned in our own careers, and also encourage the team to take part in courses to brush up on their skills or learn new things.”

The shared space provides creatives with opportunities they wouldn’t get in a standalone beauty salon, nail bar or hair salon. Currently offering all aspects of holistic massage, hair, make-up, nail and waxing treatments, Cantwell hopes to expand to also offer microblading services and to add an aesthetic clinic element to the space. The creatives are also encouraged to speak to all the clients who come into the space, not just their own, which helps them grow their own clientele and leads to more collaborative opportunities across the teams.

Many of the professionals also work together to create content for their social media platforms and are encouraged to seek freelance work for events like weddings together. The space, set over two floors, provides a hub for employees to explore new methods and techniques, as well as being a location open to clients for more than just treatments.

“The coronavirus pandemic has changed how a lot of people work – we have a workspace set up where clients having longer treatments can bring their laptop to work, take calls or just have a coffee while waiting for their colour to develop, for example,” says Cantwell.

The team also uses the space to host a range of events, making it even more accessible to clients, even if they aren’t coming in for treatments.

“I think it’s a great way to keep our creatives engaged and grow our relationship with customers too. A lot of our long-term clients are now our friends, and that’s thanks to having the collaborative workspace and creating a welcoming environment,” says Cantwell.