Kerry Larcher runs The Vanilla Room, one of the UK's only independent ‘super salons’ - but she’s faced her fair share of ageism and sexism on her 25-year business journey. Carmel Jane caught up and asked her to share her story...
I opened The Vanilla Room hairdressing salon in 1995 when I was 21 years old. Since then I’ve grown the team from 3 employees to nearing 50, have created a flagship 2-storey hair & beauty salon in the heart of Hornchurch High Street, and have won numerous business awards the most recent of which is the coveted title ‘Best Salon in Essex 2019’.
This year my company turns 25 years and I’m proud to say we are still growing year on year, creating jobs in our local area and flying the flag for independent businesses.
When I think back there have been many times in my business journey that I have been made to feel like the underdog. Talked down to in business situations by others in my industry who were stuck with outdated perceptions of salon ownership. Often this was due to ageism in my earlier years of business, and also that I am a woman. I have even been asked ‘where my husband is?’ such is the prevalence of male bosses or husband and wife teams in my industry!
What I can say is that this has made be stronger. I have had to negotiate harder, make my voice a little more heard and prove that I know what I am talking about. I have had to be stronger than I have felt is necessary at times to make things happen.
From the start of trading I knew that being a creative, talented hairdresser would not be enough if my business was to grow and be successful. I needed to learn about business and understand how best to develop a strong team. I read up and educated myself and I found this to be invaluable, lifelong learning has become an obsession which I encourage in all my team, you cannot be confident in business if you do not understand how it works and I have taken the ‘business part' of my role just as serious as I did learning to create the perfect bob.
I have shared what I have learned with my team and this has led to massive successes for us all, we now work in and have created one of the very few UK independent ‘super salons’ caring for over 400 clients a week (we have 27 styling chairs). If the stylists understand not only the haircuts they are doing but also the life time value of a client, they really get their focus on the important stuff - the client!
My advice to ambitious women starting out on the business growth journey is simple, make sure more comes in than goes out! It’s a mantra I live by.
Hairdressers stereotypically wore or drove their profits in the past, but I learnt early on to look after the pounds and that has served me well and put my business in a strong position. You really can only wear one pair of shoes at a time!
Kerry will join Carmel on an upcoming episode of Scale Up Stories – subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch it