Smooth move

Keeping the appointment book full when you specialise in one coreservice can be a challenge but for waxing salon NKD, demand has grown so much it’s relocated to a site four times the size of the original. “The old salon was a great starter premises but we’d been trading five and a half years and needed the step up to something bigger and more visible on the high street,” says owner Rebecca Dowdeswell.

“We never had enough capacity on Fridays or Saturdays and our after-work 5-8pm slots were always full.” When seeking out the new premises, she needed a site that would accommodate her growing client base, but also draw in enough new business to justify the higher overheads. NKD’s new 2,000sq ft site fit the bill as its location on Nottingham’s busy Pelham Street is already attracting plenty of passing trade. In fact, year-on-year sales for the months of May and June were up 30% and the number of new customers per month rose by 80%. While the old salon was down a quiet side street, Pelham Street is a busy thoroughfare in the city centre, and is also a hub of independent stores and cafés. However, securing the site was not entirely Oxberrystraightforward. “I had a real fight on my hands to get planning permission for this space because the planners wanted retail,” says Dowdeswell. “It seems crazy because salons bring people back more regularly. You can buy any retail product online now but you can’t buy a wax online.”

Fit out
Having won over the planners, Dowdeswell converted the site, which has three floors and a basement, into a four-treatment-room salon with three open-plan lash and brow spaces, plus a huge training room. “We’ll use the training room space as overflow for clients at weekends because we can divide it up with curtains for treatments,” she adds. To kick off at the new site, NKD offered free taster treatments throughout April and Dowdeswell has plenty more tricks up her sleeve to keep business growing. “At the start of the week and in the mornings things are quiet, so we offer breakfast waxes from 7.30am and buy the client’s breakfast from the independent café over the road,” she says. The salon is also changing its student discount to run from 2-4pm each weekday to boost business in the mid-afternoon lull between lunch-break and after-work appointments. Working with the neighbouring businesses is also on NKD’s agenda. “Space NK said they’d love to do an event with us and that’s a good fit as we don’t compete on skincare,” says Dowdeswell. “There’s also a tattoo shop over the road and that’s quite a nice synergy because if you’re going to get a tattoo you’ll want the area waxed. There are gyms nearby too, so there’s lots of opportunity.”

Course of action
Much of NKD’s business comes from training. The salon has been a training centre for wax brand Perron Rigot since 2013 and has used the brand in treatments since the launch of the original site in 2009. Perron Rigot is now looking to expand via more training schools nationally. “I think they know training schools are really key to getting new customers,” says Dowdeswell. “The main reason we started using Perron in the salon was because that was who we trained with and the training can be very specific to the brand you use.” Like all good business ideas, the training school was originally born out of a need at NKD. “It was the logical step because we were doing a lot of in-house training – we have to,” says Dowdeswell. “Because even if a therapist has eight years’ experience she still needs very intensive training to get up to our standard on waxing. If someone’s going to make a special trip to a specialist waxing salon it has to be a cut above what they’d get in their regular nail or beauty salon.”

NKD’s senior therapist already had a training qualification so Dowdeswell approached Perron Rigot with the idea of training for them too and says the brand jumped at the chance of having a specialist centre that was more easily accessible than its London offices for therapists from the Midlands and The North. “When we first opened, we were travelling to do courses too in Manchester, and even Glasgow and Edinburgh, but the logistics of taking all the equipment and finding the models was too hard,” says Dowdeswell. “Here, we have a huge bank of customers to be models; we’re the only waxing school I know of that doesn’t make students wax each other.” Dowdeswell says a lot of people ask her whether training other therapists cannibalises her salon business by creating brilliant waxers who then set up in competition to NKD. “We can teach you great techniques but you don’t become an amazing waxer after a one-day course,” she answers. “Today our apprentice has a full column of Brazilians and Hollywoods because that’s what will make her really good, just practising over and over. She’ll get quick; she’ll get to know all the different hair types. You can go on a waxing course and have two or three models but it takes a long time to build up true expertise.”

Expert eye
To keep an eye on the competition, Dowdeswell goes for underarm waxes elsewhere but says she’s amazed at how few people cleanse the area. “We always cleanse and sanitise, then put the oil on, then we wax then cleanse and sanitise again then put more oil, gel, and moisturising milk,” she says. “It’s really important.” This is a second career for Dowdeswell, who used to work in the car industry as a business analyst and automotive journalist. After a holiday in Asia, she saw a gap in the UK market for the types of specialist intimate waxing salon that exist out there, with cool branding targeting a young crowd. “Meanwhile, I was seeing the UK industry fragment and specialise with more nail bars and tanning salons opening so I went for it,” she says.

Since opening, NKD has branched out into threading, lash extensions and HD Brows, which now make up a combined 20% of revenue, with waxing accounting for the 80% majority. “Lashes and brows is something I could do without damaging the brand because it’s all about hair. If I did tanning, for example, it wouldn’t fit,” says Dowdeswell. While she would like to open more branches of NKD in the future, once her small children are a bit older, she says they will always specialise in waxing. “I definitely set up the business with a view to it being more than one salon and I put the initial investment into the brand with that in mind,” she says. “The beauty of waxing is it’s simple – you just need your trolley and good training!”